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Statements Multiple Mechanisms

Human Rights Council Intersessional Panel Discussion on Human Rights, Climate Change, Migrants and Persons Displaced across International Borders

Climate change and migration

06 October 2017

Addresses by Ms. Kate Gilmore United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

Geneva, 6 October 2017

Mr. President, Panellists

We thank the Council for its HRC resolution 35/20 which calls for the organization of this intersessional panel and very much appreciate the leadership of the core sponsors of the resolution - Viet Nam, Philippines and Bangladesh.

The effects of climate change on the planet, people, peace and prosperity grow more and more severe.

  • Sudden-onset events grab our headlines. Images of their devastation flash across our screens but the reality on the ground is far from fleeting. Severe floods and storms wash away lives, homes, livelihoods – in their wake there is a devastation of communities, countryside and confidence.  Security eroded, lives destroyed. Since 2008, an estimated average of 22.5 million persons per year have been displaced (internally or across borders) by weather and climate-related disasters.
  • Climate change has its slow-onset effects too - rising sea-levels, degradation of freshwater resources, erosion and desertification.  The gifts of a climate in crisis are parched land, acidification of the oceans and destruction of ice caps - unchecked climate change digs the graveyard for entire ecosystems, entire ways of living, grave yards  for entire peoples and

The poorest of people have contributed the least to the drivers of this global warming, and yet they are at the fore front of climate change’s unforgiving impacts. Those with the fewest resources, the least access to power, the narrowest of choices - the poor, children,  women, persons with disabilities, indigenous people and minorities – it is they who bear the greatest burden of climate change.

  • For example, in Bangladesh, where almost half the population lives in delta areas less than ten meters above sea level – some 78 per cent of the population lives on less than $3.10 USD a day. Now, up to two thirds of the population is involved in farming – livelihoods particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts such as extreme weather events, sea level rise, flooding, erosion, and groundwater contamination that threaten their livelihoods, health and very lives.

The HRC resolution 35/20, recognises that climate change and its myriad effects is a peopled business – and wherever people are involved, there too, by definition. are rights – human rights.

Climate change’s impacts – and our response to these – are eroding a broad range of human rights for millions - their rights to food; to water and sanitation; to health, and to adequate housing, among others. And of course it is from these intimate insecurities, the indignities of these absences of human rights enjoyed, that people inevitably flee.

They do so not as "economic migrants" – in search of merely of a better life.  They do so without choice, in flight from conditions, circumstances, contexts that cannot provide for even the most fundamental of their rights – as “human rights deprived” migrants.
Theirs is a choice-less choice:  Stay put in despair or abandon their homes, face grave risks of indignity and abuse on their journeys to uncertain destinations to be greeted in so many places we know by rejection, contempt, even persecution.

Today, all around the world, migrants fleeing climate change’s impacts are at great risk of human rights violations throughout their migration – xenophobia, indefinite detention in inhumane conditions, human trafficking, violent attack, rape and torture – and a denial of access to basic – even life-saving – services.

Astonishing that even climate change is dogged by the human toxins of sexism and racism.  Climate change efforts suffer because certain donor countries conspire to deny women elsewhere access to sexual and reproductive health services. Yet it has also proven so much easier to focus on developing countries’ population growth rates as compared to developed countries’ populations’ consumption: The average long-term carbon impact of a child born in the U.S. – along with all of its descendants – is more than 160 times the impact of a child born in Bangladesh. 

Excellencies, friends,

As noted in the New York Declaration, OHCHR is leading an effort of the Global Migration Group to devise a set of Principles and Guidelines on the human rights protection of migrants in vulnerable situations. These are derived from international human rights law, and set out the standards of treatment to which vulnerable migrants are entitled in terms of such as non-discrimination, access to justice, the right to liberty, the right to health and non-refoulement or protection from return to situations of serious harm. These principles are complemented by best practice guidelines, also derived from international human rights law and related standards, as well as examples of promising practice.

While international human rights law provides protection of the fundamental rights and dignity of all people on the move, gaps persist in the understanding and implementation of protection needs for those who are moving in the context of climate change: Some may be able to claim asylum under the Refugee Convention. And some countries already provide protection on humanitarian or compassionate grounds, particularly for those fleeing sudden disasters. But many will fall through the gaps, particularly those seeking to escape the impacts of slow onset disasters.

The negotiations of the global compact on safe, orderly and regular migration offer an opportunity for the international community to put in place a migrant-centred, human rights-based and gender-responsive system of global migration governance. The ongoing discussion of the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damages Task Force on Displacement offers a similar important opportunity.


Protecting human rights for people on the move in the context of the adverse impacts of climate change requires a focus on at least three critical dimensions:

First, we must address the underlying causes that force people to move in response to climate change:

  • States need to better plan and prepare for natural disasters and extreme weather events.
  • They need to honour and strengthen their climate change mitigation and adaptation commitments under the Paris Agreement and take action to effectively implement the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
  • And they need to improve social protection systems and the ability to adapt.

Second, planned relocation must be carried out on a voluntary basis in full respect of human rights obligations, with the informed consent of the community, avoiding forced evictions:

  • Decision-making should be transparent and empower affected persons through meaningful consultation, consent, and participation.
  • The human rights of both relocated persons and receiving communities must be guaranteed in such relocation programmes, preserving at the very least their previous living standards.

Third, it is imperative that States take measures to respect, protect, and fulfil all human rights without discrimination and to provide access to protection for those compelled to move as a result of climate change - in transit, at international borders and upon arrival:

  • They must have access to justice and effective remedies throughout their journeys.
  • And States must address their protection needs – providing food and clean water; access to adequate housing, health care, education, and livelihood opportunities; and safeguarding the fundamental principle of non-refoulement.

It is in this context that we must condemn all efforts outside of international law that attempt to prevent life-saving interventions specifically for those at sea and we express deep appreciation of the brave and compassionate work that civil society organisations are undertaking in this regard.


We are the first generation who can choose to be the last.  We are the first generation whose actions can also destroy the planets ecosystems for future generations.  Global indifference has poisoned our planet and only global commit can preserve it. Failure to act now to address climate change and its impacts and protect the human rights of all migrants, irrespective of the cause of their movement, will amplify human suffering which we simply cannot permit.

Thank you.