• Eight Torres Strait Islanders in a historic climate case have ramped up their fight this week, submitting an official reply to the Australian Government. (Supplied. )Source: Supplied.
A group of Torres Strait Islanders have made a formal submission to the UN Human Rights Committee highlighting the threat of climate change to their lives, in response to a recent attempt by the Australian government to dismiss their initial complaint.
Douglas Smith

1 Oct 2020 - 12:15 PM  UPDATED 1 Oct 2020 - 12:15 PM

Eight Torres Strait Islanders in a historic climate crisis case have ramped up their fight this week by submitting an official reply to the Australian government, who attempted to have their case dismissed at the United Nations. 

In May last year, eight Traditional Owners from across the Torres Strait lodged a complaint with the UN’s Human Rights Committee, highlighting the threat of climate change to their culture and their ability to live on their home islands. 

The Australian government attempted to have their complaint blocked in August this year, dismissing the issue as a problem for the future, rather than the present.  

The group dubbed the ‘Torres Strait 8’ submitted its formal response on Tuesday, expressing disappointment with the Australian government and stating it has failed to recognise the basic human rights obligations it has to its people

In the statement, Kulkalgal man living on Masig Island, Yessie Mosby, said the impacts of climate change was destroying their way of life.  

“How can the Australian Government say this is just a future threat to our rights? We are watching our ancestors’ bones wash away, our crops destroyed by salinity, and our drinking water is contaminated,” said Mr Mosby. 

'We need help now, now is the time': Australia ignores climate crisis in Torres Strait
Low-lying islands in the Torres Strait are currently losing twice the amount of land to rising sea-levels than the global average and face relocations in the near-future if action is not taken to lower emissions.

Australian climate lawyer acting for the group, Sophie Marjanac, criticised the federal government’s action on climate change as being at the “bottom of the league”. 

“It has a long track record of inaction at home, and international obstruction in efforts to reduce the amount of global heating pollution in our atmosphere," said Ms Marjanac. 

“It has the world’s highest per capita emissions and its commitments to the Paris Agreement are woefully inadequate. 

“If the Australian government claims it’s not responsible for the human rights of its most climate vulnerable citizens, after its continued climate inaction, then who is?”

In a statement to NITV’s The Point last month, a spokesperson from the Attorney-General's department said the government was confident that its actions on climate change were adequate in meeting the human rights obligations of Torres Strait Islander people.  

"The Government is confident its policies regarding climate change are consistent with its international human rights obligations," said the spokesperson.

According to the claimants, the timing is significant given that September marked the anniversary of the creation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Our message to the Australian public is to please support us in solidarity in this fight to save our island homes, our people, and our culture for our children and future generations,” said Mr Mosby.

The #OurIslandsOurHome and  #TorresStrait8 campaign has already gathered more than 20,000 petition signatures, which the claimants plan to deliver to the government in November.

The Torres Strait Islanders taking 'world-first climate change case' to UN
The case frames climate change as “a human rights issue”, with First Nations people among the most vulnerable to a changing climate.