Op 7 januari jl. heeft het Human Rights Committee van de VN geoordeeld dat het onrechtmatig kan zijn vluchtelingen terug te sturen naar hun land van herkomst als hun leven daar bedreigd wordt door klimaatverandering.

Een verreikend oordeel, nu tientallen miljoenen mensen de komende decennia in hun leefgebied door klimaatverandering bedreigd worden.

De zaak die voor het Committee voorlag is die van Ioane Teitiota, een man uit de Pacifische erepubliek Kiribati, een eilandengroep die ernstig bedreigd wordt door de stijgende zeespiegel. Hij vroeg in 2013 asiel aan in Nieuw Zeeland omdat hij en zijn familie daardoor bedreigd werden. Het eiland Tarawa waar de man vandaan komt zag zijn bevolking toenemen van 1641 in 1947 tot meer dan 50.000 in 2010 omdat andere eilanden van het land onbewoonbaar zijn geworden door de zeespiegelstijging. Dit heeft tot onderling geweld en sociale spanningen geleid op Tarawa. De man baseerde zijn claim om in Nieuw Zeeland te mogen blijven op deze omstandigheden. Bovendien voorspellen klimaatdeskundigen dat Kiribati binnen afzienbare tijd geheel onbewoonbaar zal worden.

Het Committee besliste dat klimaatverandering het non refoulement beginsel in werking kan doen treden:

‘9.11 […….] The Committee is of the view that without robust national and international efforts, the effects of climate change in receiving states may expose individuals to a violation of their rights under articles 6 or 7 of the Covenant, thereby triggering the non-refoulement obligations of sending states. Furthermore, given that the risk of an entire country becoming submerged under water is such an extreme risk, the conditions of life in such a country may become incompatible with the right to life with dignity before the risk is realized.’

In dit specifieke geval is dat echter nog niet het geval:

‘9.12 In the present case, the Committee accepts the author’s claim that sea level rise is likely to render the Republic of Kiribati uninhabitable. However, it notes that the timeframe of 10 to 15 years, as suggested by the author, could allow for intervening acts by the Republic of Kiribati, with the assistance of the international community, to take affirmative measures to protect and, where necessary, relocate its population. The Committee notes that the State party’s authorities thoroughly examined this issue and found that the Republic of Kiribati was taking adaptive measures to reduce existing vulnerabilities and build resilience to climate change-related harms. Based on the information made available to it, the Committee is not in a position to conclude that the assessment of the domestic authorities that the measures by taken by the Republic of Kiribati would suffice to protect the author’s right to life under article 6 of the Covenant was clearly arbitrary or erroneous in this regard, or amounted to a denial of justice.

9.13     In the light of these findings, the Committee considers that the State party’s courts provided the author with an individualized assessment of his need for protection and took note of all of the elements provided by the author when evaluating the risk he faced when the State party removed him to the Republic of Kiribati in 2015, including the prevailing conditions in Kiribati, the foreseen risks to the author and the other inhabitants of the islands, the time left for the Kiribati authorities and the international community to intervene and the efforts already underway to address the very serious situation of the islands. The Committee considers that while the author disagrees with the factual conclusions of the State party, the information made available to it does not demonstrate that the conduct of the judicial proceedings in the author’s case was clearly arbitrary or amounted to a manifest error or denial of justice, or that the courts otherwise violated their obligation of independence and impartiality.’

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