Special Features

Supreme Court of New Zealand Rules that Individuals Have Standing to Bring Climate Actions

By: Suzan Elzawahry

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – On February 7th, 2024, the Supreme Court of New Zealand unanimously reversed a Court of Appeals decision that denied standing to a private citizen attempting to bring a tort action against New Zealand’s biggest carbon emitters. As a result, individuals in New Zealand now have standing to bring tort claims based on carbon emissions and potentially broader claims of man-made climate change. New Zealand may become the first common law jurisdiction to issue damages for a climate tort. If other jurisdictions follow suit, legal protections surrounding the right to life and freedom of belief may be significantly expanded. 

Power lines running through beautiful New Zealand landscapes. | Photo courtesy of Stewart Watson, Getty Images.

Plaintiff, Michael John Smith, is a Maori elder and the climate change spokesperson for his tribe. Initial pleadings stated that the release of greenhouse gas emissions by seven corporations in New Zealand (who made up one third of the country’s total greenhouse gas producers) risked adverse effects upon humankind and irreparable damage to the Maori’s customary and cultural interest in land. The claims were for negligence, tort of nuisance, and a novel claim of the tort of climate damage. 

The Court of Appeals struck down all three claims, stating that they did not amount to a reasonably arguable cause of action. In American Jurisprudence, this is equivalent to granting summary judgement to the defendant for the plaintiff’s failure to state a claim. 

The Supreme Court unanimously reversed this decision and reinstated Smith’s claim, reasoning that, procedurally, the Court is required to assume that the consequence of Defendant’s carbon emissions is Plaintiff’s harm and that it is the job of the trial court to hear further evidence. 

Most notably, the Court paid particular attention to the fact that Mr. Smith’s claim is partially tikanga based. Tikanga is the principle of a genealogical and kinship-based connection to land, fresh water, and sea possessed by the Maori people. Mr. Smith alleges tikanga can form the basis of a tort because an injury to the land is also an injury to himself and his descendants; he argues that the respondent’s actions are the cause of injury to his cultural, spiritual, and nutritional connection to the environment. In their analysis, the Court accepted this argument and expressly recognized the importance of allowing tikanga to inform New Zealand’s body of common law. In recognizing the importance of tikanga and extending legal protections based on it, the Court took a major step towards protecting the freedom of belief. 

Whether Mr. Smith will prevail in his tort claim is something only time will tell. However, the fact that a private citizen now has standing to sue major carbon emitters for tortious conduct is an astounding leap forward in expanding legal protection of the right to life. As carbon emissions continue to unfavorably impact global climates and human life, individuals may begin to find reprieve in their local courts. 

For further information, please see:

Climate Case Chart – Smith v Fonterra – 12 Apr. 2024 

NZSC – Smith v. Fonterra Co-Operative Group – 2024 

Supreme Court of New Zealand – Media Release Michael John Smith v Fonterra Co-Operative Group Limited and Others – 7 Feb. 2024




Historic Election in Senegal Sees Youngest President in Country’s History

By: D’Andre Gordon

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

Dakar, Senegal — In a historic turn of events, Senegal welcomed Bassirou Diomaye Faye as its newly inaugurated president, marking a significant transition from incarceration to leadership. This remarkable journey from the confines of a prison cell to the presidential palace underscores a profound narrative of resistance and democratic revival, highlighted in recent reports from AP News​​. Faye is the youngest president in Senegalese history. 

President Faye speaking before a crowd during his inauguration. | Photo Courtesy of AP News.

Faye’s ascent to the presidency is emblematic of a broader struggle against systemic injustices and the remnants of colonial exploitation. Released from prison alongside Ousmane Sonko, his mentor and a prominent opposition figure, just before the elections, Faye’s victory is a testament to the unyielding spirit of the Senegalese people and their quest for genuine democratic governance.

Faye’s commitment to eradicating corruption and ensuring equitable management of Senegal’s resources resonates with the aspirations of the youth, who have long been disillusioned by rampant unemployment and the neocolonial dynamics that have perpetuated economic disparities. His election represents a rejection of exploitative practices and a collective yearning for a governance model that prioritizes the welfare of its citizens over foreign interests, as detailed in the AP News report​​.

Echoing the themes of transparency and accountability, Faye’s decision to publicly declare his assets prior to the election serves as a powerful statement against the opaqueness that has marred political institutions. It is a step towards dismantling the structures of power that have historically marginalized the voices of the ordinary citizen in favor of a privileged few, reflecting a call for greater integrity in governance​​.

As Faye assumes Office, the composition of his government will be scrutinized as a reflection of his commitment to breaking with past practices and embodying the change that the Senegalese electorate has ardently yearned for. The challenges ahead are manifold, but the message is clear: the era of impunity and governance that serves the interests of a select few is over.

This momentous occasion in Senegal’s political landscape is not merely about a change in leadership but a profound shift towards a future where governance is characterized by integrity, inclusivity, and respect for the sovereign will of the people. It is a beacon of hope for not just Senegal, but for nations across the continent and beyond, grappling with the vestiges of imperialism and striving for a democratic ethos that truly reflects the aspirations of its people.

Senegal’s story, with Faye at the helm, offers a blueprint for a new kind of leadership – one that is rooted in the principles of justice, equity, and the unwavering belief in the power of the people to chart their own destiny. It is a clarion call for an era of governance that transcends the shadow of colonial legacies and paves the way for a future where every citizen has a stake in their nation’s prosperity, inspired by the details shared in the AP News article.

For further information, please see:

AP News – Senegal Swears in Former Opposition Figure, Recently Freed from Prison, as New President – Apr. 2, 2024

AP News – Senegal’s President-Elect Pledges to Fight Corruption After a Stunning Victory for the 44-Year-Old – Mar. 26, 2024

The Guardian – Bassirou Diomaye Faye sworn in as Senegal’s youngest president – Apr. 2, 2024

Greece Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage

By: Neha Chhablani

Visiting Impunity Watch News Writer

ATHENS, Greece – On February 15, 2024, the Greek parliament passed a landmark bill legalizing same-sex marriage and equal parental rights for same-sex couples. Despite strong opposition from the country’s Orthodox Church, 176 out of 300 Members of Parliament (MPs) voted in favor of the bill. Greece is the first Orthodox Christian country to adopt such legislation, marking a step forward for the LGBTQ+ community in Greece and beyond.

LGBTQ+ activists holding a Pride flag outside the Greek Parliament during the 2023 Athens Pride Parade | Photo courtesy of NPR.

Greece’s new bill, which allows same-sex parents to claim legal guardianship of their children and legalizes civil same-sex marriage, was proposed by Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. He cited the bill as reflective of the country’s new progressive and democratic identity.

Greece has been moving towards more inclusive LGBTQ+ policies for almost a decade. It has allowed civil same-sex unions since 2015, granted legal recognition of gender identity in 2017, and banned conversion therapy in 2022. However, this recent bill faced significant pushback from various quarters, with some parties vehemently opposed to the law while others criticized it for not being progressive enough.

The primary opposition to the bill came from Greece’s Orthodox Church, which views homosexuality as a sin. Additionally, far-right parties labeled the bill as “anti-Christian,” arguing that it conflicted with Greece’s national interests.

On the other hand, LGBTQ+ activists noted the bill’s failure to recognize gender identities beyond the binary and shortcomings in facilitating access to reproductive technology for same-sex couples. Syriza, a left-wing party, further critiqued the bill for not granting same-sex couples the ability to become parents through surrogacy.

Despite criticism from both ends of the political spectrum, the bill passed due to substantial backing by 4 left-wing parties (including Syriza, despite its reservations) and rare cross-party unity. With 74 MPs voting against, 2 abstaining, and 46 absent during the vote, the bill easily secured a simple majority.

In passing its marriage equality bill, Greece became the 16th country in the European Union and the 35th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. Despina Paraskeva, Amnesty International Greece’s Campaign Coordinator, highlighted the bill’s significance, stating “this law represents an important milestone in the fight against homophobia and transphobia and a hard-won victory for those who have led that fight. It gives same-sex couples and their children the visibility and rights that they have long been denied.”

As anti-LGBTQ+ legislation continues to be passed in countries around the world, Greece’s growing recognition of LGBTQ+ rights and the importance of freedom of expression deserves celebration and sets an example of inclusive policy-making for nations to emulate. 

For further information, please see:

Aljazeera – Greece first Orthodox Christian country to legalise same-sex marriage – 16 Feb. 2024

Amnesty International – Greece: Same-sex marriage recognition, key milestone in fight against homophobia and transphobia – 16 Feb. 2024

NBC News – Greece legalizes same-sex marriage in a first for an Orthodox Christian nation – 15 Feb. 2024

NPR – Greece legalizes same-sex marriage despite church opposition – 15 Feb. 2024

NPR – In Greece, same-sex couples await a landmark parliamentary vote on marriage equality – 14 Feb. 2024

Reuters – Greece legalises same sex marriage in landmark change – Feb 16. 2024




European Parliament Passes Resolutions Addressing Human Rights Abuses in China, Sudan, and Tajikistan

By: Neha Chhablani

Visiting Impunity Watch News Writer

STRASBOURG, France – On January 18, 2024, the European Parliament adopted three resolutions regarding recent human rights violations in China, Sudan, and Tajikistan. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) condemned the repression of religious freedom in China, the ongoing conflict and resulting food insecurity in Sudan, and Tajikistan’s crackdown on independent media.

Members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. | Photo courtesy of the European Federation of Journalists.

According to the European Parliament’s resolution, China has engaged in systematic persecution of the religious group Falun Gong since 1999. This includes frequent unwarranted detainment and reported exposure to psychological abuse, physical torture, and organ harvesting.

On May 12, 2023, Falun Gong practitioners Ding Yuande and his wife Ma Ruimei were arrested without a warrant. While Ma Ruimei was released on bail, Ding Yuande remained incarcerated for eight months before being sentenced to three years in prison. The European Parliament’s resolution called for the unconditional release of Ding Yuande and all wrongfully detained Falun Gong and the end of persecution of all religious minorities in China, including the Falun Gong, Uyghurs, and Tibetans. It implored EU member states to pursue punitive measures for entities contributing to religious repression in China. This included banishment from EU territories, imposing sanctions, refusing visas, freezing assets, and suspending extradition treaties.

Additionally, MEPs called for an immediate ceasefire between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces in Sudan, as their conflict continues to be the primary driver of food insecurity and other human rights abuses in the country. In Sudan, over 5 million people suffer from emergency levels of hunger and 7.5 million are internally displaced. Recent increases in attacks on Sudan’s Masalit community have raised the risk of ethnic cleansing.

In its resolution, MEPs strongly deplored the continuous attacks on humanitarian workers and civilians and the use of sexual violence in the conflict. MEPs asked international actors contributing to the war to refrain from interference. The resolution then called on the UN to expand their arms embargo on Dafar to the rest of Iran due to the use of alleged Iranian-supplied weapons in the war.

Finally, the European Parliament adopted a resolution addressing the declining role of independent media in Tajikistan, stating that “Tajikistan’s media are in their worst state since independence in 1991.” In the last two years, Tajikistan’s authorities have incarcerated several journalists for reporting on human rights abuses in the country. The two primary independent media outlets regularly face threats by government authorities, while other independent media sources are consistently shut down.

The European Parliament condemned Tajikistan’s regulation of its media, including the closure of websites, persecution of journalists, and politically motivated sentencing of government critics, human rights activists, and independent lawyers. The resolution called for the fair treatment of the prisoners, investigations into the conditions of their detainment, release for those wrongfully detained, a safe environment for independent media outlets, increased international support for independent media sources in Tajikistan, and increased monitoring of media repression in Tajikistan by international organizations.

European Union citizens directly elect MEPs, so the Parliament represents the general opinion of EU Member States. All three resolutions passed by a majority vote, underscoring the EU’s continued commitment to protecting global human rights. The Parliament instructed its President to forward the resolutions to the other EU institutions.

For further information, please see:

Aljazeera – US claims seizure of Iranian weapons bound for Yemen’s Houthis – 16 Jan. 2024

European Commission Press Corner – Sudan: EU commits €190 million in additional humanitarian and development aid – 19 Jan. 2024

European Parliament – Tajikistan: state repression against the independent media – 18 Jan. 2024

European Parliament – The ongoing persecution of Falun Gong in China, notably the case of Mr Ding Yuande – 18 Jan. 2024

European Parliament – The threat of famine following the spread of conflict in Sudan – 18 Jan. 2024

European Parliament Press Room – Human rights breaches in China, Sudan and Tajikistan – 18 Jan. 2024

European Parliament – Welcome to the European Parliament – 3 Mar. 2024

NPR – In South Sudan, People Are Dying Of Hunger As Civil War Continues – 21 Feb. 2017

U.K. Government Responds to British Supreme Court Decision on Migrant Policy with New Treaty

By: Christina Bradic

Impunity Watch News Staff Writer

 UNITED KINGDOM – On December 5, 2023, the government of the United Kingdom responded to a November Supreme Court decision, declaring the UK and Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership unlawful. They signed a new treaty that will relocate migrants arriving in the United Kingdom to Rwanda for asylum processing and thereby barring their return to the United Kingdom.

Migrants claiming to be from Darfur, Sudan cross the English Channel in an inflatable boat near Dover, Britain, 8/4/21 | Photo courtesy of Reuters.

According to The Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, approximately 46,000 people crossed the English Channel in 2022 in small boats, with over 90 percent of those people making claims for asylum. In response to the large number of migrants crossing the English Channel, the British Government proposed a plan in April 2022 that would deport migrants arriving in the United Kingdom to the country of Rwanda for asylum processing and relocation. There, Rwandan officials would oversee Asylum conditions and decisions. Under the UK and Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership, the United Kingdom would provide Rwanda up to £120 million ($152 million USD) over five years.

The first flight to deport migrants to Rwanda was scheduled for June 14, 2022. However, on the morning that the flight was scheduled to depart for Kigali, the European Court for Human Rights issued an injunction against the United Kingdom, prohibiting the flight until there was further investigation into the legality of the policy.

On December 19, 2022, the High Court of England and Wales ruled that the policy was legal and did not breach Britain’s obligations under the U.N. Refugee Convention or other international agreements. On June 29, 2023, a Court of Appeals of England and Wales overruled the lower court decision, declaring the deportation plan as unlawful and violating the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This decision was unanimously upheld by the U.K. Supreme Court on Nov. 15, 2023.

At the heart of the decision is not whether relocation to a third country is lawful; the Supreme court has affirmed that sending migrants to a safe third country is not illegal in itself. However, the European Court for Human Rights has declared that when asylum applicants can arguably claim that there is no guarantee that their asylum applications would be seriously examined by the authorities in the third country, and that there could be a possible violation of Article 3 of the U.N. Refugee Convention, that relocation is unlawful. This is the stance the U.K. Supreme court has taken regarding Rwanda.

The U.K. Supreme Court ruled that current Rwandan policy risks violations of Section 3 of the United Kingdom’s Immigration Act of 1971. The Act states that a country is only considered a “safe third country” if there is not a policy of refoulment. The act of returning asylum seekers to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened on the basis of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, there is risk of inhumane torture or treatment. The court also stated the policy was at risk of violating Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 requiring asylum claims to be properly determined under human rights law.

The court cited political repression in Rwanda, political killings, Rwanda’s total rejection of all asylum applications from Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen between 2020 and 2022.

In response to the Supreme Court ruling, on December 5, the British Home Secretary, James Cleverly, and the Rwandan Foreign Minister, Vincent Biruta, signed a migration treaty that is binding under international law. The treaty addresses concerns raised by the U.K. Supreme Court, including prohibiting refoulment, setting up an independent monitoring committee and an Appeal Body, comprised of judges with humanitarian protection expertise, representing multiple nationalities. Cleverly stated, “Rwanda cares deeply about the rights of refugees.”

Critics say that the treaty is the British government’s plan to circumvent a human rights ruling of the Supreme Court, making it discreditable and susceptible to being overturned.

For further information, please see:

Aljazeera – UK home secretary signs new asylum treaty in Rwanda – 5 Dec. 2023

Associated Press – UK top court says a plan to send migrants to Rwanda is illegal. The government still wants to do it – 15 Nov. 2023

Barron’s –The UK’s Rwanda Migration Policy: A Timeline – 5 Dec. 2023

BBC News – Supreme Court rules Rwanda asylum policy unlawful – 15 Nov. 2023

BBC News – What is the UK’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda? – 5 Dec. 2023

CNN – UK’s Rwanda deportation plan ‘unlawful,’ court of appeal rules – 29 Jun. 2023

European Court of Human Rights – Guide on case-law of the European Convention of Human Rights-Immigration – 31 Aug. 2022

GOV.UK – Treaty signed to strengthen UK-Rwanda Migration Partnership – 5 Dec. 2023

Royal Courts of Justice – AA-v-SSHD judgment – 29 Jun. 2023

The Guardian – What is the ECHR and how did it intervene in UK’s Rwanda flight plans? – 15 Jun. 2022

The Migration Observatory – People crossing the English Channel in small boats – 21 Jul. 2023

United Kingdom Supreme Court – R (on the application of AAA (Syria) and others) v Secretary of State for the Home Department – 15 Nov. 2023