The UN General Assembly (UNGA) is the main policy-making organ of the Organization. Comprising all Member States, it provides a unique forum for multilateral discussion of the full spectrum of international issues covered by the Charter of the United Nations. Each of the 193 Member States of the United Nations has an equal vote.
The UNGA is a powerhouse of legislative reform, it provides a unique opportunity to address each individual member's state paramount issue, however, the Tuvaluan nation's predicament is once again left out of the conversation.
The Issue At Hand: The 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention. An unlegislated grey area that the Tuvaluan people have unknowingly fallen into
As time and society progresses, so must our policy. Climate refugees are a legal status that is currently unknown in international law. The people of Tuvalu have unknowingly fallen into an unlegislated grey area in international legislation that 148 state parties (countries) are bound to.
Enacted on 28 July 1951, the Refugee Convention drafted by the United Nations Refugee Agency is the last and current international treaty legal document that defines who classifies as a ‘refugee’ and outlines the rights obtained by the displaced. Initially drafted to meet the needs of European refugees in the aftermath of World War II, the sovereign legal document was made for an outdated but yet still relevant wartime scenario. The Convention was followed by the 1967 Protocol on the Status of Refugees, which eliminated the temporal and geographical limitations and territorial restrictions of the Refugees Convention , making the Convention applicable to refugees on a global scale. Countries that have ratified the Protocol implement the Convention's provisions. Both the Convention and the Protocol are international legal instruments that countries voluntarily agree to be legally bound by.
The Refugee Convention under article 1(a)(2) internationally defines a refugee as a person who;
- has a ‘well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion’;
- ‘is outside the country of [their] nationality’; and
- ‘is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail [themselves] of the protection of that country.’
As evident in the definition, it fails to recognise any people displaced due to climate reasons but this is not due to neglect, this is due to the definition not taking into account climate change as when the document was written, in 1951, the ramifications of climate change was minimal. Currently, in national refugee policy, individuals can only claim refugee status of fear of prosecution due to political and/or economic reasons.
Mass migration prompted by climate change is fast approaching for the Tuvaluan nation, given the current form of the UN refugee convention, Tuvalus population will not be able to claim any relevant form of refugee/asylum which ultimately means, no nation will be able to accept them. They we will be displaced, fish, in the eyes of the law. How is this a problem that has yet been resolved. It is understandable that climate refugees are inevitable with that, it is costly on nations to accept large masses of refugees - this may be a leading reason why there has been minimal action to reform the convention. Without immediate reform of this convention, it will ultimately lead to the demise of all nations prone to climate displacements.
Affirmative Action Is Only Possible With A United Front
The major legislative solution to recognise the situation infringing upon the Tuvaluan nation is reforming the sovereign legal document, the United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951, that dictates who can qualify for refugee/asylum-seeking status, and current international law does not reflect and acknowledge those displaced due to climate ramifications. An amendment to the convention to establish a special 'climate refugee' status is crucial for Tuvalu's future and will forever protect people displaced due to climate reasons. If you want to learn more regarding the convention view our post on JULY 7, 2020.
Affirmative action and reform can only be executed with the support of all International Governments including those without infringing climate ramifications and the world's largest polluters. Amendments must be adopted by two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly and ratified by two-thirds of the members of the United Nations, including all the permanent members of the Security Council. This is why this is a missed opportunity for the legislative reform to be executed, the Tuvaluan nation who its people will be the worlds first climate refugees will define and dictate the future of displaced people. As aforementioned, Tuvalu will act as a test if we cannot get that right then we have no chance.