Philippines takes up complaint of human rights violations by oil firms
By Laurie Goering –
4 December 2015
PARIS ) – Responding to a complaint filed by typhoon victims, a
Philippines human rights commission agreed Friday to look into whether
large international fossil fuel companies are violating the human rights
of its citizens by driving climate change.
Holding oil, gas and coal companies responsible for deaths and financial
losses in the Philippines “will be an uphill climb,” admitted Roberto
Cadiz, a member of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines.
But he said he felt duty bound to take on the case, both because losses
from extreme weather are mounting so rapidly and because other efforts
to curb climate-changing emissions are “moving very slowly, if at all”,
providing the impetus to explore other avenues.
Cadiz said the commission would launch an inquiry in the first quarter
Activists called the complaint one of a first wave of legal challenges
seeking redress for human right violations from climate change. It joins
a string of recent legal filings, in countries from Germany to Pakistan
to the Netherlands, seeking to force faster action to address climate
change and its impacts, or claiming damages from energy companies.
“These cases are coming. There are many in the pipeline,” said Alyssa
Johl, a senior attorney at the Washington-based Center for International
Legal experts at U.N. negotiations in Paris, which aim to seal a new
global deal next week to curb climate change and deal with its impacts,
compared the fledgling legal push to seek damages from oil, gas and coal
companies to early efforts to take on tobacco companies over health
damage caused by smoking.
Winning compensation could take decades, or ultimately fail, they
admitted. But simply filing suits can put pressure on fossil fuel
companies and potentially drive away investors, they said.
“Companies fear nothing more than a lawsuit. The best way to get their
attention is to say we have a legal basis for a claim and we’re going to
bring a lawsuit,” said Gregory Regaignon, a lawyer and research director
of the U.K.-based Business and Human Rights Resource Center, which looks
at the human rights implications of company action.
The aim is to “reach companies where their assets are,” he said. “That’s
what they care about most, and how we’re going to reach remedies.”
“DIFFICULT – BUT NOT IMPOSSIBLE”
The Philippines complaint, brought with the support of organizations
including Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Amnesty International and the Union
of Concerned Scientists, asks the country’s human rights commission to
look at the responsibility of 50 big investor-owned fossil fuel
companies in causing climate-change related human rights violations.
The companies, including giants Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch
Shell and ConocoPhilips, have contributed a large share of the carbon
dioxide and methane emissions now driving climate change, according to a
2014 study commissioned by the Climate Justice Programme and Greenpeace
“It is only fair and just that the companies that have extracted and
profited the most from fossil fuels account for the resulting harm and
take measures to prevent more harm, to protect the rights of people in
the context of climate change,” said Zelda Soriano, an attorney with
Greenpeace Southeast Asia.
“Yes, it’s going to be a difficult investigation, a very complicated
investigation…. But the petitioners believe it is not impossible,” she said.
The storm-vulnerable Philippines is widely ranked as one of the
countries most severely impacted by extreme weather driven by climate
change. Typhoon Haiyan, in 2013, killed more than 6,000 people and
caused an estimated $13 billion in damage.
Veronica “Derek” Cabe, one of the petitioners in the human rights
commission complaint, said she spent Typhoon Ketsana in 2009 huddling in
wet clothes with her 2-year-old niece and other family members in her
home’s attic for 12 hours as floods surged through Manila.
“We saw floating people, floating animals, floating coffins. We could
not do anything, we could not help them. It was like watching a horror
movie and the cruel part is we could not turn it off,” she said.
As such storms become more frequent, “should we just accept this as a
matter of our fate?” the 42-year-old community organizer asked. “I
believe something is wrong… that we cannot live like this forever, that
there should be accountability.”
Creating a case to bring fossil fuel companies to task for human rights
violations clearly will be an immense challenge for the Philippines
commission – what Soriano described as “a small human rights agency in a
But Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of Greenpeace International,
said his organization had been approached by foundations and trusts that
may be able to provide financial and capacity support for the effort.
Anna Abad, a climate justice campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia,
called the Philippines complaint a first step toward justice for those
hit by climate-linked disasters in the country.
“For the longest time since they started their business, these carbon
polluters have been invincible. Nobody has challenged their social
license and their role in climate change,” she said.
“This is one step in a whole legal strategy of making sure those
complicit in climate change are held accountable.”
(Reporting by Laurie Goering; editing by Ros Russell:; Please credit the
Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that
covers humanitarian news, climate change, women’s rights, trafficking
and corruption. Visit www.trust.org/climate)
Why the Philippines could set a climate liability precedent
Zelda dT Soriano, Greenpeace Philippines –
9 December 2015
The Philippines has suffered greatly from the adverse effects of climate
change despite its limited contributions to it. It could soon establish
liability for major climate change contributors.
Part of Climate Dialogues blog series
There is an air of anticipation around Greenpeace Southeast Asia this
month as we prepare to file a petition to the Commission on Human Rights
of the Philippines to investigate the responsibility of Chevron, Shell
and other big oil, coal and gas producers for the human rights impacts
resulting from their contributions to climate change. The petition could
be precedent-setting in the climate liability movement.
According to Carbon Majors data , there are only 90 companies and
entities whose actions have made a measurable, demonstrable and
cumulative contribution to climate change. Yet, none of them are being
held accountable for the catastrophic human impacts of this
contribution. The upcoming petition has the potential to change that.
The Philippines is already a nation severely affected by natural
disasters. In fact, according to the World Bank, the international
disaster database, shows that between 2000 to 2008, weather-related
disasters accounted for 98% of all people affected and 78% of all people
who died due to disasters in the Philippines . Last year, based on
government reports collected by the Internal Displacement Monitoring
Centre, an estimated three million people were displaced by natural
hazard-related disasters in the country during 2014 . Unaccounted
here is the grief and agony of losing loved ones, of losing a limb or
one’s mind, not to mention hard-earned property during disasters.
Science is telling us that it will likely only get worse with the
impacts of climate change. And these harms resulting from the impacts of
climate change have human rights implications.
“There exists broad agreement that climate change generally negatively
affects the realization of human rights,” according to the 2009 Report
of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) of the
UN. It also “stresses the importance of accountability mechanisms in the
implementation of measures and policies in the area of climate change
and requires access to administrative and judicial remedies in cases of
human rights violations.”
Corporations have a responsibility to respect human rights which arises
from a “global standard of expected conduct applicable to all businesses
in all situations” according to the Guiding Principles on Business and
With respect to the manner in which companies should respect these
rights, Foundational Principle 13 of the Guiding Principles provides
that business enterprises are required to:
(a) Avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts
through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur;
(b) Seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are
directly linked to their operations, products or services by their
business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts.
States on the other hand have obligations to respect, protect and
fulfill human rights, both within their territories and
extraterritorially, based on international law. Specifically, states
have extraterritorial obligations (ETOs) to respect, protect and fulfil
human rights abroad. The Maastricht Principles on Extraterritorial
Obligations of States in the Area of Economic, Social, and Cultural
Rights provide guidance and legal grounds for the effective
implementation of ETOs. With respect to the regulation of corporations,
international human rights treaty bodies monitoring implementation of
treaties on civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural
rights, the rights of the child, and on racial discrimination have all
confirmed that States must take necessary measures to prevent their
corporations from interfering with the enjoyment of human rights both
within their territory and in other countries.
The powerful targets and cause of action in the climate change and human
rights petition is reminiscent of Filipinos’ struggle for human rights
and democracy three decades ago. Former opposition leader, Ninoy
Aquino’s words against the dictatorship of the past are relevant to our
struggle against the big corporate carbon polluters: “…as long as man
refuses to be defeated, he is never defeated.”
The Philippines has a unique opportunity to take its human rights legacy
one step further and set a precedent by holding polluters accountable
for climate impacts. In order to make this a reality, the petition
needs the indomitable spirit of Filipino human rights defenders of the
people-power days. It needs petitioners and supporters who will not be
intimidated by the big, powerful corporate carbon polluters and who will
not accept the injustice in the context of climate change.
Zelda dT Soriano is legal and political advisor of Greenpeace Southeast