Climate Change: Could This Be the Greatest Human Rights Abuse in History?

By: Vivian Allison

The Effects of Climate Change

“Climate change is a reality that now affects every region of the world. The human implications of currently projected levels of global heating are catastrophic. Storms are rising and tides could submerge entire island nations and coastal cities. Fires rage through our forests, and the ice is melting. We are burning up our future – literally.”

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 9 September 2019, Opening Statement to the 42nd session of the Human Rights Council

It is undebatable that climate change is happening, and the culprit is human activity. An ever-increasing amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere lead to an increase in temperature and severe weather alterations. Rising sea levels, water shortages, droughts and the spread of diseases are all correlated to climate change. Further, devastating hurricanes, rainfalls, snowstorms, flooding, wildfires and heat waves make weather patterns unpredictable and life-threatening. It is not just the natural world that is suffering, but all of humanity as well. Consequently, along with the indisputability that climate change is taking place right now, it is without question a human rights abuse. 

Photo credits to Paddy O Sullivan

Climate Change as a Human Rights Abuse 

“As climate change intensifies, the inaction of our governments may render it to be the greatest human rights abuse in history.”

With the destruction that comes in the wake of climate change, basic human rights to food, clean water, and general health are undermined. The very survival of island states and coastal societies is in doubt as sea levels rise. With declining water supplies, reduced agricultural yields, and alarming health consequences, millions of people are affected by this crisis. It leaves entire nations homeless, sick, or without food and water. These are all breaches against human rights to life, water and sanitation, food, health, housing, self-determination, culture and development. 

However, these are not the only human rights breaches caused by climate change. Human rights to maintain sovereignty and economic well-being are compromised for those who experience the severe impacts of environmental degradation. Tragically, the countries that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions the least are often those that are the most affected. The disproportionate impacts of climate change are also felt by individuals who already face disadvantaged realities. Poverty, geography, gender, age, disabilities, culture and ethnic backgrounds contribute to the devastating effects of climate change, and therefore only intensifying these existing inequalities. 

By virtue of basic human rights and of the dignity to life, governments must intervene to curb the causes of climate change and protect the lives of our global community. Our current and future generations will experience these effects as environmental destruction intensifies. No nation, society, or individual will be exempt from these catastrophes, thus making it a global concern and a breach in every individual’s human rights. As climate change intensifies, the inaction of our governments may render it to be the greatest human rights abuse in history. 

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A Step Towards Corporate Accountability: Will Canada Be Open for Justice?

By: Haajar Abu Ismail

In 2014, three Eritreans filed a lawsuit against Nevsun Resources, in Vancouver, British Columbia. Claims of crimes against humanity, slavery, forced labor and torture were brought against Nevsun, whom owned 60% of the Eritrean mine where this took place. The unique case built solely upon the violations of international law sparked an ongoing discussion on whether companies at home could be held accountable for their role in crimes abroad. The question of whether the trial should be held at all was unprecedented, and after many years now, it was ruled that the case could proceed in Canadian courts. After a long process of back and forth, the case was finally scheduled to proceed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia in September 2021, nearly 7 years after its first appearance.

Photo credit to SEAN KILPATRICK – The Canadian Press

Canadian companies watched the case with wary eyes, wondering if they were now actually accountable for abuses abroad. Sadly, this was a necessary concern for corporations who have never had to worry about this before. The answer is an outstanding question, but it is a small victory that the trial will take place.

In the apparent spirit of morality, Canada appointed the Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) in April, 2019. The role of the Ombudsperson is intended to be that of “a public official who acts as an impartial intermediary between the public government of bureaucracy,” focusing on “the oil, mining, gas and garment sectors” according to Amnesty International. However, after the appointment of Sheri Meyerhoffer, came the disappointing realization of Canada’s half-hearted intentions about taking corporate accountability abroad seriously. The Ombudsperson “may review cases but does not have the powers to independently investigate abuse allegations or compel documents from the parties to a complaint,” which Amnesty further claims to be a “dramatically different from what was promised in January, 2018.”

Any Canadian company with a role in the enslavement, forced labor or torture of workers abroad should be punished without question for their willful negligence of the basic human rights laborers are entitled to. Committing the crimes abroad does not make you any less of a criminal. The Ombusperson is a crucial appointment in affecting any real change about corporate accountability. Thus, it is essential that the Ombusperson has the actual, present, valid authority to take a step forward in betterment of human rights.

Check out http://cnca-rcrce.ca/ for information on how to join CNCA’s Open for Justice campaign, and enforce Canadian mining, oil and gas companies to respect the human rights of their laborers.

For more information check out these articles by Amanda Coletta on the Supreme course case and by Cyndee Todgham Cherniak on the Ombudsperson For Responsible Enterprise

I Welcome Refugees

By Lucas Hak

With everyone now locked down in Canada and our worlds shrinking so dramatically, the notion of mass of immigrants and refugees could not be further from our current experience. However, this is still the reality for millions of individuals. On October 20th, McGill Students for Amnesty International and WUSC McGill hosted a showing of the documentary Human Flow by Ai Weiwei. This film seeks to tell the story of the millions of people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes. Set during the peak of the Syrian refugee crisis, as well as focusing on displacements in the West Bank and Kenya, the messages of film are still prevalent today.

By the numbers

The large number of Syrians displaced due to war have largely remained either internally or externally displaced. There are over 6.6 million Syrians who are still taking refuge in other countries around the world, predominantly in Turkey and Germany, and another 6 million internally displaced individuals. More recently, over the last few years, the emigration of people from Venezuela has escalated to considerable levels in a very short time frame. Through the end of 2019 there were an estimated 4.5 million Venezuelans displaced primarily to Columbia and Peru.

These two migrations represent unfathomable challenges facing a truly incomprehensible number of people. However, these events are not unique, and only make up a small part of the approximately 100 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes due to some crisis. Of this number only 37 million were able to find a solution. The majority returned to their country or place of origin but many others were able to resettle or naturalize in another state.

From Migration to Resettling

Despite being the preferred solution for many refugees, there is little hope of returning to their original home. Instead they must settle in a new place, which often ends up being their country of asylum. This process is not easy and comes with many cultural and economic challenges. The World Bank estimates that 80% of the refugees in Uganda are unemployed. However, successful integration into a host can ultimately be the best option for both the settlers and the community. A series of reports by Deloitte Access Economics describes the advantages of the 800 Karen refugees who settled in Bendigo, Australia. The locals note that the new additions had “an unexpected and positive impact on the broader community”. The report also estimates an economic increase in excess of 67 million Australian dollars from settlers over a 10 year period. The positive outlook for the settlement of refugees is also present in Canada. After the first 5 years of arrival in Canada, refugees have similar economic prospects and unemployment as a Canadian born citizen. These refugees contribute back to their communities with higher entrepreneurial rates then Canadian born citizens. There are currently nearly 100,000 asylum cases pending for people trying to find security in Canada, and we should welcome as many of them as possible.

As we move towards the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees, we are faced with the stark reality that the pressures forcing people to flee their homes are only increasing. It is our responsibility to support initiatives like Amnesty Canada’s I Welcome Refugees and reaffirm the global responsibility to protect the inherent right of all refugees and displaced persons to safety and security. 

Amnesty International Canada stands for increasing international cooperation to protect the rights of all humans. To join and contribute to the I Welcome Refugees campaign, find more information here.

Checkout the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and their reports for the current global trends in displacements here.