Thursday 14th November 2019
The Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has refused an invitation to visit the climate-affected homes of a group of indigenous Torres Strait Islanders who are bringing a human rights complaint against their government.
In an email reply last month, Morrison declined the personal invitation to see for himself the effects of climate change on the low-lying islands, as did the Minister for Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor.
A representative from the group, Kabay Tamu, contacted the PM in September and personally delivered the invitation to Australia’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, where he was addressing a global summit on climate, rights and human survival.
Tamu is one of eight islanders from four different islands threatened by rising seas. In May this year, they lodged a world-first complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva, Switzerland, over the threat to their human rights posed by their government’s climate failure.
Reacting to the news, another complainant Yessie Mosby said: “We’re very disappointed the Prime Minister will not visit our communities. Just like those battling bushfires on the mainland, our islands are on Australia’s climate frontline.
Mosby said the group of complainants was hoping Australia would scale up climate action in its next Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) required under the Paris Agreement in the lead-up to COP 26 in 2020.
“We’ll wait and see what Canberra declares in coming months, as will our fellow islanders across the Pacific.
“This is not a problem for another country to sort out. Bushfires, floods, droughts, extreme heat and in our case rising seas – this is the reality of living in Australia now,” he added.
In their letter to the PM, the islanders described how rising seas are threatening homes, swamping burial grounds and washing away sacred cultural sites.
With the steady erosion of coastlines, islanders are witnessing communities being inundated, infrastructure damaged, sea walls and flood defences breached, fresh water wells contaminated and plants and crops spoiled.
About the complaint
The islanders’ complaint was the first climate change litigation brought against the Australian federal government, based on human rights and the first legal action worldwide brought by inhabitants of low-lying islands against a nation state.
Lawyers with environmental law non-profit ClientEarth, are representing the islanders, with support from barristers from 20 Essex Street Chambers in London. The claim is supported by the Torres Strait’s leading land and sea council that represents the regions’ traditional owners, Gur A Baradharaw Kod (GBK) and environmental group 350 Australia.
The complaint asserts that by failing to take adequate action to reduce emissions or to build proper adaptation measures on the islands, Australia is failing its legal human rights obligations to Torres Strait people. These are the rights to culture, the right to a family and the right to life, under the first global United Nations treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The complainants are Yessie Mosby and Nazareth Warria of Masig (Yorke Island); Keith Pabai and Stanley Marama of Boigu; Nazareth Fauid of Poruma (Coconut Island); Ted Billy, Daniel Billy and Kabay Tamu of Warraber (Sue Island).
The public can support the islanders’ claim and petition to the PM at: ourislandsourhome.com.au