Providing legal assistance to Indigenous peoples who are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis.
In May 2019, lawyers with environmental law charity ClientEarth acted for a group of eight Torres Strait Islanders in submitting a complaint against the Australian Commonwealth Government to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva. This is the first climate change case to be brought against the Australian Government on human rights grounds.
The complaint alleges that climate inaction by the Australian Government violates the human rights of the Islanders under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as communities are suffering a range of climate-related impacts on their traditional way of life. These include rising seas damaging homes, sacred sites, and burial grounds, as well as impacts on the marine environment, which is central to Islander livelihoods, culture, and spirituality.
The complaint authors are calling for greater climate action from the Australian Government, including plans to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and for more funding for adaptation, such as coastal defenses.
In December 2019, the Australian Government delivered a key ask – promising AU$25 million in climate adaptation spending for the Torres Strait – yet the case itself is ongoing. The Human Rights Committee has requested a response from the Australian Government, after which the Islanders will respond, followed by a potential oral hearing, with a decision likely in 2021.
The region’s peak native title body, Gur A Baradharaw Kod Sea and Land Council, is supporting the claim, and lawyers with ClientEarth are providing legal advice to the Islanders pro bono. Environmental campaigners 350 Australia are leading the local campaign, helping to spread the Islanders’ story to audiences on the mainland.
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