ICC climate change petition rejected
“Their letter was evasive and dismissive.”
The effort to link climate change with human rights has suffered a setback.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights won’t consider a petition that alleges that the United States government is violating the human rights of Inuit by refusing to limit its greenhouse gas emissions.
Sheila Watt-Cloutier, who submitted the petition last December with the support of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference in Canada and Alaska, received the news in a letter from the commission last month.
“It was disappointing for sure. Their letter was evasive and dismissive, and that’s the part that disappoints me and angers me more than anything else,” Watt-Cloutier said.
The letter states the commission “will not be able to process your petition at present… the information provided does not enable us to determine whether the alleged facts would tend to characterize a violation of rights protected by the American Declaration.”
But Watt-Cloutier hasn’t given up.
She’s asked the commission for further information on why it isn’t proceeding. She’s also invited commission members to visit the Arctic for a hearing “to provide testimony and documentation on these problems which are seriously affecting Inuit survival.”
Watt-Cloutier has told her 62 co-petitioners that “the issue remains much too important for us not to continue fighting for the world to take serious action against climate change.”
Watt-Cloutier said she isn’t discouraged by this down-turn of events.
“I’m an optimistic by nature. There are things that are happening today,” she said. “There’s some hope coming up now – Stéphane Dion is the Liberal leader.”
Watt-Cloutier unveiled the petition last December at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Montreal, which Dion, then the federal environment minister, chaired.
The petition then went to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington. The commission is an international legal body affiliated with the Organization of American States, but which operates at arms-length from the OAS and its member states.
The outcome of the legal action, supported by the Inuit Circumpolar Council in Alaska and Canada, was expected to have great influence on other courts and other jurisdictions.
The idea behind the petition, said Watt-Cloutier, was to encourage people in the South to realize climate change affects people as well the environment and the economy.
The detailed 175-page petition said climate change threatens the rights of Inuit to use and enjoy their traditional lands and personal property, their rights to health and life, to residence and movement and to their livelihood.
The petition asked for “relief from human rights violations resulting from the impacts of global warming and climate change caused by acts and omission of the U.S.,” which has not supported any mandatory reduction agreements designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions and curb global warming.
The petition also asked the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to visit the Arctic, conduct a hearing, and issue a report recommending the U.S. adopt mandatory measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions and cooperate on other international efforts.
The petition wanted the commission to produce plans to protect Inuit culture and resources, which would outline assistance options for adaptation and “any other relief that the commission considers appropriate and just.”
The petition mentioned no amount of money.
Since 1965, the commission has processed about 12,000 human rights cases, many of them involving allegations of mass murder, torture and arbitrary imprisonment made by victims of state terror in countries like Argentina, El Salvador and Guatemala. The body has also dealt with land rights cases brought forward by indigenous peoples throughout the Americas.
The Centre for International Environmental Law and the group Earth Justice provided free services to ICC in launching this petition and continue to provide legal follow-up. James Anaya, an aboriginal lawyer who works at the University of Arizona’s college of law, helped draft the petition, along with Nunavut lawyers Paul Crowley and Sandra Inutiq, and two graduate students from the U.S.
Watt-Cloutier said the next step is to wait and see how the commission reacts to the most recent round of correspondence.
“It is a long battle, but I think the least we expect is respect and some kind of a response.”
No matter what the petition’s fate is, Watt-Cloutier, who finished her tenure as ICC chair last July, intends to keep the focus on what she calls “the human face” of climate change in the Arctic.
Earlier this week, journalist Marianne Pearl, the widow of Daniel Pearl, a reporter murdered four years ago by terrorists in Pakistan, was in Iqaluit to interview Watt-Cloutier for a feature article, which will be published in the widely-circulated magazine, Glamour.
Then, Watt-Cloutier headed to Ottawa, where she was to be invested into the Order of Canada by Governor-General Michaëlle Jean on Friday, Dec. 15.
After Christmas, Watt-Cloutier plans to travel through five U.S. states on an “Arctic Voices” tour to raise awareness about the impact of climate change on Inuit.