On Tuesday 23 April 2013 the Arctic Athabaskan Council filed a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which has investigative and declaratory powers as an organ of the Organization of American States (a regional human rights body). The petition claims that Canada has violated the human rights of Athabaskan peoples (an indigenous group in northern Canada and Alaska).
The petition focuses not on what Canada has done, but rather it pinpoints what Canada has omitted to do. Canada has inadequately regulated emissions of black carbon (soot), which contributes significantly to climate change in the Arctic region.
Black carbon is a short-lived pollutant that warms first in the atmosphere by absorbing incoming sunlight and again when it falls on ice and snow, accelerating the melting process.
This warming process has resulted in a loss of sea ice, damaging the Arctic environment, which is essential to the survival of Athabaskan culture, tradition, and livelihood. Grand Chief Ruth Massie explained:
“Arctic warming has made the weather, the condition of the ice, and the behaviours and location of fish and wildlife so unpredictable.”
Due to these changes in the Arctic, Athabaskan peoples are seeking a declaration by the Commission that Canada has violated their rights to culture, land, property, and health, protected by and guaranteed in the 1948 American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man to which Canada is a party.
Scientists have pinpointed the reduction of short-lived climate pollutants, specifically black carbon, as the surest way to slow Arctic melting. As major sources of black carbon include inefficient diesel engines and biomass burning from agricultural sectors, technologies are readily available to reduce emissions.
The Arctic Athabaskan Council hopes this petition will result in their widespread adoption.