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Australia violated human rights of Torres Strait Islanders to protect against climate change: UN

UN rules Australia violated Torres Strait Islanders’ human rights by failing to protect ‘their right to enjoy their culture’ against climate change

  • UN says Australia violated Torres Strait Islanders on climate change
  • A 2019 complaint was lodged by eight Australian citizens and six children
  • The complaint says the Morrison government failed to make the necessary upgrades

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The United Nations has ruled that Australia has failed to protect Torres Strait Islanders from the effects of climate change, thereby violating their right to enjoy their culture.

The decision, made by the UN Human Rights Committee, follows a 2019 complaint by eight Australian citizens and six of their children from four small, low-lying islands.

Residents of Boigu, Poruma, Warraber and Masig claimed their rights had been violated when the Morrison government failed to adapt to upgrade seawalls on the islands and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“The committee has created an avenue for individuals to make claims where national systems have failed to take adequate measures to protect those most vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change on the enjoyment of their human rights,” said committee member Hélène Tigroudja Friday evening.

The United Nations has ruled that Australia has failed to protect Torres Strait Islanders from the effects of climate change, thereby violating their right to enjoy their culture

The United Nations has ruled that Australia has failed to protect Torres Strait Islanders from the effects of climate change, thereby violating their right to enjoy their culture

The decision, made by the UN Human Rights Committee, follows a 2019 complaint by eight Australian citizens and six of their children from four small, low-lying islands

The decision, made by the UN Human Rights Committee, follows a 2019 complaint by eight Australian citizens and six of their children from four small, low-lying islands

The decision, made by the UN Human Rights Committee, follows a 2019 complaint by eight Australian citizens and six of their children from four small, low-lying islands

The islanders claimed that changes in weather patterns have had direct detrimental effects on their livelihoods, culture and traditional ways of life.

Flooding caused by tidal waves has destroyed tombs and left human remains scattered across the islands, while heavy rains and storms have degraded the soil, reducing food available from fishing and farming.

On Masig Island, rising seas have caused salt water to seep into the ground and coconut trees have become diseased.

The committee said despite Australia’s construction of new seawalls on the four islands expected to be completed by 2023, further measures were needed.

The UN has asked Australia to compensate the islanders for the damage they have suffered, consult to assess their needs and take measures to continue to ensure the community’s secure existence.

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.

Residents of Boigu, Poruma, Warraber and Masig claimed their rights had been violated when the Morrison government failed to adapt to upgrade seawalls on the islands and reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Residents of Boigu, Poruma, Warraber and Masig claimed their rights had been violated when the Morrison government failed to adapt to upgrade seawalls on the islands and reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Residents of Boigu, Poruma, Warraber and Masig claimed their rights had been violated when the Morrison government failed to adapt to upgrade seawalls on the islands and reduce greenhouse gas emissions

While the government knows what communities need, it must commit to real partnership, accountability and delivering results, chief executive Jamie McConnachie said.

‘We have a right to culture.

“What needs to be respected is the principle that culture is an empowering agent and that should underpin the delivery of services, policy and legislation that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.

‘There should be nothing about us or our country without us’.

The Climate Council welcomed the decision, and research director Dr. Simon Bradshaw, said the loss and damage experienced by Torres Islanders ‘signifies the injustice at the heart of the climate crisis’.

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

‘The Australian Government must do all it can to limit future damage by ensuring Australia’s emissions plummet this decade, leaving fossil fuels in the ground and providing far greater support for Torres Strait communities to adapt to the impacts of climate change.’

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