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Human rights and climate change: Indigenous Australians lodge complaint with UN

SYDNEY, Australia: In a complaint filed with the United Nations (UN) on Monday, an indigenous group accused the Aussie government of violating their human rights by not taking action on climate change as their culture and homeland were at risk.

The aboriginal group resides in the low-lying Torres Strait Islands in the country’s north.
In the first case of its kind in Australia, the indigenous people alleged that Australia has violated article 27, the right to culture; article 17, the right to be free from arbitrary interference with privacy, family and home and article 6, the right to life.

The indigenous Australians lamented the government over its failure to act on climate change. The members of the group said the Australian government’s lack of climate change policies was putting their culture and ancestral homeland at risk.

“Tides are rising every year, flooding homes, lands and important cultural sites. Rising sea temperatures are blighting the health of the marine environments around the islands, by bleaching the coral and acidifying the ocean,” a statement from the indigenous group said.

The lawyers said the case was the first of its kind to be lodged with the UN in which the aboriginals blamed the government for its apathy on climate change and thus leading to a human rights violation. In their complaint, the islanders mentioned that the international human rights law required Australia to reduce its emissions to at least 65% below 2005 levels by 2030. However, Morrison government failed to take adequate action to reduce emissions or pursue proper adaptation measures on the islands and, as a consequence, has failed fundamental human rights obligations to Torres Strait Islander people.

The non-profit environmental law organisation said this would be the first climate change litigation brought against the Australian government based on a human rights complaint and also the first legal action worldwide brought by inhabitants of low-lying islands against a nation state.

The complainant also demanded that the government invest some $14 million in emergency infrastructure including such as sea walls, to protect Torres Strait communities.

“Climate change is fundamentally a human rights issue,” said Sophie Marjanac, the lead lawyer on the case.

“Rising seas are washing away Torres Strait Islander’s homes. We’re supporting them to bring a world-first climate change case,” the lawyer said.

“Australia’s continued failure to build infrastructure to protect the islands and to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions constitutes a clear violation of the Islanders’ rights to culture, family and life,” she added.

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