• brillopedia

TEITIOTA V NEW ZEALAND: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS

Author: Sagarika Swapnil, Advocate at Patna High Court

Co-author: Raj Krishna, pursuing LL.M. from NLIU Bhopal


INTRODUCTION

The UN Human Rights Committee in a historic ruling [Dated- 7th January, 2020][i] has held that forcibly returning a person to a place where his or her life would be at risk because of the adverse effects of climate change would violate an individual’s right to life guaranteed under Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)[ii], thereby triggering the principle of non-refoulement [The principle of non-refoulement is enshrined under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR], International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR], as well as in the UN Convention against Torture].[iii]


BACKGROUND OF THE CASE

Ioane Teitiota, a Kiribati national applied for the status of refugee in New Zealand. Teitiotia contended before the immigration authorities that due to climate change in Kiribati he was forced to leave the place in order to save his life.[iv] However the Immigration and Protection Tribunal rejected his application. As a result the applicant preferred an appeal. However the decision ofthe Immigration and Protection Tribunal was upheld by all the appellate courts of the land i.e., the High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.[v] The appellate courts while deciding the same observed that Teitiota did not qualifyas a refugee because he was not subjected to persecution, a criteria which needs to be fulfilled if the person has to qualify as a refugee under the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.[vi]


After having exhausted all his domestic remedies, Teitiota filed a communication with the Human Rights Committee under the Optional Protocol contending that New Zealand has violated his right to life by forcibly deporting him back to Kiribati.[vii]


RULING AND ITS ANALYSIS

The UN Human Rights Committee while deciding the case held that the right to life guaranteed under article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) need to be interpreted broadly.The Committee observed that climate change in Kiribati has made the life of its citizens difficult. However the Committee ruled that Teitiota’s deportation had not been unlawful because he didn’t face an immediate danger to his life in Kiribati. TheUN Human Rights Committee also rejected the Applicant’s argument where he contended that his right to life had been violated because of increased violence caused by overcrowding. The HRC rejected this argument because the risk to life under Article 6 needs to be personal. As a result a general situation of violence will not suffice.[viii]


WAY FORWARD

Even though the ruling of UN Human Rights Committee went against the applicant, but still the verdict has been applauded by the Human Rights Groups all over the world. The ruling is important because the UN Human Rights Committee vide this ruling has held that now the states have an obligation not to forcibly return an individual to the place where climate change pose a risk to the life of an individual. The states nowneed to consider the effects of climate change as well while evaluating asylum and refugee claims of an individual. The verdict is transformative, but now only the time will tell that how much impact this ruling will have in the future.[ix]

[i] Ioane Teitiota v. New Zealand (CCPR/C/127/D/2728/2016). [ii] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 6. [iii]“Sending Back Climate Refugees May Violate Right to Life: U.N. Body”, NY Times (Feb 2, 2020, 4:00 p.m.) https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2020/01/21/world/asia/21reuters-newzealand-kiribati-climate.html [iv] Ioane Teitiota v. New Zealand (CCPR/C/127/D/2728/2016). [v] Adaena Sinclair-Blakemore, “Teitiota v New Zealand: A Step Forward in the Protection of Climate Refugees under International Human Rights Law?”, OxHRH Blog (Feb. 3, 2020, 3:00 p.m.) http://ohrh.law.ox.ac.uk/teitiota-v-new-zealand-a-step-forward-in-the-protection-of-climate-refugees-under-international-human-rights-law [vi] UN Human Rights Committee Views Adopted on Teitiota Communication, Climate Case Chart (Feb. 3, 2020, 5:00 p.m.), http://climatecasechart.com/non-us-case/un-human-rights-committee-views-adopted-on-teitiota-communication/ [vii] Adaena Sinclair-Blakemore, “Teitiota v New Zealand: A Step Forward in the Protection of Climate Refugees under International Human Rights Law?”, OxHRH Blog (Feb. 3, 2020, 3:00 p.m.) http://ohrh.law.ox.ac.uk/teitiota-v-new-zealand-a-step-forward-in-the-protection-of-climate-refugees-under-international-human-rights-law [viii]Ioane Teitiota v. New Zealand (CCPR/C/127/D/2728/2016. [ix]Adaena Sinclair-Blakemore, “Teitiota v New Zealand: A Step Forward in the Protection of Climate Refugees under International Human Rights Law?”, OxHRH Blog (Feb. 3, 2020, 3:00 p.m.) http://ohrh.law.ox.ac.uk/teitiota-v-new-zealand-a-step-forward-in-the-protection-of-climate-refugees-under-international-human-rights-law