UN says Australia’s climate inaction violated Torres Strait Islanders’ rights

Geneva: A United Nations committee found on Friday that Australia had violated the human rights of a group of islanders off its north coast by failing to adequately protect them from the impacts of climate change, such as by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

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.

Donniella Warria (left) and Ikokolela Ronsen (right) walk on the Bach Beach in the late afternoon on Thursday Island. Credit:Kate Geraghty

Rising sea levels have already damaged food sources and ancestral burial sites, scattering human remains, the islanders argued, saying their homes are at risk of being submerged.

The Committee said Australia had violated two of the three human rights set out in a U.N. Treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), pertaining to culture and family life, but not article 6 on the right to life.

It called for Australia to provide the islanders with an effective remedy.

“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.

Gabriel Gesa fishing for parrot fish on the Bach Beach on Thursday Island in the late afternoon.

Gabriel Gesa fishing for parrot fish on the Bach Beach on Thursday Island in the late afternoon.
Credit:Kate Geraghty

A spokesperson for Australia’s energy and climate change ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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.

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