Children play at a jetty on Boigu Island
Photo: Brook Mitchell/Getty Images
The United Nations has ruled that Australia has not adequately protected residents of the Torres Strait Islands in the Pacific from the effects of climate change for too long.
Because of the omissions, the state is obliged to compensate people, according to the decision of the UN Human Rights Committee.
Eight indigenous islanders had contacted the body that monitors compliance with internationally agreed civil and political rights.
They argued in their lawsuit that life and culture were at risk because of rising water levels and more frequent flooding.
The islands lie in the Torres Strait between northern Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Today they belong mostly to Australia, but some also to Papua New Guinea.
Of the more than 270 islands, 21 are inhabited.
violation of minority rights
The Human Rights Commission took into account that a government program to build seawalls on the islands has been running since 2019.
However, the measure was taken too late, it said.
The fruit trees, gardens and burial sites important to the residents are already being destroyed.
Minority rights and the rights to housing, private life and family have been violated.
According to the UN treaty on civil and political rights, Australia must now "grant the plaintiffs appropriate compensation for the damage suffered," the decision said.
The decision is an important step, said committee member Hélène Tigroudja: »The committee has created a way for individuals to assert claims when government measures do not adequately protect particularly vulnerable groups from the negative impacts of climate change on human rights.«
Torres Strait Islanders, like other Indigenous Australians, have been subjected to violent re-education.
Between 1910 and 1970, the Australian government snatched the children from thousands of families.
They are known as the »Stolen Generations«.
It was only in 2008 that then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd publicly apologized for the injustice and suffering inflicted.
Last year, Australia announced that it would compensate those affected.