Amina Maneggia

Non-refoulement of Climate Change Migrants: Individual Human Rights Protection or 'Responsibility to Protect'? The Teitiota Case Before the Human Rights Committee

  • Abstract

Informations and abstract

Keywords: climate change and human rights; environmental migrants; non-refoulement; right to life; ICCPR; Responsibility to Protect.

In its Views of 24 October 2019 in the case of Teitiota v. New Zealand, the Human Rights Committee had to decide whether a ‘climate change migrant’ enjoyed international protection against refoulement under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The applicant claimed that his forced return to Kiribati exposed him to life-threatening natural hazards and lack of access to fresh water, in violation of his right to life, due to the serious environmental degradation caused by sea level rise in the island state. For the first time, the Committee recognized that the effects of climate change may expose individuals to a violation of their rights to life and to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment under Arts 6 or 7 of the Covenant, thereby triggering the nonrefoulement obligation. However, in the specific case the Committee concluded that the domestic authorities’ assessment that the author had not been exposed to a real risk of a violation of his right to life, including his right to a life with dignity, was not manifestly arbitrary, unreasonable or unjust. After discussing the Committee’s assessment of the ‘reasonable foreseeability’ of this risk in light of the general environmental situation in Kiribati, which equally affects its entire population, this article analyses the high threshold of gravity – i.e., of ‘uninhabitability’ – applied by the Committee to ascertain the existence of such risk for the individual applicant. It then comments the aptness of such threshold to take into account the global responsibility for climate change adequately, its link with the notion of the ‘responsibility to protect’, and its limits and potentialities in the perspective of human rights protection.

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