A United Nations Human Rights Committee found that Australia had violated the human rights of a group of islanders off its north coast by failing to adequately protect them from the impacts of climate change.
Environmental charity organization ClientEarth working with the claimants said it was the first case brought by climate-vulnerable inhabitants of small islands against a nation-state, setting several precedents.
The complaint, filed more than three years ago by eight Torres Strait Islanders and their children, is an encouragement for others to take legal action against climate change.
Torres Strait Islanders are part of Australia’s indigenous population, along with Aboriginal people, who live on islands dotted between Australia and Papua New Guinea.
The Committee said Australia had violated two of the three human rights set out in a U.N. Treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), pertaining to culture and family life.
Some 173 of the 193 U.N. Member States have ratified the Covenant, including Australia. However, there is no enforcement mechanism to implement the decisions, but there are follow-up steps, and states generally adhere to the committee’s findings.