Five U.S. Indian tribes submitted a complaint to the United Nations alleging that the U.S. government has violated their human rights in failing to address climate displacement. The complaint calls on several Special Rapporteurs to intervene and investigate, and to recommend that the U.S. government and the states of Alaska and Louisiana take steps to address displacement caused by climate change.
The Alaska Institute for Justice submitted the complaint on behalf of five tribes located in Louisiana and Alaska: Point-au-Chien Indian Tribe, Grand Caillou/Dulac Band of Biloxi-Citimacha-Cochtow Tribe, the Atakapa-Ishak Chawasha Tribe of the Grand Bayou Indian Village, and the Native Village of Kivalina. The complaint is directed to the Special Rapporteurs on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, among others. The complainants assert that they are being forcibly displaced from their ancestral lands as a result of climate change, and that the U.S. government has failed to protect them despite knowing for decades that climate change threatens coastal communities. They further contend that the U.S. government's inaction has gone beyond basic negligence where the government has failed to engage, consult, acknowledge and promote the self-determination of the tribes as they develop adaptation strategies, including resettlement. The complaint also alleges that by failing to federally recognize the named Louisiana tribes, the U.S. government is further hamstringing efforts to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.
The complaint asks the Special Rapporteurs to recommend that the U.S. government recognize the self-determination and inherent sovereignty of all the tribes; grant federal recognition to those that have not yet received it; and take certain steps to protect the tribes' land and cultural heritage, among other things. The complaint further asks the Special Rapporteurs to recommend that the Louisiana state government allocate funding to the named Louisiana tribes to respond to the humanitarian crisis caused by climate change; require the oil and gas industry to give advanced notice of their intent to conduct operations that may pose a risk to tribal cultural heritage, land, and waters; and hold oil and gas corporations responsible for damages caused to the Louisiana coast, among other things. The complaint also seeks a recommendation that the Alaska state government allocate funding to implement the tribal-led relocation process for Kivalina, and that all three governments develop relocation institutional frameworks.
The complainants' claims arise out of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the Pinheiro Principles on Housing and Property Restitution, and the Peninsula Principles on human rights that must be enforced when people are forcibly displaced because of climate change. The complaint also cites the right to self-determination of all peoples, the Charter of the UN, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and Article 3 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
In September 2020, the Special Rapporteurs communicated the case the U.S. government, detailed the allegations, sought clarification on the measures taken by the government, and included a reference annex on international human rights law.