Intercultural Human Rights Law Review

First Page



2014 has been announced by the U.N. General Assembly as the "International Year of Small Island Developing States" with the goals of raising awareness of the Small Island Developing States' (SIDS) unique developmental challenges in relation to a range of environmental problems including climate change, and of fostering the ambition to find solutions for these vulnerable States.' However, the way in which international law is constructed runs counter to the ambitions of the General Assembly. The people of Tuvalu, one of the SIDS, are not to blame for climate change, yet they experience its most severe impacts. Regardless of the skepticism around the anticipated disappearance of the island, the islanders already require assistance from their own government and the international community, since both environmental stability and, consequently, the human rights of Tuvalu's population have been critically affected. In theory, international law, particularly climate and human rights law, entails relevant obligations of States towards their own territories and populations, as well as obligations of third States to assist. However, these obligations are formulated and interpreted in an unclear manner. This lack of clarity makes it hard to establish what actions must be taken and which actors are responsible for monitoring compliance with these obligations, making it even harder to talk about breaches of these obligations. This article suggests that the International Court of Justice (I.C.J.), by means of an advisory opinion, can clarify and explain the reach of the relevant positive obligations under international law in the context of climate change and human rights. The Court can answer the question of who bears obligations to help the people of Tuvalu, before Tuvaluans have no choice left but to abandon their land. Building upon the particular case of Tuvalu, this article presents the question that the U.N. General Assembly is suggested to pose to the I.C.J. to request this advisory opinion.