United Nations rejects Kiribati man climate refugee claim - PM

Clay Curtis
January 22, 2020

The ruling will have no immediate legal impact but could be cited by asylum-seekers in future cases.

The Committee determined that in Mr. Teitiota's specific case, New Zealand's courts did not violate his right to life at the time of the facts, because the thorough and careful evaluation of his testimony and other available information led to the determination that, despite the serious situation in Kiribati, sufficient protection measures were put in place.

"The Pacific Islands are the canary in the coal mine for climate induced migrants".

He said he had faced land disputes and difficulties accessing safe drinking water on his home island of South Tarawa, which had become overcrowded as the surrounding islands had become uninhabitable due to rising sea levels.

The UN's Human Rights Committee was making a judgment on the case of Ioane Teitiota, who applied for protection from New Zealand after claiming his life was at risk in his home country of Kiribati.

"It is the Committee's position that the right to life includes the right of individuals to enjoy a life with dignity, free from acts or omissions that are expected to cause unnatural or premature death", the committee said. He claimed the effects of climate change and a rising sea level had forced him to migrate.

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People fleeing immediate danger due to the climate crisis can not be forced to return home, the United Nations has said.

The UN ruling - which is non-binding - is the clearest warning to countries that they may be breaching a person's human rights if they send them back to a country at immediate risk of climate-related danger.

Additionally, Committee members underlined that the global community must assist countries adversely affected by climate change.

In this handout image provided by Plan International Australia, debris is left by a storm surge after flood waters moved inland, March 14, 2015 on the island of Kiribati. The committee ruled that "the effects of climate change in receiving states may expose individuals to a violation of their rights ... thereby triggering the non-refoulement obligations of sending states". "It is therefore imperative that urgent action is taken to keep the temperature rise as low as possible and no higher than 1.5°C". He then said that Kiribati was projected to be uninhabitable in "10 to 15 years".

"Low-lying island states such as Kiribati and Tuvalu are only one or two metres above sea level", she asserted. "Governments must consider this unsafe reality and a heating planet's imminent threat to Pacific peoples' lives and livelihoods".

"Moreover, the Committee needs to handle critical and significantly irreversible issues of climate change, with the approach that seeks to uphold the sanctity of human life".

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