Global Human Rights Defence

“United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child Decides Against the Thunberg et al Complaint Case” – Setting a Precedent forClimate Inaction as a Human Rights Issue.
Picture source: Reuters, Guglielmo Mangiapane

Topic: Climate, Human Rights, Environment

Keywords: Human rights, Europe, Environment, Sustainability, Climate Change, Children’s Rights

 

RELEVANT CONTEXT

Greta Thunberg and other youth climate activists filed a complaint back in 2019 to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Childstating that inaction on climate change violates children’s rights. The complaint involved five states namely France, Turkey, Brazil, Germany and Argentina alleging that these States had failed to cut carbon emissions despite known risks.[1] The argument is that States contributing to climate change are negatively affecting the rights of children and that such actions and/or inactions can be legally sanctionable.[2] These States were mentioned in the Thunberget al complaint case, not on the basis of which State caused the highest negative climate impact related to human rights in the world, but simply on the basis of the status of those states as ones that ratified the Optional Protocol of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, thus allowing cases to be brought directly against them by minors.[3]Such complaints are part of a trend of lawsuits invoking climate inaction as a human rights issue.[4]The biggest carbon emitter states in the world, i.e. the United States, have not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and consequently not the Optional Protocol either, thus they cannot be held responsible before the Committee for their carbon emissions.[5]

WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?

This issue has been a delicate topic in the realm of law and human rights, often ignored when it relates to the environment, it has always been considered to be out of sight for many big political state actors around the world.[6] That is why the decision was ground-breaking.[7]Although the UN Committee on the Rights of the Childcould not formally rule on the complaint, the Committee, made up of 18 independent human rights experts, agreed that a state actor can be held liable for the negative impact of carbon emissions on children, both within and outside their state borders.[8]This cross-border element is essential to the outcome of the decision. Traditionally in human rights law, citizens can only sue their own countries for human rights violations at the UN level. This case changes that principle and is seen as setting an important precedent.[9] To give an example, this means that a girl living on an island in the Indian Ocean, an island which will disappear due to climate change, could sue the United States for violating her rights.[10]

Moreover, the Committee concluded that a “sufficient causal link” had been established between the significant harm allegedly suffered by the children and the acts or omissions of the five states.[11] This is another extremely important outcome in that this case strengthens the legal parameters on the nexus between human rights law and climate.[12]

THE REASONING OF THE DECISION OF THE UN COMMITTEE

The UN panel in the UN Child Rights Committee announced on 11 October 2021 that it cannot rule on this complaint because the petitions should have initially been taken to national courts.[13]

THE STATEMENTS OF THE YOUTH ACTIVISTS INVOLVED IN THE COMPLAINT BEFORE THE UN COMMITTEE

Emitting States are responsible for the negative impact of the emissions originating in their territory on the rights of children — even those children who may be located abroad. The collective nature of the causes of climate change must not absolve a State from its individual responsibility,” said UN Child Rights Committee member Ann Skelton.[14]

The petitioners argued that France, Turkey, Brazil, Germany and Argentina “failed to take necessary preventive measures to protect and [fulfill] children’s rights to life, health, and culture,” according to the UN Human Rights Office press release.[15]

American petitioner Alexandria Villasenor said: “When the climate disasters are even more severe than they are now, the Committee will severely regret not doing the right thing when they had the chance.”.[16]

The Committee acknowledged that states are legally obligated to act, that our clients’ lives are at risk, and that time is running out. But they still closed the UN’s doors. So be it. The legal battle for the climate now returns to national courts,” said Scott Gilmore, the lead attorney for the petitioners.[17]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  1. Sclafani, J. (2021, October 12). UN cannot rule on climate case brought by Greta Thunberg and youth activists. Axios. Retrieved November 1, 2021, from https://www.axios.com/un-climate-youth-greta-thunberg-7907b889-2a98-4b42-bf52-59a8e8d49da5.html.

2.Farge, E. (2021, October 12). U.N. panel says it can’t rule on the climate case brought by Thunberg. Reuters. Retrieved November 1, 2021, from https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/un-panel-says-it-cant-rule-climate-case-brought-by-greta-thunberg-2021-10-11/.

3.Colchester, M. (2021, October 12). U.N. Says It Can’t Rule on Climate Complaint by Greta Thunberg, Others. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved November 1, 2021, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-n-says-it-cant-rule-on-climate-complaint-by-greta-thunberg-others-11634065484.

4.Euronews. (2021, October 13). The Greta Thunberg-UN climate case singles out the wrong countries | View. Retrieved November 1, 2021, from https://www.euronews.com/2021/10/12/the-greta-thunberg-un-climate-case-singles-out-the-wrong-countries-view.

  1. Uebel, B. (2021, October 20). UN Committee on the Rights of the Child Turns Its Back on Climate Change Petition from Greta Thunberg and Children from Around the World. Earthjustice. Retrieved November 1, 2021, from https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2021/un-committee-on-the-rights-of-the-child-turns-its-back-on-climate-change-petition-from-greta-thunberg-and.

[1] Sclafani, J. (2021, October 12). UN cannot rule on climate case brought by Greta Thunberg and youth activists. Axios. Retrieved November 1, 2021, from https://www.axios.com/un-climate-youth-greta-thunberg-7907b889-2a98-4b42-bf52-59a8e8d49da5.html.

[2]Euronews. (2021, October 13). The Greta Thunberg-UN climate case singles out the wrong countries | View. Retrieved November 1, 2021, from https://www.euronews.com/2021/10/12/the-greta-thunberg-un-climate-case-singles-out-the-wrong-countries-view.

[3]Euronews. (2021, October 13). The Greta Thunberg-UN climate case singles out the wrong countries | View. Retrieved November 1, 2021, from https://www.euronews.com/2021/10/12/the-greta-thunberg-un-climate-case-singles-out-the-wrong-countries-view.

[4]Sclafani, J. (2021, October 12). UN cannot rule on climate case brought by Greta Thunberg and youth activists. Axios. Retrieved November 1, 2021, from https://www.axios.com/un-climate-youth-greta-thunberg-7907b889-2a98-4b42-bf52-59a8e8d49da5.html.

[5]Farge, E. (2021, October 12). U.N. panel says it can’t rule on climate case brought by Thunberg. Reuters. Retrieved November 1, 2021, from https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/un-panel-says-it-cant-rule-climate-case-brought-by-greta-thunberg-2021-10-11/.

[6]Euronews. (2021, October 13). The Greta Thunberg-UN climate case singles out the wrong countries | View. Retrieved November 1, 2021

[7]Colchester, M. (2021, October 12). U.N. Says It Can’t Rule on Climate Complaint by Greta Thunberg, Others. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved November 1, 2021,

[8]Uebel, B. (2021, October 20). UN Committee on the Rights of the Child Turns Its Back on Climate Change Petition from Greta Thunberg and Children from Around the World. Earthjustice. Retrieved November 1, 2021

[9]Farge, E. (2021, October 12). U.N. panel says it can’t rule on climate case brought by Thunberg. Reuters. Retrieved November 1, 2021 ; Euronews. (2021, October 13). The Greta Thunberg-UN climate case singles out the wrong countries | View. Retrieved November 1, 2021

[10]Uebel, B. (2021, October 20). UN Committee on the Rights of the Child Turns Its Back on Climate Change Petition from Greta Thunberg and Children from Around the World. Earthjustice. Retrieved November 1, 2021,

[11]Farge, E. (2021, October 12). U.N. panel says it can’t rule on climate case brought by Thunberg. Reuters. Retrieved November 1, 2021

[12]Euronews. (2021, October 13). The Greta Thunberg-UN climate case singles out the wrong countries | View. Retrieved November 1, 2021

[13]Sclafani, J. (2021, October 12). UN cannot rule on climate case brought by Greta Thunberg and youth activists. Axios. Retrieved November 1, 2021

[14]Farge, E. (2021, October 12). U.N. panel says it can’t rule on climate case brought by Thunberg. Reuters. Retrieved November 1, 2021

[15]Sclafani, J. (2021, October 12). UN cannot rule on climate case brought by Greta Thunberg and youth activists. Axios. Retrieved November 1, 2021

[16]Colchester, M. (2021, October 12). U.N. Says It Can’t Rule on Climate Complaint by Greta Thunberg, Others. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved November 1, 2021

[17]Sclafani, J. (2021, October 12). UN cannot rule on climate case brought by Greta Thunberg and youth activists. Axios. Retrieved November 1, 2021, from https://www.axios.com/un-climate-youth-greta-thunberg-7907b889-2a98-4b42-bf52-59a8e8d49da5.html.

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Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)
(Europe)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher
(Africa)

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher
(Africa)​

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.

 

Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.