A Multi-Dimensional Approach to the Climate Crisis

A Multi-Dimensional Approach to the Climate Crisis

ENVIRONMENT

A Multi-Dimensional Approach to the Climate Crisis

Black and white photograph of yemeni children

Elizabeth Quinn

2nd July 2020

 

Human rights are a powerful tool and provide strong language to tackle the climate crisis. This can be seen in climate case Ireland. Our constitutional rights and the European convention on human rights are being used in this case to challenge Ireland’s national mitigation plan 2017. Climate cases worldwide have had symbolic value and created developments and clarifications in their own countries in several jurisdictions. Although national litigation has a role to play, it is limited in scope. In order to have a strategy effective overall to climate change, a multi-dimensional approach is also needed. We need to examine the limitations that human rights law has in its current formulation. Without being aware of these limitations we are in murky waters where the results of our efforts could be futile in the long term.

 

There are several criticisms of the human rights approach to the climate crisis. I will outline two: the limitations are useful in creative thinking of how else climate change can be dealt with, while complementing the human rights paradigm.

 

The first criticism is that there is an anthropocentric bias in climate strategies. This means that international human rights law is too focused on the individual. Climate cases argue that people’s rights will be affected if the climate is to degrade. This does not take the whole eco-system degradation into account. Thus the approach does not take into account the vulnerability of the eco-systems as a whole and the dependence that we have on the earth. Thus it is argued that human rights cannot respond efficiently to the demands and reality of the earth itself. 

 

Academics such as Kotzé have argued for a re-imagining of vulnerability theory in order to protect not only the individual but the environment itself. The author takes Fineman’s vulnerability theory which seeks to re-imagine the vulnerable subject as one who is universally created by social and political decisions. Kotzé argues that vulnerability should not be detached from environmental factors as our dependence on the earth makes us vulnerable. He states that using this theory will open space, much more than the current human rights paradigm, for a focus on the earth’s eco-system in a more comprehensive manner.

 

“The first criticism is that there is an anthropocentric bias in climate strategies. This means that international human rights law is too focused on the individual”

There is also a movement of giving legal personality to nature. Legal personality means to be capable of having rights and obligations. This provides rights for the resource itself. The idea of nature having legal personality was first written about in 1972 in the book “Should trees have standing”. In the book Stone argues that environmental interests should be recognized separately from human interests and thus nature should have legal standing. It is important to remember here that many other non-human entities have standing. For example, Companies have legal personality, so why shouldn’t nature? 

 

One recent example of this is the Whanganui River in New Zealand which has been declared to be a legal person. The river is one of New Zealand’s most important natural resources and the Maori tribe had been fighting for more than 140 years to get legal protection for the river. Based on this precedent other areas of New Zealand have also been declared to be legal persons. The river has rights and obligations. Two guardians have been appointed to act on behalf of the river- one from the crown and one from the tribe which traditionally use the river. This creates space for the river to be protected as an entity in itself, rather than being protected only when individuals are affected. 

 

This approach creates an alternative to the assumption that people have sovereignty over nature. The Paris agreement recognizes ecosystem integrity and has been argued to have a faint acknowledgement of this discourse. This argument creates an alternative to the individual-centric nature of the human rights approach.

 

The second criticism is the state-centric focus of international human rights law. Corporations have been left out of the equation. International human rights law is not directly applicable to corporations. This is problematic when fossil fuel corporations have accounted for 91% of the global industrial greenhouse emissions and 70% of all human-made emissions. An upheaval of the economic system is needed. There is a lack of political will to do so at this moment in time.

 

One asks- is there an international legal framework for business and human rights? The UN guiding principles on business and human rights are the core instrument at the international level. Although the instrument is powerful is is soft law and thus not binding. This means that corporations are not bound by it. Corporations themselves have begun initiatives, however many of them include self-reporting and are voluntary. Some of the biggest players in industries can opt-out of these initiatives. Thus there is a lack of direct obligations placed on corporations. There is a discussion now about a treaty on business and human rights, however, if it is an overarching treaty I believe it will not be supported by states and businesses alike due to their economic interests. 

 

The human rights approach does not seem to be capable of tackling the way in which the global economy operates. Without confronting this, it may not be possible to bring about the system change required. However, in tackling this, specific treaties for particular industries should be focused on. This would allow one to focus and regulate the industries which cause the most emissions and damage. It is doubtful, especially in this economy that this will happen.

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by ANGELA BENITO

 

 

World Refugee Day 2020

World Refugee Day 2020

VIDEO

World Refugee Day 2020

Arianna Stewart

22nd June 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured photo by freepik

 

 

Living in Fear: Residents of the Moria Refugee Camp

Living in Fear: Residents of the Moria Refugee Camp

HUMANITARIAN

Living in Fear: Residents of the Moria Refugee Camp

Emily Murphy

19th June 2020

 

As restrictions lift across Europe and the wider world, an atmosphere of nervous excitement and relief is rising throughout the country. After almost three months in lockdown, we are eager to get back to life in this ‘new normal’. Unfortunately, for so many, the COVID-19 virus still poses a very real concern. On the Greek island of Lesbos, residents of the Moria refugee camp live with this constant threat. An outbreak in the camp would be undoubtedly disastrous. 

 

In 2015, Camp Moria was built to house a maximum of 3000 people temporarily. In mid-May of this year, conservative estimates put the number of asylum seekers living in the camp at well over 17,000. This high volume is in part due to the 2016 migration agreement between the EU and Turkey. This requires that all, except for the most vulnerable, must submit their asylum claim in the first island in which they land. The agreement, which was an attempt to reduce the number of refugees travelling through mainland Europe, also requires that once a claim has been submitted, the applicant must remain there until it has been completed. 

 

As a whole, Greece has had a startlingly low number of COVID-19 related deaths sitting at 183 at time of publication. This is largely in part to the quick and decisive action of the government who chose to shut down traditional gatherings, schools and universities in February before any viruses had been reported. By mid-March most of the country was in lockdown, this also includes Moria. Prior to the restriction, residents were able to exit the camp while remaining on the island.  Now, however, excluding those with medical appointments, only people with one of 70 daily permits can exit the camp.

 

“Poor sanitation and lack of self-isolation facilities, would be catastrophic should there be an outbreak

On the 12th of May, two migrants who arrived at Lesbos by sea tested positive for coronavirus, despite Greek authorities being successful in preventing an outbreak in the camp so far. We know that it can take up to two weeks for those carrying COVID-19 to display symptoms. This, in conjunction with the poor sanitation and lack of self-isolation facilities, would be catastrophic should there be an outbreak.

 

According to the ‘Watershed Foundation’, a German NGO whose mission is to bring adequate water and drainage to the most vulnerable, state stagnant water remains an enormous problem in many refugee camps, including Moria. With limited water access points, people are resigned to collecting barrels of water and carrying them back to their tents. In many areas of the camp, toilets are 1 to 210 people with some showers 1 to 600 people, making access to regular basic sanitation almost impossible. 

 

The serious congestion, along with the poor sanitation facilities, and the looming threat of this global pandemic is causing increasing tensions, with intermittent fights breaking out. In mid-May, two serious fights erupted, from which a 23 year old woman died and a 21 year old man was left in a critical condition.

 

While many industries in mainland Greece are preparing to open, lockdown in the camp, which measured a little under 1 km² began to ease on the 7th of June, although strict restrictions are still in place. As the Greek government continues to call for other countries to relocate asylum seekers, to help ease overcrowding, a potential outbreak in Moria should still remain heavy on everyone’s mind.

 

 

 

Featured photo by OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

 

 

EU ‘Covered Up’ Croatian Border Brutality against Migrants

EU ‘Covered Up’ Croatian Border Brutality against Migrants

HUMANITARIAN

EU ‘Covered Up’ Croatian Border Brutality against Migrants

Amyrose Forder

16th June 2020

 

While COVID-19 figures dip throughout the EU, borders are once more becoming increasingly open. However, this does not apply to the Croatian-Bosnian border, where reports of abuse by police officers against those seeking asylum within the EU have once more come to light. EU officials have also been accused of an “outrageous cover-up” after withholding evidence of a failure by Croatia’s government to supervise this police brutality. This throws a spotlight on both the Croatian government’s human rights record and the apparent willingness of the EU’s executive branch to cover for its failure.

 

Croatia, an EU member state since 2013, is home to the EU’s longest external border. Its closest neighbour is Bosnia-Herzegovina, a country continuously refused entry to the EU. The so-called Balkan Route is a popular course for both migrants and those seeking protection in the EU, arriving through Croatia via Bosnia. In one week in May alone, 2,700 people entered Croatia with 600 of these being non-EU residents. Footage of police brutality along this border, which has since been nicknamed “the game” by asylum seekers, was first reported in 2018. Each night, as asylum seekers attempt to cross the border, squadrons of patrolling police await them. Several incidents have resulted in shootings, while aid workers, border guards and UN officials have reported “systematic abuse and violence” perpetrated by Croatian police along the border, with migrants and asylum seekers beaten, robbed, and stripped of their clothes and belongings.

 

“Officials in Brussels had been fearful of a backlash when deciding against disclosing Croatia’s lack of commitment to a monitoring mechanism”

Further to this horror, the Guardian has reported that internal European Commission emails reveal officials in Brussels had been fearful of a backlash when deciding against disclosing Croatia’s lack of commitment to a monitoring mechanism. The establishment of a commitment to ensure the humane treatment of migrants at the border had been a condition of a €6.8m cash injection announced in December 2018 by the EU to strengthen Croatia’s borders with non-EU countries. Croatian ministers claimed last year that the funds had been handed over to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Croatian Law Centre to establish the supervisory mechanism. Both organisations deny receiving the money.

 

Images obtained by Border Violence Monitoring Network last month show orange crosses spray-painted on the heads of asylum seekers who have repeatedly attempted to cross the border from Bosnia into Croatia by police. Such ‘branding’ of asylum seekers is degrading behaviour, and particularly uncomfortable in light of cross symbolism targeting predominately Muslim asylum seekers. A father and son who were branded with this cross described border police telling them it was a “cure for coronavirus”. Figures from the Danish Refugee Council, who reopened their operations in Bosnia in 2018, also show the extent of recent violence inflicted on refugees and migrants pushed back to Bosnia from Croatia. In April 2020 alone, 1,641 people were reportedly pushed back. Of these, 445 people reported being denied access to asylum procedures in Croatia upon request, 871 people reported having their identity documents confiscated by border police, 891 people reported violence/physical assault, and 1,253 people reported having their belongings confiscated or set on fire.

 

“Ignoring Croatia’s abuses of migrants at its borders makes the notion that Schengen membership is contingent on respect for human rights just meaningless talk”

The European Commission ruled in October 2019 that Croatia is ready to join the Schengen travel area. Senior Eastern Europe and Balkans researcher at Human Rights Watch, Lydia Gall, has said that “ignoring Croatia’s abuses of migrants at its borders makes the notion that Schengen membership is contingent on respect for human rights just meaningless talk.” 

 

Yet, Croatian prime minister Andrej Plenković has praised his country’s approach to border control in recent months, claiming that the absence of barbed wires along the border is due to the “friendliness” of neighbour Bosnia-Herzegovina. He told reporters in Zagreb: “what we shall do in preventing illegal migration is to respect our laws, international standards and conventions and all humanitarian aspects. If there are any allegations which might be problematic, everything we have heard is verified, checked and investigated.” There has yet to be a public investigation into the reported abuses along their border.

 

 

 

Featured photo by Free To Use Sounds

 

 

Concerns Grow on Coronavirus Spread in Bangladeshi Refugee Camps

Concerns Grow on Coronavirus Spread in Bangladeshi Refugee Camps

HUMANITARIAN

Concerns Grow on Coronavirus Spread in Bangladeshi Refugee Camps

Ellen McVeigh

4th June 2020

 

While the coronavirus pandemic creates chaos and trauma in communities across the globe, rather than being a ‘great equaliser’, the virus, in many cases, is causing the greatest harm to those already vulnerable. Many of those at risk throughout the world are those living in cramped conditions, those living in homes which are unsafe, those living without access to decent sanitation, and those living with chronic health conditions caused by poverty. The Rohingya Muslims are one group identified by organisations such as Oxfam and WHO as being at risk of coronavirus spreading rapidly through their community. In 2017, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims were forced to cross the border into Bangladesh while fleeing violence in their native Myanmar. In attacks which have been described as ‘ethnic cleansing’ by the United Nations, nationalist militias torched villages and displaced thousands. The leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her years of pro-democracy resistance, has been criticised for failing to condemn this violence against an ethnic group within the state. There are now around one million Rohingya living in refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar district of Bangladesh.

 

In mid-May, WHO confirmed the first cases of COVID-19 in these refugee camps. Most residents of the camps live in cramped, multi-generational huts, with four to five people living together in one small room. The sanitation, sewage facilities, and water supply are inadequate, and since 2017 there have been outbreaks of contagious diseases such as cholera and diphtheria. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, aid organisations such as Oxfam and CAFOD have been getting soap and face masks to residents, and 6000 handwashing stations have been installed. Despite these efforts, adequate personal hygiene is still out of reach for many Rohingya living in the camps.

 

“At the end of April, a group of around 500 Rohingya refugees asked for international intervention after they were stranded on cramped boats for several weeks”

 

As well as the technical difficulties in providing services to a million people living in vast camps, there are also issues of cultural dissonance which leads to many Rohingya ignoring the advice. The marginalisation which they have experienced in Myanmar often means that they have little experience of or trust in public health, with many choosing to rely instead on traditional medicines and guidance from spiritual leaders. Reaching such isolated communities is aided by a culturally sensitive delivery of information, helped by working alongside local religious leaders. While there are still only a few cases, there are fears that the conditions in the camps could lead to the virus spreading quickly throughout the population.

 

Outside of these Bangladeshi camps, other Rohingya refugees are facing obstacles created by the coronavirus pandemic. At the end of April, a group of around 500 Rohingya refugees asked for international intervention after they were stranded on cramped boats for several weeks. Fleeing the dire conditions in the Bangladesh refugee camps, they became stranded at sea after being turned away from Malaysia and then prevented from returning to Bangladesh. Both governments cited the coronavirus as an excuse to close their borders, as worries grew that lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus could be mobilised against those seeking refuge across borders. Within Malaysia, a country which does not recognise refugees, the containment of the coronavirus was used as an excuse to round up and detain hundreds of undocumented migrants. The UN has condemned campaigns such as this, which claim to be an attempt at reducing the spread of the virus, but which could, in fact, aid its spread as it pushes vulnerable communities into hiding, and make it unlikely that they will seek treatment. The ‘stay home’ messaging employed by many countries across the world means very little to those forced to flee.

 

The Crumbling Humanitarian Situation on Lesbos

The Crumbling Humanitarian Situation on Lesbos

Historically a popular destination amongst tourists, in recent years the Greek island of Lesbos has become a gateway for hundreds of thousands of people seeking refuge from war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan. Their already treacherous journey was compounded by the implementation of the EU-Turkey deal in 2016. This deal resulted in Turkey blocking refugees from reaching and crossing EU borders and, in return, the EU would grant visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and provide a financial aid package of six billion euros. Critics of this deal have argued that this violates human rights and international law. As Amnesty International outlines, there are fundamental flaws regarding how the conditions of this deal have been implemented. However, it has not deterred those seeking refuge. Many arrive in Lesbos by 4-hour boat ride from the Turkish coast and some die attempting the crossing. Most are unaware of the conditions and cycle of containment that they face, as they await their asylum cases to be heard. 

 

Moria, the largest refugee camp on Lesbos, has now far exceeded its capacity, and its living conditions are coming under increasing scrutiny. Originally built to house 3,000 people, it’s population increased to approximately 5,000 in July 2019. It now houses around 20,000 refugees, with more arriving daily. The living conditions have worsened due to overcrowding and policies both the Greek government and the European Union have adopted. In July 2019, the Greek Government revoked access to public healthcare for refugees and undocumented migrants. This includes those, among them children, who suffer from serious conditions such as epilepsy and diabetes. 

 

In January 2020, Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) called for the immediate evacuation of refugees suffering from serious, complex or chronic illnesses to the Greek mainland, an opinion echoed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The president of MSF, Dr. Christos Christou, described the living conditions in Moria as ‘comparable to what we see in war zones’ in an open letter released to European Leaders on the 27th November 2019. He details the impact these conditions have on those trapped in Moria, with many, including children, turning to self-harm and suicide. Violence in the camp has become widespread, particularly sexual assaults and stabbings. Similar conditions can be found in refugee camps across the Aegean Islands of Greece. The calls for emergency intervention from UNHCR and MSF have, to date, been ignored by the Greek government. Meanwhile, the number of refugees across these islands has risen to over 42,000.

 

 

I spoke to Fellipe Lopez, a 33-year-old Brazilian filmmaker and photographer living in Ireland for the past 8 years. He aims to highlight social issues, refugee crises and climate change issues through his work and in December 2019 he travelled to Moria refugee camp. In discussing the conditions he witnessed, he expressed how hard it is to prepare for the level of violence within the camp. ‘It is a place that has no hope… the energy in the camp is really tense’ Fellipe said, echoing the concerns of MSF, before adding that ‘people feel unsafe in the camp, most parents are afraid to let their kids go around the camp because they could be raped… they could receive aggression from other people… a lot of murders happen in the camp, a lot of stabbings. When I was there it happened twice… It feels like a post-war zone’. I asked Fellipe: what could be done to alleviate the suffering of these refugees? ‘[The] EU should stand up and say we are going to relocate these people straight away…the refugee crisis is not stopping. The numbers, unfortunately, is going to keep increasing…those people are dying over there [in Moria]’.

 

Lesbos, in particular, has seen mounting tensions in the past month. The start of February saw protests by refugees residing in Moria, aiming to highlight the dire living conditions in the camp. They were met by riot police, multiple people were arrested and those protesting, including children, were teargassed. Mid-February saw Greek residents on Lesbos also clashing with riot police, whilst protesting against the proposal to build more camps on the island, rather than relocating refugees to the mainland.

 

On 28 February, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that he was opening the western border to Greece to allow refugees to proceed into the EU. This, he claimed, was in response to a lack of support from the EU and a delay in providing financial aid under the terms of the EU-Turkey deal. Many travelled on transport provided by the Turkish government and were met by Greek border patrols firing teargas and denying entry for these refugees. In response, the Greek government has increased the number of ships patrolling waters around Lesbos in an effort to deter further boat crossings. Despite this show of force, on 1 March, as many as 400 refugees arrived on the shores of Lesbos. Meanwhile, thousands more are attempting to brave the crossing as the news of the first fatality surfaces due to a capsized boat, a Syrian boy aged just four years old.

 

Since early March, multiple fires have broken out in the camp. One of which, on March 16th, resulted in a child perishing in the fire. Meanwhile, MSF have intensified calls for the evacuation of refugees from these ‘squalid’ camps amid the coronavirus outbreak, as the first case on Lesbos is confirmed. The Greek government has stated that the coronavirus risk on the island is less than that on the mainland. The fragile atmosphere on the island has prompted NGOs to limit their services and volunteers to evacuate. The urgent needs of these refugees have been lost amongst the panic caused by the coronavirus outbreak, resulting in the residents of Moria taking matters into their own hands and sewing their own facemasks.

 

In examining the humanitarian situation in Lesbos, it is clear that refugees are being used as a pawn in a geopolitical game. Those seeking refuge stand to lose the most, with uncertainty surrounding the life that awaits them, whether that be in the EU or Turkey.

 

 

Photo credit: Moria camp, Lesbos, 12/2019 – 01/2020, Fellipe Lopes

 

 

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