Australia violated Torres Strait Islanders’ rights by failing to protect them from climate change, UN says #ClimateCrisis demand #ClimateAction #SDG13 #Regeneration

A UN committee has found that Australia had violated the human rights of a group of islanders by failing to adequately protect them from the impacts of climate change, based on a complaint filed over three years ago.

Source: Reuters, SBS

A United Nations committee found on Friday that Australia had violated the human rights of Torres Strait Islanders by failing to adequately protect them from the impacts of climate change. 

The complaint, filed over three years ago by eight Torres Strait Islanders and their children, is one of a growing body of climate cases being brought around the world on human rights grounds, and the ruling is expected to embolden others. 

The group are all inhabitants of four, small, low-lying islands in Australia’s Torres Strait region, Boigu, Poruma, Warraber and Masig.

In their complaint to the United Nations, the Islanders said that changes in weather patterns had harmed their livelihood, their culture and their traditional way of life.

Severe flooding caused by the tidal surge in recent years has destroyed family graves and left human remains scattered across their islands, they said.

UN calls for compensation over rights breach

The UN committee said the Australian government should compensate the Torres Strait islanders for the harm suffered, consult the community on their needs and take action to secure their safety.

PM visits the Torres Strait for Indigenous Voice to Parliament talks

“This decision marks a significant development as the committee has created a pathway for individuals to assert claims where national systems have failed to take appropriate measures to protect those most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change on the enjoyment of their human rights,” UN Committee member Hélène Tigroudja said. 

The islanders argued that Australia’s inaction on climate change amounts to violations of their rights to culture, life and family set out in a UN Treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966). 

Rising sea levels have already damaged food sources and ancestral burial sites, scattering human remains across the islands, they said.

Torres Strait Islands representatives come together and sign The Statement from the Deep 

23 Aug 2022, 9:10 pm

Torres Strait Islands representatives come together and sign The Statement from the Deep

Australia had called for the case to be dismissed, saying there was insufficient evidence that the consequences of climate change would affect the islanders’ enjoyment of their rights. 

‘Our ancestors are rejoicing’

Kulkagal man Yessie Mosby and traditional owner on the island of Masig, as well as a claimant in the case, said the UN’s decision puts Torres Strait Islanders in a better position to protect the sanctity of their culture. 

“I know that our ancestors are rejoicing knowing that Torres Strait Islander voices are being heard throughout the world through this landmark case. Climate change affects our way of life everyday,” he said in a statement released shortly after the findings by the UN. 

“This win gives us hope that we can protect our island homes, culture and traditions for our kids and future generations to come.”

Nations can no longer hide behind the myth that climate change is a collective problem and that they are free of legal obligation.

Sophie Marjanac, Australian climate lawyernone

Another claimant, Kabay Tamu, a Warreberalgal man from Kulkalgal, said he was “lost for words”. 

“I feel like a huge weight has lifted off my shoulders. I’m so proud and appreciative of everyone involved from the very start to now,” Mr Tamu said. 

ClientEarth climate lawyer Sophie Marjanac, who acted for the claimants, described the win as a “historic victory for climate justice”. 

“It is a victory for all peoples who are the most vulnerable to runaway climate change,” she said. 

“The Australian Government must act on this decision and take decisive steps to protect the islands of the Torres Strait and their ‘Ailan Kastom’.

“Nations can no longer hide behind the myth that climate change is a collective problem and that they are free of legal obligation. They must act, now.”

Climate change Minister meets with Torres Strait Island leaders 

01 Jul 2022, 6:55 pm

Climate change Minister meets with Torres Strait Island leaders

Labor ‘committed’ to working with Torres Strait Islanders

In a statement to SBS News, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the Labor government is “committed to working with Torres Strait Islanders on climate change”. 

Mr Dreyfus noted the complaint put forward to the committee was made in 2019 when the Coalition was in power. 

“Soon after the change of government, the Prime Minister, the Minister for Indigenous Australians and the Minister for Climate Change and Energy travelled to the Torres Strait to talk with elders and owners about the impacts of climate change on them,” he said. 

“This complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee was made in 2019. Australia’s submissions in response to the complaint were made under the previous Government.

“The Australian Government engages in good faith with the Human Rights Committee in relation to any complaint received.

Mr Dreyfus said the government is considering the UN committee’s findings and will respond “in due course”. 

‘Nothing about us, without us’

The committee’s decision demonstrated an international concern that policy should be led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s solutions, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service said.

While government knows what communities need, it must commit to true partnership, accountability and delivering outcomes, executive officer Jamie McConnachie said.

“We have a right to culture.

“What needs to be in reverence is the principle that culture is a strengthening agent and that should underpin the delivery of services, policy and legislation that affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.

“There should be nothing about us or our country, without us”.

The Climate Council welcomed the ruling, with the director of research Dr Simon Bradshaw saying the loss and damage experienced by Torres Islanders “epitomises the injustice at the heart of the climate crisis”.

Deep connections of communities

Climate change undermines not only physical security but is a profound threat to culture and the deep connections of communities to their land and sea, he said.

“The Australian government must do everything it can to limit future harms by ensuring Australia’s emissions plummet this decade, leaving fossil fuels in the ground and providing far greater support to communities in the Torres Strait with adapting to the impacts of climate change.”

Torres Strait Islanders are part of Australia’s indigenous population, along with Aboriginal people, who live on small clusters of low-lying islands dotted between Australia and Papua New Guinea. 

The case was filed when the former conservative government, seen as a laggard in the battle against climate change, was in power. 

Since then, parliament has passed legislation on emissions cuts and Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen has visited the islands this year.

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Regeneration is a response to the urgency of the climate crisis, a determined what-to-do manual for all levels of society, from individuals to national governments and everything and everyone in between. It describes a system of interlocking initiatives that can stem the climate crisis in one generation. Regeneration

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