Posts Tagged ‘R2E’

The right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment (R2E) – further steps and historical decision in the Case of Torres Strait Islanders

November 9, 2022

Following the Human Rights Council and General Assembly resolutions recognising the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment (R2E), adopted in 2021 and 2022 respectively (HRC/RES/48/13 and A/RES/76/300), people have started to consider appropriate next steps in advancing the legal recognition, implementation, and monitoring of this right. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/10/11/new-right-to-healthy-environment-ngos-urge-action/

A blog post of the Universal Rights Group on 7 November 2022 reports on meeting on 18 October hosted by the Permanent Mission of Costa Rica in Geneva, UNEP, and the Universal Rights Group bringing together over 20 human rights experts from Geneva Permanent Missions in a non-attributable setting designed to promote open and forward-looking debate on appropriate next steps. The discussion was informed by an ‘options paper’ prepared by the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, Dr David Boyd, detailing three possible ways to advance the R2E, which he argued can and should be carried out concurrently.

In the meantime, a more operational development was the historic decision, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee found on Friday 23 September that Australia’s failure to adequately adapt to climate change violates the human rights of Torres Strait Islanders.   

Karin M Frodé, Andrea Olivares Jones and Joanna Kyriakakis reported on the case:

The Committee, which oversees the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) received a complaint by eight Torres Strait Islanders and six of their children in 2019. The group called for the Committee to recognise that the Australian Government had violated their human rights by failing to reduce carbon emissions, and introduce measures to adapt to climate change.

The Committee’s decision makes clear that inadequate responses to climate change can result in the violation of human rights. It is a landmark victory worth celebrating as part of a broader trend in climate change litigation which has seen human rights arguments put forward to hold both states (ie, the NetherlandsPakistan and Belgium) and corporations (ie, Shell and other Carbon Majors) accountable. It is also an example of a rise in cases where Indigenous actors are central. 

The Committee’s decision: The Committee found that Australia has violated the Torres Strait Islanders’ rights to private life, home and family and their enjoyment of culture. In doing so, the Committee noted Australia’s efforts to construct a seawall, but found it to be an inadequate response to the alarming threats that had been raised by Torres Strait Islanders since the 1990s, due to its delay initiating the project ([8.12], [8.14]).

While decisions by UN bodies are not automatically binding in Australian law, they are persuasive opinions by independent experts that outline Australia’s international obligations and analyse whether they are complied with. The relationship between climate change impacts and human rights is an emerging area, so the clarity that decisions such as in the present case bring is critical. This decision is therefore important not only to the complainants but for other climate justice advocates. 

The present decision follows other climate related decisions by human rights bodies. In Teitiota, a case brought against New Zealand, the same Committee made important observations about state obligations and climate change in the context of asylum seekers and refugees, though it stopped short of finding a violation. Another complaint brought by young climate activists against five states for climate inaction before the Committee on the Rights of the Child, focused on child-centric impacts of climate change. Although dismissed for technical reasons, that decision made important findings that children fall within the jurisdiction of states where transboundary harm originates, following the approach of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/03/02/human-rights-high-commissioner-bachelet-urges-support-for-environmental-defenders/

https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/09/australia-violated-torres-strait-islanders-rights-enjoy-culture-and-family