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Icelandic children and youth lawsuit against Icelandic state due to whaling

August 23rd 2023

Icelandic children and youth announce their intent to sue the Icelandic government over whaling under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

Due to the existential threat to a healthy and liveable environment posed by the continued hunting and killing of fin whales, a group of Icelandic children and youth announce their intent to sue the Icelandic government under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child if whaling is allowed to start again in September. This lawsuit is based on the right to be addressed under the Conventions on the Right of the Chlild in relation to the right to health (art. 24), right to life, survival and development (art. 5), best interests (art. 3) and right to culture (art.31), which are affected by whaling.

Whales are part of a very remarkable ecosystem. Large whales, like minke whales, eat mostly photophytes and other zooplankton, and they have baleen that they use to filter these tiny animals from the sea. Their waste floats to the surface of the ocean where it feeds other plankton for important nutrients like nitrogen. These plankton are mostly microalgae that use carbon dioxide to produce sugars and release oxygen. Plankton algae are extremely important in oxygen production, and they produce more oxygen than all the world's rainforests combined. At the end of their life cycle, whale carcasses sink to the bottom of the sea, where the carbon stored in their bodies is used by benthic organisms or safely fixed in sediments. This creates an almost perfect cycle of nutrients and carbon that has developed over centuries, a cycle that we break with whaling. Breaking this cycle could mean disastrous effects for the ocean ecosystem, releasing untold amounts of carbon into the ocean which can accelerate the effects of climate change and endanger the lives of children all over the world.

There is precedent for this lawsuit with at least 19 lawsuits having been filed against governments on behalf of youth/children’s human rights. One notable case is Sacchi, et al. v. Argentina, et al. in which the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child “accepted the claimant's arguments that States are legally responsible for the harmful effects of emissions originating in their territory on children….The Committee also found that the youth are victims of foreseeable threats to their rights to life, health, and culture.” Additionally, the supreme court in the Netherlands ruled in 2019 that the Dutch government was required to meet their emission reduction targets, setting off a wave of similar lawsuits, including a successful one by German youth in 2021.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified in Iceland in 1992. “By ratifying the convention, the Icelandic government acknowledges that children are a vulnerable and highly varied group in society that needs special care, protection and support beyond adults. The Icelandic government has, however, gone a step further than many nations within the UN and legalised the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2013 with Act No. 19/2013. Since the convention became part of Icelandic law, children’s knowledge of their rights has increased, but there is a need for increased education on children’s rights for both children and adults.”

It is not only vital, but a requirement under Icelandic law, that the Icelandic government take into account the future and interest of Icelandic children, and their right to a healthy and liveable environment. Allowing the hunting of fin whales is contrary to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

This effort is supported by Last Whaling Station, Laura Shorten Consultancy, Rettur and Ungir Umhverfissinnar.


For further information, please contact:

Cody Skahan, cliamte rep. of The Icelandic Young Environmentalists



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