Climate refugees protected by UN ruling

Monday 27th January 2020 | Jake

A UN human rights committee has ruled refugees cannot be returned to countries where their lives are at risk because of the climate crisis. This is the first judgment of its kind and, according to Amnesty International, will set a ‘global precedent’.

The judgement comes after Ioane Teitiota, from Kiribati, lodged a case against New Zealand in 2016, having been deported been denied asylum. The UN Human Rights Committee heard Teitiota had claimed asylum as a climate refugee, but was sent back to the Pacific nation by New Zealand’s authorities in 2015.

Ultimately the committee upheld New Zealand’s refusal to protect Teitiota. However, the committee noted in its decision that “the effects of climate change in receiving states may expose individuals to a violation of their rights”.


CBS News visits Kiribati

The UN committee’s full decision is available on the UN’s website, and the document includes reference to similar cases in the future by committee member Duncan Laki Muhumuza: “The Committee needs to handle critical and significantly irreversible issues of climate change, with the approach that seeks to uphold the sanctity of human life.”

Meanwhile Kate Schuetze, Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher, sent out a warning to the wider world: “The Pacific Islands are the canary in the coal mine for climate induced migrants.” She told Amnesty’s website.

Kiribati is widely viewed as one of the countries most in danger from the effects of climate change. SaveKiribati outline the threat rising temperatures pose to the country’s food supply (including its fisheries), as well as the imminent risk of rising sea levels. Kiribati is a low lying chain of islands, and populations have moved to an ever-shrinking area of safe land.