Inuit petitions US Government

By Talia Whyte
Special to Global Wire

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, the elected Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), an organization dedicated to Arctic indigenous rights, submitted a petition on December 7 to the Washington DC-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights seeking relief from violations of the human rights of Inuit resulting from global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

The 163-page petition draws upon the traditional knowledge of hunters and elders and wide-ranging peer reviewed science. It is supported by testimony from 63 named Inuit from northern Canada and Alaska. It also documents existing, ongoing, and projected destruction of the Arctic environment and the culture and hunting-based economy of Inuit caused by global warming.

Watt-Cloutier spoke at a side event at the 11th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change which closed on December 10 in Montreal.

“Inuit are an ancient people,” she said. “Our way of life is dependent on the natural environment and animals. Climate change is destroying our environment and eroding our culture. But we refuse to disappear. We will not become a footnote to globalization.”

The petition focuses on the US because it is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases and it refuses to join the international effort to reduce emissions. The petition seeks the Commission to hold hearings in northern Canada and Alaska to investigate the harm caused to Inuit by global warming. Particularly, the petition asks the Commission to declare the United States in violation of rights affirmed in the 1948 American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and other instruments of international law.

The petition wants the Commission to urge the US to adopt mandatory limits to its emissions of greenhouse gases and cooperate with the international community to “prevent dangerous anthoropogenic interference with the climate system,” the objective of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The petition also requests that the US take accountability for the damage already done to the Inuit way of life.

“The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has previously addressed human rights cases submitted by Indigenous peoples seeking to protect their environment and ways of life,” said Dr James Anaya, an aboriginal human rights lawyer at the University of Arizona, at the side event. “The Inuit petition is an opportunity for the Commission to make a significant contribution to the further evolution of international human rights law.”

US politicians are beginning to take a lead in global warming discussion. Last week 24 US senators, including Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain, sent a letter to the White House seeking a renewed discussion on global warming. On the last day of the climate change conference former president Bill Clinton criticized the Bush Administration’s climate policy, citing that the claim that the Kyoto treaty would damage the US economy as "flat wrong.”

"I liked the Kyoto Protocol,” he said. “I helped to write it. And I signed it. With the new technology, there was no telling how many jobs could be created in the US.”

The United Nations Climate Change Conference closed with the adoption of more than forty decisions that will strengthen global efforts to fight climate change. Reflecting on the success of Montreal 2005, the Conference President, Canadian Environment Minister Stéphane Dion said: “Key decisions have been made in several areas. The Kyoto Protocol has been switched on, a dialogue about the future action has begun, parties have moved forward work on adaptation and advanced the implementation of the regular work programme of the Convention and of the Protocol.”

A last-minute change-of-heart by the U.S. to participate in future climate change discussions on a non-Kyoto track led to the final agreement.

"This has been one of the most productive U.N. climate change conferences ever," said Richard Kinley, acting head of the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat.

"This plan sets the course for future action on climate change," he said in a statement.

With all these encouragement the Inuit Circumpolar Conference hopes more will be gained by the petition.

“This petition is not about money, it is about encouraging the United States of America to join the world community to agree to deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions needed to protect the Arctic environment and Inuit culture and, ultimately, the world,” said Sheila Watt-Cloutier. “We submit this petition not in a spirit of confrontation—that is not the Inuit way—but as a means of inviting and promoting dialogue with the United States of America within the context of the climate change convention. Our purpose is to educate not criticize, and to inform not condemn. I invite the United States of America to respond positively to our petition. As well, I invite governments and non-governmental organizations worldwide to support our petition and to never forget that, ultimately, climate change is a matter of human rights.”


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