UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Monday opened the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council with an update on various human rights situations and the role of climate change.
Bachelet stated that climate change affects every region of the world with catastrophic implications. She stated, “storms are rising and tides could submerge entire island nations and coastal cities. Fires rage through our forests, and the ice is melting. We are burning up our future—literally.” Bachelet asked each of the member states to take action against climate change. The right to a healthy and sustainable environment is being increasingly recognized, being incorporated in over 100 national and regional laws.
Bachelet asserted that “climate change undermines rights, development and peace.” 40 percent of civil wars in the past 60 years have been linked to environmental degradation.
In her speech, Bachelet asserted the rights of indigenous peoples and asserted that they are being driven off of their lands by environmental destruction. Their knowledge in dealing with fire management, weather early warning systems, rainwater harvesting, and traditional agriculture techniques could be essential for taking action on climate change. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognized the need to respect the culture and land of these groups 12 years ago.
Bachelet called on the governments of Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil to implement environmental policies for sustainable resource management to prevent future tragedies like the current deforestation of the Amazon.
The Escazu Agreement was cited as a hope for change. It is an agreement of Latin American countries aiming to guarantee the right to a “healthy environment and sustainable development.”
Bachelet pointed out that “those most affected [by climate change] are leading the way.” Small island nations suffer the most catastrophic effects of climate change and contribute very little to the problem. These “island states cannot act alone to solve a problem that is not of their own making.”
The Caring for Climate Initiative of the UN brings over 400 companies together to commit to taking action on climate change. This contrasts the many countries who give subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, worsening the climate change. A recent case before the Human Rights Committee, Portillo Caceres v. Paraguay, set precedent that states have an obligation to conduct investigations into environmental harms and to sanction those responsible.
Focusing in on crises in specific countries, Bachelet called out increasing violence from the government of China in relation to the Hong Kong protests, which have been conducted peacefully. Also, the government of India has been taking concerning actions with respect to the human rights of the Kashmiris, restricting their internet communications and peaceful assembly.
In the Occupied Palestinian Territory, there has been an illegal expansion of Israeli settlements which impacts the human rights of the Palestinians. Palestinian homes are being demolished at an increasing rate under Israeli zoning rules. This is accompanied by increasing reports of unlawful killings of Palestinians by Israeli security forces.
Bachelet called out policies being implemented in the US, Mexico and some Central American countries that put migrants at risk of human rights violations. Specifically, the separation and detainment of children at the border. There is a prospective new rule in the US which would allow for children to be indefinitely detained merely on the basis of their administrative status.
Also, there has been a sharp decrease in the work of European humanitarian rescue vessels and search planes. This has dire implications for adults and children seeking safety by traveling through the Mediterranean.
Bachelet closed her speech saying, “I am concerned by this lethal disregard for desperate people,” and saluted organizations who continue to work to defend the rights of these people.