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Refugee and Human Rights Advocates Call on Inter-American Court to Meet Challenge of Climate Displacement


April 26, 2024


IRAP | Spencer Tilger |

CGRS | Brianna Krong |


(Cave Hill, Barbados) – On Thursday, refugee and human rights advocates presented testimony before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) in Barbados to inform the Court’s upcoming advisory opinion regarding States’ human rights obligations in the context of the climate emergency.

The historic hearing came on the heels of a first-of-its-kind amicus brief on climate-related displacement, submitted in December 2023 by the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP); the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS); the Global Center for Environmental Legal Studies (GCELS) at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University; Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES), the University of the West Indies (Mona); Refugees International; Alianza Americas; and Professor Shana Tabak of Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of International Migration. 

Testimony was presented by Felipe Navarro of CGRS, Professor Camila Bustos of Pace University, and Dr. Natalie Dietrich-Jones of SALISES. A full recording of the hearing can be viewed here.

In recent years, millions in Latin America and the Caribbean have been displaced due to the impacts of the climate crisis and environmental disasters. During Thursday’s hearing, advocates urged the Court to affirm States’ legal obligations to protect those displaced across borders, and to provide guidelines to assist States in upholding that obligation.

“Climate change is already driving displacement throughout the Americas,” said Ama Francis, Climate Director at the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP). “The human rights of climate-displaced people are still not guaranteed and this hearing represents a critical step in ensuring governments fulfill their legal obligations.”

“The climate emergency has introduced new challenges, compounding human rights violations and accelerating the historic refugee crisis in our region and around the globe,” said Felipe Navarro, Manager of Policy and Advocacy at the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies (CGRS). “Our governments have a legal and moral obligation to rise to these challenges and protect the rights of those displaced across borders. Our call for action has been echoed in over 50 other submissions to Court, collectively underscoring the need to ensure protection for those displaced as a result of climate change through robust legal frameworks.”

Advocates urged the Court in its advisory opinion to affirm States’ obligations to respect the human rights of people displaced across borders and to encourage governments to:

  1. Fulfill their non-refoulement obligations by upholding the right to seek and receive asylum and offering complementary forms of protection, recognizing that many individuals displaced in the context of climate change and disasters may qualify for protection under the Refugee Convention, Cartagena Declaration, and human rights law;
  2. Join, create, and/or operationalize cooperative protection and migration frameworks;
  3. Gather comprehensive data to better understand the phenomenon of climate-related displacement and identify gaps in protection;
  4. Implement and expand free movement agreements;
  5. Enhance migration pathways under existing or new frameworks, including for family reunification and labor with important safeguards; and
  6. Implement additional measures to allow climate-displaced individuals to reach safety and find temporary and permanent protection, as well as adequate support and resources. 

The Court’s guidance will be invaluable in shaping a principled and pragmatic response to the urgent international human rights challenge of climate-related displacement.