Categories
Biodiversity Brazil Deforestation Indigenous peoples rights Indigenous peoples' rights International Criminal Court Right to a healthy environment Right to culture Right to health

The Prosecutor v. Bolsonaro

Summary:
On 12 October 2021, the Austrian NGO AllRise, which advocates for interests linked with the environment, democracy, and the rule of law, submitted a communication to the International Criminal Court in the Hague concerning acting Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Although NGOs cannot initiate proceedings before the ICC, the Prosecutor can do so proprio motu (Art. 15(1) Rome Statute), and the communication’s aim is to convince the Prosectuor to do so regarding President Bolsonaro’s policy on the Amazon rainforest.

AllRise contends that the Bolsonaro government’s socio-economic policy has put the lives of environmental advocates at risk, and has dismantled the protections of the environment that were previously available under domestic law, which as facilitated the activities of criminal networks. By failing to prosecute the perpetrators of environmental crimes and undermining the protection of the climate, human health, and justice, AllRise argues, the Bolsonaro government has committed crimes against humanity, as proscribed by the Rome Statute of the ICC.

The NGO’s communication is supported by the Climate Observatory (Observatório do Clima), a network of 70 Brazilian civil society organizations.

Human rights claims:
AllRise argues that ‘these Environmental Dependents and Defenders have been and continue to be the subject of Crimes Against Humanity through severe deprivations of their fundamental and universal right to a healthy environment (also known as R2E) and other human rights related thereto’ (para. 15). It likewise invoked the rights of indigenous peoples, arguing that ‘[t]he destruction of the rainforest and the rivers of the Amazon has a devastating impact on the traditional, cultural and spiritual way of life of Indigenous peoples and others who depend upon the forest’ (para. 164). The NGO also describes the background of attacks and violence against environmental activists and human rights defenders (paras. 201-208).

More information:
To read the full complaint, click here.

Categories
Adaptation Australia Human Rights Committee Imminent risk Indigenous peoples' rights Private and family life Right to culture Right to life Sea-level rise

Torres Straits Islanders v. Australia

Summary:
This petition against Australia was brought to the UN Human Rights Committee by a group of eight Torres Straits Islanders in 2019. In their petition, they argued that the Australian government had violated their rights, as inhabitants of low-lying islands, under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) because of its inaction in addressing climate change.

Rights at stake:
The applicants in this case invoked a series of rights in the ICCPR. This includes 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). They consider that the Australian government must ensure both mitigation and adaptation measures in order to adequately protect their rights.

Outcome:
The case is currently pending.

Categories
Adaptation Australia Domestic court Imminent risk Indigenous peoples' rights Sea-level rise Uncategorized Vulnerability

Australian Torres Straits Islanders case

Summary:
In the Australian Torres Straits Islanders case, modelled on the Dutch Urgenda case, a group of indigenous Torres Strait Islanders living on islands off Australia’s coast initiated domestic class action proceedings before the Federal court of Australia to claim that the Australian government has failed to protect them from climate change, leading to the progressive destruction of their ancestral islands.

Context:
In another, separate climate claim, a group of eight Torres Strait islanders took a Communication to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 2019, alleging that Australia had violated the human rights of low-lying islanders because of its failure to take climate action.

Petitioners:
This case was brought by two First Nations leaders on behalf of the remote Torres Strait islands of Boigu and Saibai. They brought the case on their own behalf and “on behalf of all persons who at any time during the period from about 1985 and continuing, are of Torres Strait Islander descent and suffered loss and damage as a result of the conduct of the Respondent”.

Arguments made:
Based on scientific evidence, the plaintiffs argue that climate change is already threatening their native title rights and distinctive customary culture. They allege that, due to the progression of climate change and the increasing storms and rising sea levels that result from this, they face an increasing threat of floods and of rising salt concentrations in their soil. Some islands, they argue, could become uninhabitable if the global temperature rises to levels more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. One of the plaintiffs noted that that his people have lived on the islands in question for over 65,000 years.

The plaintiffs allege that the Australian government owes a duty of care to Torres Strait Islanders. It must, in other words, take reasonable measures to protect them, their environment, their culture and their traditional way of life from the harms caused by climate change. Because current climate action and targets are not consistent with the best available climate science, they argue, this duty of care has been breached. They invoke the Torres Strait Treaty, which requires the Australian government to protect and preserve the marine environment in the region. The plaintiffs seek both mitigation and adaptation measures and rely on the duty of care recognized in the Sharma case.

Full text of the petition:
The full text of the petition is available at climatecasechart.com.

Categories
2021 Domestic court Indigenous peoples' rights Norway Right to culture

Statnett SF et al. v. Sør-Fosen sijte et al.

Summary:
In this judgment of 11 October 2021, the Supreme Court of Norway found that the construction of two wind power plants on the Fosen peninsula interfered with the rights of reindeer herders to enjoy their own culture under Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Supreme Court unanimously found that there had been an interference with this right, and accordingly invalidated the wind power licence and the expropriation decision.

Facts of the case:
In 2010, two wind power plants (the Roan and Storheia plants) received a license from the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate. These plants are located within the Fosen grazing district, where the Sør-Fosen sijte and Nord-Fosen siida keep their reindeer. In 2013, the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy rejected their claim that the construction of the wind power plants interfered with their right to cultural enjoyment. Construction on the plants commenced while the issue was pending before the courts, and the two plants – which are part of the largest onshore wind power project in Europe — were ready to become operational in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

Merits:
The main issue at stake before the Supreme Court was whether the development interfered with the reindeer herders’ rights under Article 27 ICCPR. That provision enshrines the right of persons belonging to an ethnic, religious or linguistic minority to enjoy their own culture, in community with the other members of their group. It was undisputed before the Supreme Court that reindeer husbandry is a protected cultural practice. The Supreme Court relied on the Court of Appeal’s finding that the winter pastures near Storheia and Roan had in practice been lost to reindeer husbandry, and that the wind power plants in question are a threat to the reindeer industry’s existence on Fosen peninsula absent remedial measures.    

The Supreme Court, relying on the work of the UN Human Rights Committee, held that the total effect of the development in question determines whether a violation of the ICCPR right has taken place. Although there is no room for a proportionality assessment, a balance must be struck if the rights under Article 27 ICCPR conflict with other fundamental rights. The Supreme Court established that the right to a healthy environment might constitute such a conflicting right.

The Supreme Court found that the herders’ cultural rights would face significant adverse effects and be violated if satisfactory remedial measures were not implemented. The Supreme Court agreed that a “green shift” and increased renewable energy production are important, but found that there were alternatives that were less intrusive for the reindeer herders less, so that there was no collision between environmental interests and the reindeers’ right to cultural enjoyment in this case.   

Remedial awards:
In its ruling, the Court of Appeal had previously stipulated sizeable compensation for the winter feeding of fenced-in reindeer, and on this basis it had found no violation of the right to cultural enjoyment. In the Supreme Court’s view, such a solution was too uncertain to be a determining factor in whether Article 27 ICCPR had been violated. In any event, the courts could not rely on such a measure as a part of the reindeer herders’ duty to adapt.  

Separate opinions:
N/A

Implementation:
N/A

Date of judgment:
11 October 2021

Links:
A summary of the judgment (in English) is available here.

The full text of the judgment (in Norwegian, English translation forthcoming) is available here.

Suggested citation:
Supreme Court of Norway, Statnett SF et al. v. Sør-Fosen sijte, HR-2021-1975-S, Judgment of 11 October 2021.

Categories
Business responsibility Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions Extreme poverty Indigenous peoples' rights Right to a healthy environment Right to health Right to housing Right to life Right to subsistence/food Right to water Self-determination The Philippines Vulnerability

Greenpeace Southeast Asia and others v. the Carbon Majors

Summary:
This case was brought before the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights (CHR) by 12 organisations and 20 individuals, as well as over a thousand Filipino citizens who expressed their support for the case through a petition, against the so-called ‘carbon majors’, i.e. high-emitting multinational and state-owned producers of natural gas, crude oil, coal and cement. The applicants based their case on research indicating that these Carbon Majors are responsible for a large percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions. Citing the Philippines’ high degree of vulnerability to the effects of climate change, the applicants alleged violations of the rights to life, health, food, water, sanitation, adequate housing, and self-determination. They also specifically invoked the rights of vulnerable groups, peoples and communities, including women, children, people living with disabilities, those living in extreme poverty, indigenous peoples, and displaced persons. They invoked also the right to development, labor rights, and the right to ‘a balanced and healthful ecology’. This petition was brought after a number particularly destructive typhoons that affected the Philippines, including Typhoon Haiyan.

As a result of the petition, the CHR began a dialogical and consultative process, called the National Inquiry on Climate Change (NICC). This process aims to determine the impact of climate change on the human rights of the Filipino people, as well as determining whether the Carbon Majors are responsible for climate change.

Responsible instance:
The case was brought before the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights, which is an independent National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) under the 1987 Philippine Constitution, established on 5 May 1987 by Executive Order No. 163.

Date filed:
22 September 2015

Procedural steps in the case:
On 10 December 2015, the Commission announced during the Paris Climate Change Conference that it would take cognizance of the case.

On 21 July 2016, the Commission enjoined the respondent Carbon Majors to file their comments or answers to the petition within forty-five days. Out of the 47 respondents summoned, 15 submitted a response. Thirteen amicus curiae briefs were received. The applicants filed a reply, to which seven of the carbon majors filed a rejoinder.

Beginning July and November 2017, the Commission conducted community visits and dialogues to select climate impacted areas.

On 11 December 2017, the parties held a first preliminary conference. The Commission used this opportunity to deny the respondents’ jurisdictional objections to the case. It asserted its authority to investigate the case and hold public hearings in 2018 in Manila, New York, and London.

In 2018, the Commission held six public hearings in the case.

Outcome of the NICC:
TBC

Suggested citation:
Philippines Human Rights Commission, In Re: National Inquiry on the Impact of Climate Change on the Human Rights of the Filipino People and the Responsibility therefor, if any, of the ‘Carbon Majors’, case nr. CHR-NI-2016-0001, petition filed on 22 September 2015.

Further information:
The full text of the petition is available here.

For additional resources provided by the Commission, such as transcripts of hearings and evidence submitted, click here.

Categories
2020 Children and young people Domestic court Emissions reductions Indigenous peoples' rights Standing/admissibility United States of America

Juliana et al. v. USA et al.

Summary:
On 12 August 2015, the case of Juliana v. the United States was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. The 21 young plaintiffs in this case, who were represented by the NGO “Our Children’s Trust”, asserted that the government had violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty and property through its climate change-causing actions. Moreover, they stated that the government had failed to protect essential public trust resources by encouraging and permitting the combustion of fossil fuels. The Court of Appeal held that the plaintiff’s requested remedies should be addressed by the executive and legislative branches rather than by the courts. At present, the youth plaintiffs are planning to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court or to settle discussions with the Biden-Harris administration.

Court’s decision:
U.S. District Court of Oregon Judge Ann Aiken declined to dismiss the lawsuit. She ruled that access to a clean environment constitutes a fundamental right. Judge Aiken’s judgment was reversed by a Ninth Circuit Panel due to the plaintiffs’ lack of standing to sue. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recognized the gravity of the evidence on the plaintiffs’s injuries from climate change. The panel of judges recognized the existence of harms to the applicants, and the plausibility of arguing that these harms had been caused by climate change. Nevertheless, the Court held that the plaintiffs’ requested remedies should be addressed by the executive and legislative branches and not by the courts. One of the three judges affirmed the plaintiff’s constitutional climate rights in a dissent.

Date of decision:
17 January 2020

Further reading:
The full text of the Ninth Circuit’s order on interlocutory appeal is available here.

Suggested citation:
Juliana and Others v. the United States and Others, 947 F.3d 1159 (9th Cir. 2020).

Categories
Canada Emissions reductions Indigenous peoples' rights Inter-American Human Rights System Right to culture Right to health Right to property Right to subsistence/food

Arctic Athabaskan Council v. Canada

Summary:
This case, brought before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by Athabaskan people living in Canada, concerned alleged rights violations relating to Arctic warming and melting caused by Canadian black carbon emissions. The case alleged that Canada, by failing to regulate black carbon emissions, had violated various human rights of the Athabaskan people, including their rights to health, subsistence, property, and culture.

The complaint:
The applicants in this case allege that Canada’s emissions of black carbon, which is a component of sooty fine-particle pollution and stems largely from diesel emissions and the burning of biomass, is particularly harmful to their rights and way of life because it is emitted in or near the Arctic.

The applicants submit that the warming effect of black carbon on the global climate is second only to carbon dioxide. In the Arctic, black carbon warms in two ways: it absorbs sunlight in the air, and it reduces the reflectivity of ice and snow-covered surfaces, accelerating their rate of melting.

In particular, the applicants cite their right to culture, particularly their ability to transmit their cultural knowledge to future generations, because “Arctic warming and melting has made the weather, the hunt, and the behaviors and occurrence of fish and wildlife so erratic that elders no longer feel confident in teaching younger people traditional ways.”

The also argue that warming and melting has affected the integrity of the land, compromising their right to property. This includes floods, forest fires, melting permafrost, erosion-related harms and landslides, as well as the destruction of cultural and historic sites and increased difficulty in accessing resources. The Athabaskans also invoke their right to means of subsistence, citing difficulties in accessing traditional food sources and adverse effects on biodiversity. Lastly, they cite their right to health, arguing that the loss of traditional foods has adversely affected the Athabaskan way of life. Melting permafrost is affecting water quality, and the loss of traditional food sources is forcing the people to rely on purchased food, leading to increases in the prevalence of chronic diseases.

Before the Commission, the applicants allege that the Canadian state’s acts and omissions represent an ongoing violation of their human rights, and that there are no domestic remedies suitable for addressing these violations. They argue that Canada has failed to take action to reduce black carbon emissions, and that such action could substantially remedy the Arctic warming and melting that are causing the violations at stake. They accordingly request the Commission to investigate and confirm the alleged harms; set forth the facts and applicable law, declaring a violation of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man; and recommend steps to limit black carbon emissions and protect Arctic Athabaskan culture and resources from Arctic warming and melting.

Forum:
Inter-American Commission of Human Rights

Date filed:
23 April 2013

Status of case:
Pending

Suggested citation:
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Arctic Athabaskan Peoples v. Canada, petition submitted on 23 April 2013, case pending.

Further information:
For more on this petition, see

The full text of the petition has been made available here by EarthJustice here: https://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/AAC_PETITION_13-04-23a.pdf

For a summary of the petition, provided by EarthJustice, click here: https://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/library/legal_docs/summary-of-inuit-petition-to-inter-american-council-on-human-rights.pdf

Further reading:
Agnieszka Szpak, ‘Arctic Athabaskan Council’s Petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and Climate Change—Business as Usual or a Breakthrough?’ 162 Climatic Change (2020) 1575–1593.

Categories
2006 Biodiversity Emissions reductions Extraterritorial obligations Freedom of movement Indigenous peoples' rights Inter-American Human Rights System Private and family life Right to culture Right to health Right to property Right to subsistence/food United States of America

Sheila Watt-Cloutier et al. v. the United States of America

Summary:
Filed in 2005 by members of the Inuit people living in Canada, this application concerned the climate change-related responsibility of the United States of America. The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights refused to examine the case on the grounds that the information provided was insufficient.

More information on the petition:
In this petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, an Inuk woman and Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference living in Canada, sought relief from human rights violations related to climate change caused by the acts and omissions of the United States. Ms. Watt-Cloutier, on behalf of herself, 62 other individuals, and all of the Inuit of the arctic regions of the United States of America and Canada, sought relief against the effects of climate change, which — it was argued — have the potential to affect every aspect of the life of the Inuit people, including the quality of the permafrost, land and water, biodiversity and food sources, and cultural rights. The petitioners relied on the United States’ obligations under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and other instruments that shape these obligations under the Declaration, including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

This case was extraterritorially framed: it was brought by Inuit people living in Canada, but against the United States of America for its climate change-related human rights impacts. The petitioners argued that the acts and omissions by the United States had violated the Inuit’s rights to the benefits of culture, to property, to the preservation of health, life, physical integrity, security, and a means of subsistence, and to residence, movement, and inviolability of the home under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and other international instruments.

Outcome:
On 16 November 2006, the Commission refused to consider the petition because it considered that it had provided insufficient information. Specifically, it found that the petition did not “enable us [the Commission] to determine whether the alleged facts would tend to characterize a violation of rights protected by the American Declaration”.

The Commission held a hearing in 2007 concerning the case, however it did not revisit its decision not to examine the complaints made.

Forum:
Inter-American Commission of Human Rights

Date filed:
7 December 2005

Suggested citation:
IACHR, Sheila Watt-Cloutier et al. v. USA, petition rejected on 7 December 2005

Full text of the petition:
The text of the petition is available at climatecasechart.com. Click here to access it.

The video of the 2007 hearing is available here.

Further information:
For more on this petition, see:

Agnieszka Szpak, ‘Arctic Athabaskan Council’s petition to the Inter-American Commission on human rights and climate change—business as usual or a breakthrough?’ 162 Climatic Change (2020) 1575–1593.

Categories
Access to a remedy Indigenous peoples' rights Inter-American Human Rights System Nicaragua Right to property

Mayagna (Sumo) Awas Tingni Community v. Nicaragua

Summary:
The Awas Tingni community, an indigenous community of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, had no real property title deed to its ancestral lands. The community contested a concession to a corporation to carry out road construction work and logging exploitation in the forest where the community was located. The community requested that no further steps be taken to grant the concession without the consent of the community. Before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the community argued that the State did not ensure access to an effective remedy, nor obtain the community’s consent before granting the concession on the community’s land. Moreover, it contended that the state had not demarcated the communal lands of the Community.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that the Nicaraguan State had violated the American Convention on Human Rights, specifically the right to judicial protection under Art. 25 in connection with Art. 1(1) and 2 of the Convention, as well as the right to property under Art. 21 in connection with Art. 1(1) and 2 of the Convention.

Date of judgment:
31 August 2001

Rights invoked:
Art. 1 (obligation to Respect Rights), Art. 2 (domestic Legal Effects), Art. 21 (right to property) and Art. 25 (right to judicial protection) of the American Convention on Human Rights

Merits:
Regarding art. 25 of the American Convention on Human Rights, the Court held that the State had not adopted adequate domestic measures for delimination, demarcation and titling of the community’s land. Moreover, the State had failed to process the remedy filed by the community within a reasonable time. Therefore the Court held that Nicaragua had violated art. 25. The Court also ruled that the State had not effectively delimited and demarcated the limit of the territory regarding which the community had property rights. As a consequence, the community did not know with certainty how far their property extended geographically. The Court determined that Nicaragua had violated art. 21 of the Convention (right to property).

Remedies:
The State was required to adopt, in its domestic law, pursuant to art. 2 of the American Convention on Human Rights, legislative, administrative and any other measures necessary to create an effective mechanism for delimination, demarcation and titling of the property of indigenous communities. Moreover the State was requires to carry out the delimination, demarcation and the titling of the corresponding lands of the members of the community. The Court also noted that its judgment constituted a form of reparation. In addition, the State was required to invest, as a form of reparation for immaterial damages, in works or services of collective interests to the benefit of the community, as well as being required to pay the community 30’000 dollars for costs and expenses regarding the proceedings.

Separate opinions:
See the dissenting opinion of Judge Montiel Argüello regarding the violation of Arts. 21 and 25.

Suggested case citation:
IACtHR, Mayagna (Sumo) Awas Tingni Community v. Nicaragua, Judgment of 31 August 2001