Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to hold March 1 hearing on global warming

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The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Organization of American States) will hold a hearing on March 1 to investigate the relationship between global warming and human rights. The hearing is in response to a petition by Nobel Peace Prize nominee Sheila Watt-Cloutier, former Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, along with Earthjustice and the Center for International Environmental Law. 

We were honored to have the opportunity to visit with Sheila Watt-Cloutier in January at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, in connection with our participation in Everything’s Cool, a new documentary film featuring a number of “global warming messengers,” which had its world premiere screening on January 19 at Sundance.  See our January 19 entry. 

Very brief background on this case:
In 2002, Watt-Cloutier was elected International Chair of ICC, a position she would hold until 2006. Most recently, her work has emphasized the human face of the impacts of global climate change in the Arctic. In addition to maintaining an active speaking and media outreach schedule, she has launched the world’s first international legal action on climate change. On December 7, 2005, based on the findings of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, which projects that Inuit hunting culture may not survive the loss of sea ice and other changes projected over the coming decades, she filed a petition, along with 62 Inuit Hunters and Elders from communities across Canada and Alaska, to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, alleging that unchecked emissions of greenhouse gases from the United States have violated Inuit cultural and environmental human rights as guaranteed by the 1948 American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.

The Inuit petition to the Commission drew on the findings of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, a major international scientific assessment published in 2004-2005. The ACIA was commissioned by the intergovernmental Arctic Council, of which the United States is a member, and was supported by U.S. federal agencies.  While we were working for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program we coordinated a review by U.S.-based scientists of the draft ACIA Scientific Report.  Then we watched as the Bush Administration adopted a completely evasive posture toward meaningful discussion and communications about this important report.  In June 2005 we identified the treatment of the Arctic Assessment as one of numerous examples of the Administration’s political interference in the Climate Change Science Program. 

From a press release posted on the Earthjustice Web site (press release includes links to additional documentation):

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to Hold Hearing on Global Warming

“Good News” says Nobel-nominee Sheila Watt-Cloutier

February 6, 2007

Washington, DC—In a letter to Nobel Peace Prize nominee Sheila Watt-Cloutier and representatives of Earthjustice and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) dated February 1, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (Organization of American States), has agreed to hold a hearing to investigate the relationship between global warming and human rights. The hearing is scheduled for March 1, 2007.

The invitation is in response to a request by Ms. Watt-Cloutier and the environmental organizations, in which they outlined the serious threat that global warming is already having on human rights in the Arctic and throughout the hemisphere.

“This is very good news,” said Sheila Watt-Cloutier, former Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference. “In the Arctic regions of Canada and the United States, warmer temperatures are melting the ice and snow that have formed the basis of our culture and survival for millennia.”

Among other human rights impacts of global warming, the request for the hearing, sent to the Commission on December 5, 2006, outlined the following impacts on the people of the Arctic:

Because of the loss of ice and snow, communities have become isolated from one another; hunting, travel and other subsistence activities have become more dangerous or impossible; drinking water sources have been jeopardized; many coastal communities are already threatened or being forced to relocate, while others face increasing risks or costs; and transmission of Inuit culture to younger generations has become difficult or impossible. These impacts jeopardize the realization of the Inuit’s rights to culture, life, health, physical integrity and security, property, and subsistence.

Watt-Cloutier was nominated on February 1, 2007, for a Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy of Inuit causes, including her tireless efforts to put a human face on the impacts of global warming. On February 2, 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest findings on climate change, concluding human pollution is “very likely” the cause of global warming.

“With the latest science released by IPCC, the human causes of global warming can no longer be denied,” said Martin Wagner, an attorney from the US-based Earthjustice who has worked with Watt-Cloutier to draw attention to the impact of global warming on the Inuit’s human rights. “There can be no question that global warming is a serious threat to human rights in the Arctic and around the world. The Inter-American Commission plays an important role in interpreting and defending human rights in the hemisphere, and we are encouraged that it has decided to consider the question of global warming.”

Read “Petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Seeking Relief from Violations Resulting from Global Warming Caused by Acts and Omissions of the United States” (2 MB pdf)

Read the summary of the petition (pdf)

Read the invitation to the Inuit from Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (pdf)

Contact:

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Nunavut, Canada, (867) 979-6388
Martin Wagner, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6700
Daniel Magraw, CIEL, (202) 785-8700

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