UN committee finds Australia violated rights of Torres Strait Islanders

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UN committee finds Australia violated rights of Torres Strait Islanders

A UN committee found on Friday Sep 23 that Australia had violated the human rights of a group of islanders off its north coast by failing to adequately protect them from the impacts of climate change, such as by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The ruling is expected to embolden others, as a result of the complaint filed over three years ago by eight Torres Strait Islanders and their children.

Rising sea levels have already damaged food sources and ancestral burial sites, scattering human remains, the islanders said.

Yessie Mosby, a Kulkalgal man and Traditional Owner on the island of Masig, is a rejoicing knowing that Torres Strait Islander voices are being heard throughout the world through this landmark case. He said that this win gives us hope that we can protect our island's homes, culture and traditions for our kids and future generations to come.

ClientEarth, working with the claimants, said it was the first legal action brought by climate-vulnerable inhabitants of small islands against a nation-state, setting several precedents.

The Committee said that Australia has violated two of the three human rights set out in a UN treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1966 relating to culture and family life, but not article 6 on the right to life.

It called for Australia to provide islanders with an effective remedy.

Australia's Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said in emailed comments to Reuters that the government was working with the islanders on climate change and stressed that the case predated the current administration.

He added that the Australian Government is considering the views of the Committee and will provide its response in due course.

Torres Strait Islanders are part of Australia's indigenous population, along with Aboriginal people, who live on small clusters of low-lying islands dotted between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

The case was brought when the former conservative government was seen as a laggard in the battle against climate change. Since then, Parliament has passed legislation on emissions cuts and Climate Change, and Energy Minister Chris Bowen has visited the islands this year.

Some 173 of the 193 UN member states have ratified the Covenant. There is no enforcement mechanism, but there are follow-up steps, and states generally comply with the findings of the committee.