Press release

Justice Initiative Urges Expansive Rights Framework for Climate Displacement

December 14, 2023
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The Open Society Justice Initiative is arguing for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to take an ambitious and expansive approach to the protection of the rights of people displaced by the climate emergency, as the court prepares an Advisory Opinion on the issues that will shape future regional law and policy in the region.

Juliana Vengoechea Barrios, senior managing litigation officer at the Justice Initiative, said: “The Latin American and Caribbean region already has one of the most progressive and expansive legal regimes to protect refugees. We hope this new Advisory Opinion will establish a similarly expansive interpretation for the rights and protections due to people displaced by climate change—one that will in turn provide a model for the rest of the world.” 

The Court issues advisory opinions in its role as legal advisor on human rights law for the Organization of American States (OAS) and its members. Colombia and Chile requested it issue an Advisory Opinion on the climate emergency and human mobility on January 9, 2023, in a process open to input from civil society.

In its submission to the Court, the Justice Initiative assesses the implications of climate displacement on internal displacement, trapped populations, and the right to remain. It focuses on a set of rights that includes: the rights of refugees and other displaced persons; the rights to food security, health, and adequate housing; the right to nationality and protection against statelessness; and the self determination of indigenous peoples.

 The Justice Initiative’s submission includes five case studies: planned relocation of an ethnic minority in Panama, case study of the Raizal population in Colombia in the aftermath of two hurricanes; the food crisis caused by droughts in the Central America Dry corridor; the aftermath of Hurricane Maria which hit Puerto Rico in 2017; and the hardships faced by Native Americans in Alaska.

Two other international tribunals are also developing advisory opinions on the impact of the climate emergency—the International Court of Justice, and the International Tribunal on the Law of the Seas. The IACHR is the only venue where civil society groups can submit their input, and the only one addressing a specific question to climate mobility.

Colombia and Chile requested that the Court clarify “the scope of State obligations, in their individual and collective dimension, in order to respond to the climate emergency within the framework of international human rights law, paying special attention to the differentiated impacts of this emergency on individuals from diverse regions and population groups, as well as on nature and on human survival on our planet.”

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, an annual average of 21.5 million people globally were forcibly displaced each year by weather-related events – such as floods, storms, wildfires, and extreme temperatures – between 2008 and 2016. This climate migration is expected to surge in coming decades with forecasts from international thinktank the Institute for Economics and Peace predicting that 1.2 billion people could be displaced globally by 2050 due to climate change and natural disasters.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights consists of seven judges elected by the 34 members of the Organization of American States (OAS). Twenty mostly Latin American States have recognized the jurisdiction of the Court on human rights complaints brought against national governments that have ratified the American Convention on Human Rights. The Court’s advisory opinions shape jurisprudence across the region.

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