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« Climate change is a human rights issue because it has links to the right to life »

VERBATIM: by Mr. Mohamed Nasheed, President of the Maldives, upon receiving the Anna Lindh Prize on 15 June 2009 for the Maldives’ “great efforts to put people and their human rights at the heart of the debate on climate change”.

The President of the Maldives, Mr. Mohamed Nasheed signed the decree of the underwater Cabinet meeting.“…Governments can do many things. But governments only do things when people want them to do things. We have been able to change things in the Maldives because we have been able to galvanize the people into political activism… Therefore, grass-root activities and especially a vibrant democracy are important to take up to the challenges of climate change. Human rights become an important issue because, as it has been pointed out, we are talking about the destruction of a civilization. The Maldives have been around for the past 2,000 years. We have a written history of 2,000 years.

In fact, I just found out that our burial grounds have cowry shells in them. So Maldivians must have come here a long time ago…In our minds, therefore, climate change, sea-level rise and climatic aberrations are all very fundamental human rights issues. Having been a victim of torture myself, you will understand that it is not easy for me to say this. I am not trying to dilute the definition but we have to understand that there are core human rights values that we all share. Pain is a core human right value. Whichever culture you come from, when you are kicked in it hurts …and when you are in solitary confinement.

But for us to be able to come up with a solution to this we have to start thinking about how we might to be able to safeguard these core values. In my mind, safeguarding the core human rights values are also linked to, in a sense, secondary issues: climate change, poverty, and so on. If we are to protect even the fundamentals, the classical idea of human rights, we have to be able to include other issues in the definition of human rights. Climate change is a human rights issue because it has links to the right to life. So we feel that what is very important right now is to consolidate democracy in the Maldives”.

Climate change has an impact on the rights of citizens, but we have to think as global citizens

Mr. Shakeel Mohamed, MP from MauritiusAt the panel organized by the IPU and the European Parliament within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Public Forum 2009 held in September in Geneva, two participants gave their views on the impact that climate change can have on human rights.

Many developing countries are currently advancing the argument that once upon a time the developed world cut down the trees and spoiled the environment, and that it is now our turn. That argument does not hold water. It is a different issue to issues of trade at the WTO. This deals with the survival of the planet. The developed world must help the developing countries in order to identify alternative means of energy, renewable energy, and new technology. There should be some exchange and some funding in order to help us, the developing countries, tackle the issue of climate change. But I totally disagree with the argument that it is our turn now. It is a dangerous stand to take. Climate change has an impact on the rights of citizens, but we have to think of the rights of us as global citizens of the planet. If we do not, there won’t be any planet for us to live on. That is the way one should look at it. It is wrong to look at it from the perspective that we have to protect our own and at the same time destroy the planet.

Unless we deal with climate change, we will not be able to fulfill our human rights goals

Mr. James Bacchus, former member of the US Congress and former Chairman of the WTO Appellate BodyUnless we deal with climate change, we will not be able to fulfill our human rights goals, because we will not fulfill our human potential. Human rights relate to the opportunities we have to fulfill our capabilities as individuals for personal human development. If we do not have a planet where we can continue to live and prosper, we will not be able to develop as individuals or as a species. It is a survival issue for humanity. I am hopeful that the world will come together in Copenhagen and agree a global treaty on climate change that will work for everyone. If we do so, that will be an extraordinary accomplishment. If we don’t, we will have difficulties going forward. I have great confidence in the capacity of President Obama to deliver on a lot of things, for America and for the world. We are certainly asking a whole lot of one human being, but I am ever the optimist!