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Mercury: The world cannot wait any longer to control a major pollutant threatening human rights

GENEVA (31 October 2014) – The new United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and toxics, Baskut Tuncak, urged Governments around the world to expedite the ratification process of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from its adverse effects.

Mr. Tuncak’s appeal comes on the eve of a key meeting of the intergovernmental negotiating committee on mercury, to be held in Bangkok, Thailand, from 3-7 November, in which he will participate.

The Minamata Convention on Mercury must be ratified by 50 countries to be legally binding; however, one year after it was opened for signature and ratification in October 2013, only seven States have ratified.

“I am pleased to see 128 countries have signed the Convention, but, at this rate, the treaty will not be in force by 2020, the target they set to achieve the sound management of chemicals –which includes reducing the impacts of mercury,” the expert noted.

“Ratification is an imperative for States to fulfil their human rights obligations,” Mr. Tuncak stated. “A delay in ratifying the Convention means that people and the environment will continue to suffer the human rights impacts of mercury pollution.”

Mercury pollution affects the rights of present and future generations to numerous human rights, including the rights to health, food, safe work conditions, and a healthy environment. Exposure to mercury – even small amounts – can cause grave health threats, including fatal ones.

“The negative effects of mercury are of serious concern for children and women of child-bearing age who are proven to be especially vulnerable” Mr. Tuncak noted, adding that “once released into the environment, the impacts of mercury on vulnerable populations is uncontrollable.”

The Convention, hosted by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), is named after one of the most tragic incidents of mercury pollution in history. The dumping of highly toxic, mercury-containing waste into Minamata Bay resulted in decades of mercury poisoning.

Thousands of people in the community developed a neurologically and physically debilitating disease that is now known as Minamata Disease. The rights of several tens of thousands of people were affected, with the precise number of victims unknown.

Baskut Tuncak (Turkey) was appointed Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Environment/ToxicWastes/Pages/SRToxicWastesIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For enquiries and media requests, please contact Soo-Young Hwang (+41 22 917 9325 shwang@ohchr.org) or write to srtoxicwaste@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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