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Climate-Displaced Communities Demand Justice During International Court Hearings

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights kicked off climate emergency hearings in Brazil following deadly floods there.

A member of the Guarani-Kaiowa ethnic group (center) attends a hearing on the responsibility of states in the face of climate emergencies, organized by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in Manaus, Brazil, on May 27, 2024.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights on Monday continued hearings in Brazil for a requested advisory opinion on countries’ obligations related to the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency.

After Chile and Colombia sought an advisory opinion from the IACtHR, hearings began in Barbados last month and kicked off in Brazil last week, as climate and humanitarian experts sounded the alarm about recent extreme flooding in the South American nation that killed at least 169 people and displaced hundreds of thousands.

The people of El Bosque, the first Mexican community to be officially recognized by authorities as climate-displaced, are among the groups demanding climate justice before the court, with support from Greenpeace Mexico, Nuestro Futuro Mexico, and Conexiones Climáticas.

“Countless claims by communities around the world who have suffered too long from harms imposed on them by colonialist, extractivist business practices, are a testimony to how the fossil fuel and agribusiness industries are impairing the full exercise of all of our human rights and also how the states are failing to guarantee these basic but fundamental rights,” said Greenpeace Mexico climate campaigner Pablo Ramirez in a statement Monday.

According to Greenpeace, “In written observations filed before the IACtHR… the El Bosque community asks the court to establish that states have an obligation to develop climate adaptation policies which effectively address internal displacement due to climate impacts.”

Others are calling on the IACtHR to “listen to and learn from children and adolescents about how we are living through the climate crisis and its impact on our rights,” as Camila, a 14-year-old from El Salvador, put it. She testified before the court on Friday.

“Climate change is affecting our right to health in many ways, for example, causing deaths and illnesses from extreme heatwaves, storms, and floods, toxic air pollution, droughts, food shortages, the spread of diseases like cholera and dengue fever, and serious infections from increased animal diseases that are transmitted to people,” Camila said. “All this, in turn, generates poverty and displacement.”

Joselim, a 17-year-old from Peru who also provided testimony, emphasized that “looking after Mother Earth is urgent because time is against us. Children, adolescents, young adults, and humanity in general should enjoy a healthy, clean, dignified, and safe environment. This requires change to rebuild a conscious society, in which children and adolescents are active participants.”

“We should take care of the Earth we live on and preserve humanity. My call to action for authorities is to respect our Mother Earth, preserve it, and take care of it,” she continued. “We need leaders to invest in the recovery of agriculture, in education, and in environmental plans and public policies with adequate resources and personnel. We need them to promote recycling, using renewable energy, and adopting agricultural production techniques that are friendlier to nature so that more children and adolescents can enjoy a healthy, clean, and safe environment.”

Victoria Ward, regional director for Save the Children in Latin America and the Caribbean, noted the devastating floods in Brazil and also urged the court to take seriously the comments from the two teenage girls and other young people.

“Climate change is mostly affecting those who are least responsible for the damage — children. Those children already facing hunger and conflict, poverty and discrimination, are suffering most of all,” Ward said. “Across Latin America and the Caribbean, we have recently seen unprecedented heatwaves and droughts that have forced schools to close, and caused long-lasting damage to crop and agriculture that is sending food prices skyrocketing and pushing families into poverty.”

“Children are demanding change,” she said. “Their powerful experiences and solutions will only make the fight against climate change stronger. And we know that the only way adults can truly protect children’s rights is by including children in making decisions that affect them. That’s why it’s fantastic to see Joselim and Camila using this platform to speak out about how the climate crisis is eroding the rights of children across the region. Let’s hope they are listened to.”

The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) has joined with other groups to submit multiple amicus briefs to the court, and on Monday had a senior attorney testify about the need “to ensure the protection of those who defend human rights and the planet.”

Summarizing Luisa Gómez’s comments, CIEL said she stressed that the court “has a historic opportunity to clarify the rights to information, participation, and justice, and in doing so, change the future of the world’s deadliest region for environmental advocacy.”

The hearings in Brazil are set to run through Wednesday. Campaigners hope the IACtHR will issue an opinion that builds on recent decisions from the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

As Common Dreams reported last week, the ITLOS issued an advisory opinion that greenhouse gas emissions are marine pollution under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and parties to the treaty “have the specific obligation to adopt laws and regulations to prevent, reduce, and control” them.

That followed an April ruling from the ECHR in favor of KlimaSeniorinnen, or Senior Women for Climate Protection. The court found that the Swiss government has violated the human rights of its older citizens by refusing to abide by scientists’ warnings and swiftly phase out fossil fuels.

Pointing to those cases on Monday, Greenpeace envisioned an IACtHR opinion that will “further strengthen states and business enterprises’ obligations to take the necessary measures to reduce, prevent, and control greenhouse gas emissions, in line with best available science and international law obligations.”

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