Climate undermining human rights says Tutu

Posted: 16 December 2009

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mary Robinson, former UN Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking at a Humanitarian Day meeting at Copenhagen, said that climate change was "undermining human rights on an unprecedented scale".

They were speaking at an international climate hearing at the Copenhagen Climate Summit, before an audience that included climate-affected people from Bangladesh, Peru, Uganda and the United States.

Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu
Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu
Former UN human rights commissioner Mary Robinson with Archbishop Desmond Tutu at a climate change tribunal in Cape Town in October 2009.

Mary Robinson said: "International human rights law says that "in no case may a people be deprived of its means of subsistence". Yet because of excessive carbon emissions, produced primarily by industrialised countries, millions of the world"s poorest people"s rights are being violated every day. This is a deep and global injustice."

Archbishop Desmond Tutu drew on his own experience of climate change and called on world leaders not to let the voices of the most vulnerable fall on deaf ears.

He said: "I too, stand before you as a witness. I have seen with my own eyes the changes in my homeland, South Africa. The Southern Cape is currently experiencing the worst drought anyone can remember. There is not enough food. There is too little water. The situation is becoming increasingly desperate.

"This is our only chance to succeed in the world's most important battle. I trust that those with the power to influence will have truly listened today. Justice cannot wait."

Global testimony

The international climate hearing was the culmination of thousands of Oxfam-supported hearings carried out in 35 countries this year. Over 1.5 million people joined the hearings to testify that climate change is destroying their lives and livelihoods.

Constance Okollet, a farmer from Uganda taking part in the hearing in Copenhagen said: "Violent floods and long droughts have caused hunger, death and homelessness in my village. As farmers, we used to be able to rely on the seasons but now we don't know when to plant, cultivate or sow.

"At first I thought god must be punishing us. Then I realised this was man made. Rich nations must compensate us for the damage they have done".

Jeremy Hobbs, executive director of Oxfam International said: "Climate change is affecting every issue linked to poverty today. From death to hunger, disasters to displacement, the cost of delay is criminal."

"We"ve been waiting two years for this critical deal. With just four days to go, it is time for governments to stop sidestepping their responsibilities and do the deal that's needed for all of us".