Torres Strait Islanders Win Climate Lawsuit Against Australia

According to a ruling by the UN Human Rights
Committee, Australia has not sufficiently protected the
inhabitants of the Torres Strait Islands from the
consequences of the climate crisis. Rising sea levels
threaten the lives, homes, and culture of the indigenous
people who have lived on the island for centuries. The
government must now compensate the affected people and take
measures to protect them.

The climate crisis
threatens the lives and culture of the inhabitants of the
Torres Strait Islands. Yessie Mosby is one of them. He has
long been concerned about rising sea levels. The salt water
not only washes away homes and roads, but also the sacred burial
sites of the indigenous population.

That’s why
Mosby and seven other islanders filed a complaint with the
UN Human Rights Committee in 2019.

UN Human Rights
Committee upholds the rights of islanders

Last week,
the United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled in favor of
the Torres Strait Islanders. The reason for the ruling was
that Australia had not sufficiently protected them from the
consequences and damage cause by the climate crisis. The
government must now make up for this and compensate the
affected people.

Although the ruling is not legally
binding, UN member states generally abide to the decisions
of the UN Human Rights Committee. Especially when it comes
to violations of the rights set out in the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Australia
violates rights enshrined in the International Convention on
Civil and Political
Rights

“UNDER INTERNATIONAL
HUMAN RIGHTS LAW, THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE OF THIS COUNTRY HAVE
THE RIGHT TO PRACTICE OUR CULTURES AND LIVE FREELY.”, SAID
YESSIE MOSBY IN A STATEMENT FOR THE BRISBANE
TIMES.

Mosby
refers to the United Nations’ International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights. Among other things, the Covenant
protects family and cultural life. It was signed in 1966 by
172 UN member states—including Australia.

Both the
right to “the free exercise of culture” and the right to
home, private life and family have been violated, according
to the committee. Therefore, the state must compensate the
inhabitants of the Torres Strait
Islands.

“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
ruling could thus become a precedent for many more climate
lawsuits based on human rights.

Lawsuit targets
Morrison’s Conservative government

The lawsuit
before the UN Human Rights Committee was directed against
the right-wing Conservative government of Scott Morrison
(2018-2022).

Critics
repeatedly accused Morrison of not taking the climate crisis
seriously. Morrison consistently stressed that it was not
the responsibility of his government, but rather the
responsibility of businesses and consumers, to ensure
sufficient climate protection.

Albanese’s social
democratic government, which has been in office since 2022,
already committed itself to more climate protection during
the election
campaign.

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