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Climate Change and Human Rights
by Michelle Bachelet
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Dec. 2018
Climate change is not just one of the greatest challenges to global development, science and security in our era. It is also among the greatest affronts to human rights – so devastating, and so compounding, that they really ought to be termed “climate violations / climate related violations / climate-impact human rights violations”. ‘Change’ is too mild a word.
Climate change threatens the right to life, both in terms of its direct impact and its cascading run-on effects. It threatens the right to food security, the right to water and sanitation, the right to health, the right to self-determination and the right to live in your own country.
Climate change has massively damaging impact on the right to development: just over the past six months we have seen hurricanes repeatedly destroy, in a day, decades of investment in crucial infrastructure projects.
The suffering and deprivation it generates are already forcing large numbers of people to leave their homes, and this forcible displacement – which is another human rights violation – is certain to increase.
This set of violations is severe in the immediate short term, and overwhelming, in both scale and impact, over the longer perspective. And they have particularly drastic effects on people who are already made vulnerable by marginalisation and discrimination.
For the poor, for women, for people who are disabled, indigenous people or members of communities that are pushed to the edges of society on the basis of their racial or religious identity, climate change is a disaster that can exacerbate discrimination and further deprive them of access to fundamental services and goods.
It seems clear that by raising social tensions and decreasing access to resources, the compounded effects of all these hazards may intensify the risk of conflict. Across the Sahel and in several other regions, climate change related grievances are fuelling violence – and in an intensifying cycle of violations and suffering, conflict may force even more people off their land and further aggravate environmental damage.
Two weeks ago, the authoritative medical journal The Lancet reported that if climate change continues unabated, within decades “Multiple cities will be uninhabitable”. The “prevalence of heatstroke and extreme weather” will redefine our work and lives.
The World Health Organization report on climate change and health which was launched here at COP24 last week makes it clear that climate change is already damaging the effective enjoyment of the human right to health for countless people.
Fossil fuel combustion doesn’t just contribute to climate change: it also releases air pollutants with immediate and devastating effects on health. Because of their less developed physiology and immune systems, they especially damage children.
In 2016 alone, air pollution caused more than 7 million deaths – over 500,000 of them children under the age of 5.
As emissions increase and fossil fuel consumption continues to rise, air pollution will soar – and with it, the burden of mortality, inhibited neural development, impaired lung function, respiratory infection, cardiovascular disease, and cancer that we are inflicting on the world’s children.
Because air pollution doesn’t just happen. Climate violations are not inevitable. They result from choices – deliberate choices, which fly in the face of science, prudence, compassion and human rights law.
There is no such thing as an unimportant child. There is no such thing as a human being, or a community, whose rights, and lives, are disposable. And nobody will be safe from the impact of climate change – no wall, and no amount of wealth, will protect anyone from its costs.
You may know the saying: if you think economic interests are more important than the environment, try counting your money while holding your breath. Nothing could be more important than the work of ensuring a healthy environment for our planet; and no investment could pay higher dividends.
But this is not only a matter of justice, and not only a question of sound economic self-interest. States have clear human rights obligations with respect to climate change.
State obligations with respect to climate change include duties to provide information about environmental hazards, to facilitate participation in environmental decision-making, and to provide effective remedies for harm. States also must take effective actions to ensure that environmental threats do not adversely affect the enjoyment of human rights.
They should not discriminate, in developing and implementing environmental policies, and they have a particular duty to protect those who are most vulnerable to environmental degradation.
Critically, these duties include the requirement that private actors, such as corporations, be adequately regulated, to ensure they do not cause human rights abuse through environmental harm.
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights also make clear that corporations are required to respect human rights. This includes the direct impact of their operations, but also their efforts to adapt to climate harms..

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The International Criminal Court is a crucial component of the rule-based global order
by Louis Charbonneau
Human Rights Watch
24 Dec. 2018
United Nations member countries thwarted an attempt by China to cut proposed funding for investigations into Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing campaign against Rohingya Muslims. This ensures that a newly established UN body will have the necessary financing to gather and preserve criminal evidence for future trials.
After marathon negotiations – during which China called for cutting the proposed budget in half – the UN General Assembly’s budget committee approved without a vote some US$28 million for investigations in Myanmar, only slightly less than the proposed US$29 million budget.
In September, the UN Human Rights Council voted to establish an international body to help prepare evidence for future criminal proceedings. A UN fact-finding mission reported earlier this year that Myanmar security forces committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide against ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine State. The report also examined abuses by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and by government forces and ethnic armed groups in Shan and Kachin States.
The UN Security Council, where China holds a veto, has been largely passive on the Rohingya crisis. It has held a handful of meetings and adopted several statements, though Beijing has vigorously opposed putting pressure on Myanmar with targeted sanctions or other measures.
Unlike the Security Council, no country has a veto in the General Assembly so China was unable to block the push by the European Union, United States, Canada, Switzerland, and Kuwait on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to end debate and approve funding for the investigation.
In recent years, the General Assembly’s budget committee has become one of the UN’s biggest human rights battlegrounds. China and Russia have led an assault on funding for human rights posts in peacekeeping and political missions, targeting for defunding virtually every UN post with the words “human rights” in the job description.
China and Russia seem intent on removing the UN’s human rights pillar post by post. UN member states, regional organizations like the OIC, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and senior UN officials need to remain vigilant and use their authority to thwart them every step of the way. Otherwise the UN’s ability to protect and promote human rights and expose abuses could become a thing of the past.
Dec. 2018
ICC member countries should oppose efforts to discredit ‘Court of Last Resort’
International Criminal Court (ICC) member countries should reaffirm the court’s mandate in the face of United States threats to weaken its essential role in international justice, Human Rights Watch said today. The 17th session of the court’s annual meeting, the Assembly of States Parties, will take place in The Hague from December 5 to 12, 2018.
The administration of US President Donald Trump has sought to undermine the court’s legitimacy and threatened to thwart investigations involving the US or its allies. On September 10, the US national security adviser, John Bolton, declared that the US would not cooperate with the ICC. He threatened a number of retaliatory steps if the court investigated US citizens or citizens of allied countries, including against court officials and governments cooperating with the ICC. Trump also made critical remarks at the United Nations General Assembly.
“US threats against the ICC are an affront to every victim seeking justice before this court,” said Elizabeth Evenson, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “ICC member countries should demonstrate at their annual meeting their resolve to oppose any effort to undermine the court’s investigations and prosecutions.”
The ICC prosecutor’s request to open an investigation in Afghanistan, which could include crimes committed by Taliban forces and the Afghan government, as well as US military and Central Intelligence Agency personnel, is pending before the court. An ICC investigation in Afghanistan would advance accountability and provide victims with a path to justice, while putting those responsible for serious crimes on notice that they could face prosecution, Human Rights Watch said.
ICC member countries responded to the US threats with strong statements of support for the court. Similar efforts in the past to undermine the court’s work have also been met by firm resistance from members, including a hostile US campaign by the George W. Bush administration.
Given the broader pressure on the international rule of law, it is all the more important for ICC member countries to defend the court’s mandate with clear statements and actions, Human Rights Watch said.
ICC members should seize opportunities during the meeting’s general debate in the language of resolutions adopted, in discussions on state cooperation, and at other moments to show their resolve to ensure that the court can do its job.
Members will mark the 20th anniversary of the ICC’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, during a dedicated debate at the session, capping a year of anniversary commemorations. They will also discuss victim rights.
Governments and court officials should use discussions to address the court’s challenges, including improving court investigations, deepening the court’s impact in affected communities, and securing arrests based on its warrants since the court depends on member countries to make the arrests.
On November 17, Alfred Yékatom, known as “Rombhot,” was surrendered to the court in a case arising out of its investigation in the Central African Republic, the second arrest in 2018 for the court. But 17 arrest warrants remain outstanding, at the expense of victims and their families.
“The ICC has struggled to deliver on expectations,” Evenson said. “It’s precisely because the court’s role is so crucial in bringing justice that court officials need to step up their performance and member governments need to increase their support.”
Human Rights Watch issued recommendations to ICC states parties, including for the election of the court’s next prosecutor.
Negotiations about the court’s annual budget, with funds provided by its member countries, will be part of the agenda. Some member countries have demanded “zero growth” in the court’s budget, but other countries increasingly have insisted that the court should have the resources it needs to manage its growing workload.
During 2018, the ICC prosecutor opened three new preliminary examinations – into the situations in the Philippines, Bangladesh/Myanmar, and Venezuela – and received two referrals from member countries to examine the situations in Palestine and Venezuela.
The ICC is the first permanent global court mandated to bring to justice people responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide when national courts are unable or unwilling to do so. It is a court of last resort and has 123 member countries.
In addition to the request to open an investigation in Afghanistan, the ICC prosecutor has opened investigations in Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, the Darfur region of Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Georgia, Kenya, Libya, Mali, and northern Uganda. The prosecutor is also examining allegations of crimes committed in a number of places to determine whether to open investigations.
In addition to Venezuela, Bangladesh/Myanmar, and the Philippines, these include Colombia, Guinea, Nigeria, Palestine, Ukraine, and alleged abuses by United Kingdom armed forces in Iraq.
“The court is a crucial yet vulnerable component of the rule-based global order, and has a vital role to play in backstopping victims’ access to justice,” Evenson said. “Members should take every opportunity to make clear that they will provide the support it needs.”

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