Washington International Law Journal


RoseMary Reed


Sea levels are rising as a result of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations and global warming. The rising seas threaten to submerge many Pacific Island nations within the next century. The island inhabitants have sought help from the global community, but thus far have been denied assistance. However, the island inhabitants could seek redress in U.S. District Courts against major greenhouse gas emitters under the Alien Tort Claims Act. To satisfy the ATCA's requirement that tort claims must be in violation of international law, the islanders could claim that they are victims of environmental human rights violations and possibly genocide. While genocide is currently a recognized claim under the ATCA, an environmental human rights claim would be groundbreaking. Nevertheless, the international legal community recognizes environmental human rights. Such a claim is strengthened by the fact that some of the island inhabitants are indigenous peoples who have a special, respected status in international law. Thus, all the pieces are in place to make this claim. In order to survive the rising seas, the island inhabitants need foreign assistance, and the ATCA could be the best way to bring global attention to their plight and get the assistance they need.

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