Australia failed to protect indigenous groups from climate change, UN rights group says
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Australia failed to protect indigenous groups from climate change, UN rights group says

The UN Human Rights Committee Thursday reported that Australia has failed to adequately protect the indigenous Torres Islanders against the impacts of climate change and have consequently violated the Islanders’ rights to enjoy their culture and be free from arbitrary interferences with their private life.

In a complaint to the committee, the Islanders claimed that, as a result of Australia’s “failure to take timely and adequate measures to protect the indigenous islanders against climate change” that changing weather patterns and sea level rise have been intrusive of the Islanders’ livelihood.

The Torres Islanders alleged that rising sea levels have caused saltwater to affect their land, and the traditionally fertile land can no longer be cultivated. Storm surges in recent years have destroyed family graves, scattering human remains. In addition, the changes in precipitation, temperature, and monsoon seasons have caused coral bleaching, affecting sea grass beds and crayfish populations, fundamental sources of food for the Islanders. The Islanders allege that these changes make them reliant on expensive imported goods which they can’t often afford.

As remedies, the Committee asked Australia to compensate the islanders for harm suffered and to take measures to “continue to secure the communities’ safe existence on their respective islands.”

One committee member remarked “States that fail to protect individuals under their jurisdiction from the adverse effects of climate change may be violating their human rights under international law.” Yet, the Committee’s decision noted that “the general effects of climate change, and the effectiveness of any mitigation or adaptation measures to address those effects, are not within the complete control of any State.”