The Arctic is melting away, and with it the way of life of the Inuit peoples of the Arctic circle. Animal migration patterns and numbers are changing, winters are becoming shorter and warmer, and rising sea levels are forcing whole villages to relocate to higher ground. In short, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Inuit to live as they have for thousands of years.

With the US government not aggressively tackling the causes of climate change (in fact, not fully accepting that climate change is, at least in part, caused by human industry), the Inuit are hitting back. A delegation of Inuit leaders will be traveling to Washington, D.C., to give first-hand testimony about the human costs of rapid climate change.

From the Native American Times:

The delegation, representing Inuit
peoples from the US, Canada, Russia and Greenland, will argue that the
US’s energy policies and its position as the world’s biggest emitter of
greenhouse gases is having a devastating effect on their communities.
Melting sea ice, rising seas and the impact on the animals they rely on
for food threatens their existence.

The American and Canadian Inuit plan to take their grievances to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in Costa Rica. They intend to  argue that the  US Government’s refusal to act to halt climate change is a violation of its obligation vis a vis the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man and as a member state of the Inter-American human rights regime.

The Inuit’s efforts to force the US to
act are part of an unprecedented attempt to link climate change to
international human rights laws. “The impacts of climate change,
caused by acts and omissions by the US, violate the Inuit’s fundamental
human rights protected by the American Declaration of the Rights and
Duties of Man and other international instruments,” the Inuit argued in
a letter to the ICHR. “Because Inuit culture is inseparable from the
condition of their physical surroundings, the widespread environmental
upheaval resulting from climate change violates the Inuit’s right to
practice and enjoy the benefits of their culture.”

This is an interesting argument, linking inaction on climate change to violations of social and cultural rights (SCR), in this case the rights of indigenous minority groups.

We’ll see what happens. I commend the Inuit leaders for taking a stand, but I doubt they’ll achieve much going through the IACHR, even if they manage to win their case. Successive US Governments have done little more than ridicule and snicker at IACHR rulings against the United States. It is, after all, a (run for the hills!) foreign court.

Still, who knows? I’d love to be proven wrong.

Martin Wagner, of the California-based environmental NGO Earthjustice, has a more hopeful take:

“There can be no question that global warming is a
serious threat to human rights in the Arctic and around the world. The
ICHR plays an important role in interpreting and defending human
rights, and we are encouraged that it has decided to consider the
question of global warming.”

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