Verdict saying Switzerland violated rights by failing on climate action could ripple across Europe

Activists gather in front of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France on April 9, 2024, as the court was about to issue its verdict on a lawsuit filed by a group of Swiss women against their government on climate action. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 10 April 2024
Follow

Verdict saying Switzerland violated rights by failing on climate action could ripple across Europe

  • The court — which is unrelated to the European Union — ruled that Switzerland “had failed to comply with its duties” to combat climate change and meet emissions targets.
  • Although activists have had success with lawsuits in domestic proceedings, this was the first time an international court ruled on climate change

STRASBOURG, France: Europe’s highest human rights court ruled Tuesday that countries must better protect their people from the consequences of climate change, siding with a group of older Swiss women against their government in a landmark ruling that could have implications across the continent.
The European Court of Human Rights rejected two other, similar cases on procedural grounds — a high-profile one brought by Portuguese young people and another by a French mayor that sought to force governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But the Swiss case, nonetheless, sets a legal precedent in the Council of Europe’s 46 member states against which future lawsuits will be judged.
“This is a turning point,” said Corina Heri, an expert in climate change litigation at the University of Zurich.
Although activists have had success with lawsuits in domestic proceedings, this was the first time an international court ruled on climate change — and the first decision confirming that countries have an obligation to protect people from its effects, according to Heri.
She said it would open the door to more legal challenges in the countries that are members of the Council of Europe, which includes the 27 EU nations as well as many others from Britain to Turkiye.
The Swiss ruling softened the blow for those who lost Tuesday.
“The most important thing is that the court has said in the Swiss women’s case that governments must cut their emissions more to protect human rights,” said 19-year-od Sofia Oliveira, one of the Portuguese plaintiffs. “Their win is a win for us, too, and a win for everyone!”

The court — which is unrelated to the European Union — ruled that Switzerland “had failed to comply with its duties” to combat climate change and meet emissions targets.
That, the court said, was a violation of the women’s rights, noting that the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees people “effective protection by the state authorities from the serious adverse effects of climate change on their lives, health, well-being and quality of life.”
A group called Senior Women for Climate Protection, whose average age is 74, had argued that they were particularly affected because older women are most vulnerable to the extreme heat that is becoming more frequent.
“The court recognized our fundamental right to a healthy climate and to have our country do what it failed to do until now: that is to say taking ambitious measures to protect our health and protect the future of all,” said Anne Mahrer, a member of the group.
Switzerland said it would study the decision to see what steps would be needed. “We have to, in good faith, implement and execute the judgment,” Alain Chablais, who represented the country at last year’s hearings, told The Associated Press.
Judge Siofra O’Leary, the court’s president, stressed that it would be up to governments to decide how to approach climate change obligations — and experts noted that was a limit of the ruling.
“The European Court of Human Rights stopped short of ordering the Swiss government to take any specific action, underscoring that relief from the Swiss government ‘necessarily depends on democratic decision-making’ to enact the laws necessary to impose such a remedy,” said Richard Lazarus, a professor at Harvard Law School who specializes in environmental and natural resources law.
Activists have argued that many governments have not grasped the gravity of the climate change — and are increasingly looking to the courts to force them to do more to ensure global warming is held to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, in line with the goals of the Paris climate agreement.
A judge in Montana ruled last year that state agencies were violating the constitutional right to a clean environment by allowing fossil fuel development — a first-of-its- kind trial in the US that added to a small number of similar legal decisions around the world.
As part of trying to meet climate goals, the European Union, which doesn’t include Switzerland, currently has a target to be climate-neutral by 2050. Despite those efforts, the Earth shattered global annual heat records in 2023 and flirted with the world’s agreed-upon warming threshold, Copernicus, a European climate agency, said in January.
Celebrity climate activist Greta Thunberg was in the courtroom as the decision was announced. “These rulings are a call to action. They underscore the importance of taking our national governments to court,” the 21-year-old Swede told the AP.
“The first ruling by an international human rights court on the inadequacy of states’ climate action leaves no doubt,” said Joie Chowdhury, senior attorney with the Center for International Environmental Law, “the climate crisis is a human rights crisis.”
 


NATO chief says Russia, North Korea pact shows mutual support by authoritarian powers

Updated 20 June 2024
Follow

NATO chief says Russia, North Korea pact shows mutual support by authoritarian powers

  • NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said North Korea had provided “an enormous amount of ammunition” to Russia while both China and Iran were supporting Moscow militarily in its war against Ukraine

OTTAWA: Russia’s new defensive pact with North Korea shows increasing alignment among authoritarian powers and underscores the importance of democracies presenting a united front, the head of NATO said on Wednesday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a deal with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un that included a mutual defense pledge, a move that overhauls Moscow’s policy toward Pyongyang.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said North Korea had provided “an enormous amount of ammunition” to Russia while both China and Iran were supporting Moscow militarily in its war against Ukraine.
“We need to be aware that authoritarian powers are aligning more and more. They are supporting each other in a way we haven’t seen before,” he told a panel discussion during an official visit to Ottawa.
“When they are more and more aligned — authoritarian regimes like North Korea and China, Iran, Russia — then it’s even more important that we are aligned as countries believing in freedom and democracy,” he said.
The growing closeness between Russia and other Asian nations means it is all the more important that NATO works with allies in the Asia-Pacific, he said, adding this was why leaders from Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea had been invited to a NATO summit in Washington next month.
Stoltenberg also said he expected Canada to meet the NATO target of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.
Canada’s Liberal government, which has poured billions into social programs, only spends 1.37 percent of GDP on its military. In April it issued a plan to reach 1.76 percent by 2030.
Other NATO members “are concerned about the fiscal balance, they want to spend money on health (and) education” he said, adding that “if we’re not able to preserve peace, then what we do on health and climate change and education ... will fail.”

 


In Tijuana, shelter for Muslim migrants on US doorstep

A migrant prays at an abandoned warehouse turned migrant camp in Calais, northern France, on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (AP)
Updated 20 June 2024
Follow

In Tijuana, shelter for Muslim migrants on US doorstep

  • Increasingly, migrants from the Middle East and North Africa also undertake the perilous route via South and Central America

TIJUANA, Mexico: From Algeria, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, citizens of distant, Muslim countries wait for US asylum at a shelter in the Mexican border city of Tijuana -- more used to seeing migrants from Latin America than the Middle East.
At the Assabil Inn, Mexico's first shelter catering for US-bound Muslim migrants, the backstories of the guests are as varied as the assortment of languages they speak.
"Almost everybody follows the same faith. So it feels like you're among your brothers and sisters," Maitham Alojaili, a 26-year-old who fled civil war-wrecked Sudan, told AFP before joining Friday prayers at the facility's mosque.
"People get kidnapped. Anything could happen. Sometimes, when you leave home, there's a very high chance that you don't come back," Alojaili said of the circumstances that compelled him to leave everything behind in search of a better life far away.
Data released this week by Mexico's National Migration Institute said some 1.39 million people from 177 countries have traveled through the country so far this year, trying to reach the United States without entry papers.
The figure represents almost the whole world -- the United Nations has 193 member states.
The majority came from Venezuela, Guatemala, Honduras, Ecuador and Haiti.

Increasingly, migrants from the Middle East and North Africa also undertake the perilous route via South and Central America.
For many, it includes a journey on foot through the dangerous Darien Gap, a dense jungle on the Colombia-Panama border replete with dangerous animals, criminals and human traffickers.
Yusseph Rahnali, a 31-year-old Algerian, told AFP he opted for the United States "because they accept everybody."
Europe is not an option, he said, because of visa requirements. Instead, he flew visa-free to Ecuador before crossing seven other countries to Mexico where he awaits news on the US asylum process.
Migration is at the heart of the campaign for the US presidential election in November.
Seeking re-election, incumbent Joe Biden signed a decree this month shutting down the border to asylum seekers after certain daily limits are reached.
On Tuesday, in an attempt to balance the crackdown criticized by the left and human rights groups, he announced a new potential citizenship path for immigrants married to US nationals -- which was in turn slammed by conservatives.

In Tijuana, 29-year-old Afghan journalist Fanah Ahmadi told AFP he traveled to Brazil on a humanitarian visa, then through "nine or ten other countries" to get to Mexico.
"There are many difficulties on the way but I am still grateful that... today, I am here," said Ahmadi of the Assabil Inn, where migrants receive food and shelter, "and we are near the border as well."
The Inn, opened in 2022, can house up to 200 people and allows Muslims to pray and eat halal. A stay can last from one week to seven months.
"Muslims have their home here in Tijuana," said founder Sonia Garcia, a Mexican who converted to Islam through marriage.
In 2023, a record 2.4 million people crossed the US-Mexico border without travel documents, according to US figures.
The flow hit a high of 10,000 people per day in December, which has since been reduced as both countries have cracked down.
For purposes of statistics, migrants from Muslim countries are grouped by US officials into a category labeled "other," due to their small number compared to those from Latin America, India or Russia.
Trump, as US president, banned migrants from Muslim countries in a measure that has since been overturned.
On the campaign trail he has ramped up his anti-immigration rhetoric, saying migrants were "poisoning the blood" of the United States.
 

 


UK PM Sunak’s Conservatives set for heavy election defeat, polls forecast

Updated 19 June 2024
Follow

UK PM Sunak’s Conservatives set for heavy election defeat, polls forecast

  • Polling by YouGov showed Keir Starmer’s Labour was on track to win 425 parliamentary seats in Britain’s 650-strong House of Commons
  • Savanta poll, published by the Telegraph newspaper, said Sunak could even lose his own parliamentary seat in northern England

LONDON: Three opinion polls on Wednesday predicted a record defeat for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives at a July 4 election, forecasting the Labour Party would comfortably win a large majority after 14 years in opposition.
Polling by YouGov showed Keir Starmer’s Labour was on track to win 425 parliamentary seats in Britain’s 650-strong House of Commons, the most in its history. Savanta predicted 516 seats for Labour and More in Common gave it 406.
YouGov had the Conservatives on 108 and the Liberal Democrats on 67, while Savanta predicted the Conservatives would take 53 parliamentary seats and the Liberal Democrats 50. More in Common forecast 155 and 49 seats respectively.
Chris Hopkins, Political Research Director at Savanta, said its projection put Labour on course “for a historic majority.”
The three polls were so-called multilevel regression and post-stratification (MRP) surveys, an approach that uses voters’ age, gender, education and other variables to predict results in every British voting district. Pollsters used the method to successfully predict the 2017 British election result.
They are largely in line with previous surveys predicting a Labour victory, but show the scale of the Conservatives’ defeat could be even worse than previously thought.
YouGov’s forecast of 108 seats for the Conservatives was around 32 lower than its previous poll two weeks earlier.
Both Savanta and YouGov predicted that the party of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher could be left with the lowest number of seats in its near 200-year history contesting elections.
Sunak, who in a final throw of the dice last week pledged to cut 17 billion pounds of taxes for working people if re-elected,
has failed to turn the polls around so far in a campaign littered with missteps.
His task has been made harder by the surprise mid-campaign return to frontline politics by prominent Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage, a right-wing populist, whose Reform UK party threatens to split the right-of-center vote.
Britain has a first-past-the-post electoral system, meaning Reform could pick up millions of votes across the country without winning any individual seats.
YouGov predicted Reform would win five seats and Savanta none. More in Common did not give a figure for Reform.
The Savanta poll, published by the Telegraph newspaper, said Sunak could even lose his own parliamentary seat in northern England, once considered a safe Conservative constituency, with the contest currently too close to call.
Sunak has acknowledged that people are frustrated with him and his party after more than a decade in power, dominated at times by political turmoil and scandal.
All three surveys projected several senior government ministers, including finance minister Jeremy Hunt, were on course to lose their seats.
Most opinion polls currently place Keir Starmer’s Labour about 20 percentage points ahead of the governing Conservatives in the national vote share.
Other polls in recent days have also presented a grim picture for Sunak, with one pollster predicting “electoral extinction” for the Conservatives.


Community leader accuses Reform UK’s Nigel Farage of ‘undermining Muslim communities’

Updated 19 June 2024
Follow

Community leader accuses Reform UK’s Nigel Farage of ‘undermining Muslim communities’

  • Iman Atta, of the Tell Mama organization which monitors Islamophobia in the UK, called on other political leaders to ‘step up’ to address divisions
  • Britain needs ‘leadership that will bring communities together, not divide them further,’ she says

LONDON: A Muslim community leader has accused Reform UK’s Nigel Farage of “attacking and undermining Muslim communities” in a bid to win votes during the July 4 general election, according to the Independent on Wednesday.
Iman Atta, of the Tell Mama organization which monitors Islamophobia in the UK, said Farage’s comments last month were “worrying,” and called on other political leaders to “step up” to address divisions.
When questioned about Conservative plans to bring in national service for 18-year-olds, the Reform UK leader said there are “a growing number of young people in this country who do not subscribe to British values, in fact loathe much of what we stand for.”
Farage confirmed during his interview on Sky News that he was referring to Muslims.
Describing his comments as “disgraceful,” Atta said the claims are “nothing new,” a reference to remarks Farage has made in the past.
After the Westminster terror attack in 2017, Farage told a US TV network: “I’m sorry to say that we have now a fifth column living inside these European countries.”
Referring to his “fifth column” remark, Atta said: “He obviously keeps on attacking and undermining Muslim communities in any way that he can find in order to be able to attract more votes and spread more polarization among communities.
“It’s actually quite worrying for us to see that, especially at a time when our country needs leadership that will bring communities together, not divide them further.”
Atta added that now is the time for “leadership that is calling out hatred and division, that is promoting integrity, that is addressing really what brings our communities together in a challenging time across the world.
“I think it’s a time that we need to see better leadership step up.”
Tell Mama has published its Manifesto Against Hate, with key proposals for the next government, including the appointment of a “hate crime czar” to prioritize and oversee initiatives; more ministerial engagement with local communities “to foster inclusivity and reduce social divisions”; and boards to be established at local, regional, and national levels to promote dialogue and collaboration between Muslim and Jewish communities.
Atta said that following the Oct. 7 attacks and subsequent Israel-Gaza conflict, the relationship between the two communities suffered “quite a fracture,” which will take years to repair.
“Communities on all sides have just forgotten about the basic elements of understanding, empathy and listening. There has been a lot of abuse online toward both Muslim and Jewish communities, but also offline,” she added.
Atta said there has been considerable “anger within Muslim communities on the approach the UK has had on the Israel-Gaza war.”
Regarding next month’s elections, she said some Muslims feel that engagement with a new government, “whoever that government is, is key in order to be able to lobby and change the dynamics of how we speak about the war, but equally how we address the issues that are arising (in communities in the UK) off the back of the war in Israel and Gaza.”


White House cancels US-Israel meeting in anger at Netanyahu’s latest accusations: report

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a state memorial ceremony at Nachalat Yitzhak cemetery in Tel Aviv.
Updated 19 June 2024
Follow

White House cancels US-Israel meeting in anger at Netanyahu’s latest accusations: report

  • Israeli leader’s claim Washington has been withholding weapons a ‘public stunt,’ officials say

LONDON: The White House canceled a meeting with Israel regarding Iran after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the US of withholding weapons on Tuesday, according to an Axios report.

In a video released on Tuesday, Netanyahu claimed he had told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that it was “inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunition to Israel.”

He implied the holdup was slowing Israel’s offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

President Joe Biden’s top advisers, angered by Netanyahu’s public statement, made a public statement of their own by canceling the US-Israel meeting scheduled for Thursday, Axios reported.

“This decision makes it clear that there are consequences for pulling such stunts,” a US official told the news outlet.

Another said the meeting had been postponed, not scrapped altogether.

Biden has delayed delivering certain heavy bombs to Israel since May over concerns about civilian deaths in Gaza.

However, Blinken said on Tuesday that the 2,000-pound bombs are the only ammunitions under review. He told reporters that “everything else is moving as it normally would.”