The applicant submitted that New Zealand had violated his right to life under the ICCPR by removing him to Kiribati, an island state where, he submitted, the situation was becoming increasingly unstable and precarious due to sea level rise caused by global warming. The HRC accepted the claim that sea level rise and climate change-related harms can trigger non-refoulement obligations, but found that there is still time to take measures to protect the population of Kiribati.
Concerning the imminence of the risk faced, the Committee noted that the author was not alleging a hypothetical future harm, but a real predicament caused by a lack of potable water and employment possibilities, and a threat of serious violence caused by land disputes. The author had sufficiently demonstrated, for the purpose of admissibility, the existence of a real risk of harm to his right to life, given the impact of climate change and associated sea level rise on the habitability of Kiribati and on the security situation on the islands.
The HRC found that environmental degradation can compromise the effective enjoyment of the right to life, and if severe it can violate that right. The Committee accepted the author’s claim that sea level rise is likely to render Kiribati uninhabitable. Without robust national and international efforts, the effects of climate change in receiving States may expose individuals to a violation of articles 6 or 7 ICCPR, thereby triggering the non-refoulement obligations of sending States. However, it noted that the time frame of 10 to 15 years, as suggested by the author, could allow for intervening acts by Kiribati, with the assistance of the international community, to take affirmative measures to protect and, where necessary, relocate its population.
Implementation measures taken:
24 October 2019
Status of case:
Suggested case citation:
Human Rights Committee, Ioane Teitiota v. New Zealand, No. 2728/2016, Communication of 24 October 2019.
For the full-text of the decision in the case, click here.
Adaena Sinclair-Blakemore, ‘Teitiota v New Zealand: A Step Forward in the Protection of Climate Refugees under International Human Rights Law?’ Oxford Human Rights Hub, 28th January 2020, available here.
climate refugees, affectedness, non-refoulement