UN Says Australia Failed Torres Strait Islanders On Climate Change In “Ground-breaking” Decision

The landmark case has paved the way for Indigenous communities around the world.

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The United Nations has determined Australia is violating its human rights obligations to Torres Strait Islanders by failing to act on climate change in a “ground-breaking decision” on Friday.

A complaint by eight adults and six children from Boigu, Poruma, Warraber, and Masig was first filed in 2019 to the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) over how Australia’s emission reduction targets weren’t sufficient enough to protect the islands from climate change damage, along with a lack of coastal defence and resilience measures like seawalls being installed.

More than three years on, it was then determined that the Federal Government was infringing on the Indigenous group’s ability to “enjoy their culture, and be free from arbitrary interferences with their private life, family, and home”.

“This morning when I woke up on Masig, I saw that the sky was full of frigate birds,” said one of the claimants, Yessie Mosby in a statement on Saturday. “In my culture, we take this as a sign from my ancestors that we would be hearing good news very soon about this case.”

“I know that our ancestors are rejoicing knowing that Torres Strait Islander voices are being heard throughout the world through this landmark case.”

Changes to weather patterns and severe flooding in recent years had destroyed family graves, and left human remains scattered across the islands, while important cultural ceremonies that need to be performed in the community’s native lands are also currently at risk.

Additionally, land degradation is affecting the amount of food available from fishing to farming, affecting traditional diet.

The outcome obliges Australia to do whatever it can in its power to ensure the safe existence of the Torres Strait Islands, and sets precedent for Indigenous Peoples internationally, according to the Our Islands Our Home campaign.

“As remedies, the Committee asked Australia to compensate the indigenous Islanders for the harm suffered, engage in meaningful consultations with their communities to assess their needs, and take measures to continue to secure the communities’ safe existence for their respective islands,” said the UNHRC.