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Denmark must extend toxic substance protection standards beyond its borders – UN expert

GENEVA / COPENHAGEN (13 October 2017) –  Denmark provides solid examples on the protection of people from toxic substances, but companies must ensure these standards are observed when operating overseas, the UN Special Rapporteur on hazardous substances and wastes has concluded after an official mission.

“Danish authorities, working in close partnership with the private sector and civil society, have illustrated time and time again the ability to minimize the exposure of children and women of reproductive age to harmful chemicals, while promoting economic growth,” said Baskut Tuncak in a statement ending his 10-day visit to Denmark and Greenland. 

“Yet Denmark must extend its best-in-class protections from toxic threats at home to operations of all its companies’ activities abroad.

“The export of practices and products prohibited in Europe by some Danish companies operating in countries with far weaker standards of protection, simply for economic gain, is disappointing and raises a number of human rights concerns.

“Some firms are selling hazardous pesticides to developing countries even though their use in the EU is banned, while others are sending ships to be dismantled on foreign beaches, creating serious health hazards for impoverished workers,” continued Mr. Tuncak.

“The recent scandal around the shipbreaking of the North Sea Producer in Chittagong Bay is another deplorable example of the chronic lack of openness of the shipping sector to fully accept its responsibilities,” said the expert, referring to the dismantling in Bangladesh of a vessel owned and operated by a joint venture by Maersk of Denmark and Odebrecht of Brazil.

“Maersk’s recent reversal of its position against the dismantling of ships on beaches in South East Asia is a regrettable step in the wrong direction.”

The UN expert took note of industry commitments to raise standards in shipbreaking practices globally and the specific efforts by Maersk to improve the standards of a few shipyards in Alang Bay. Yet, he noted that the absence to date of independent environmental monitoring data, and the avoidance of safer alternative facilities in Europe and elsewhere, were deeply problematic.

“It seems totally unacceptable that these yards cannot be scrutinized by independent organizations,” concluded Mr. Tuncak.  

Greenland challenges: Military waste, mining and climate change

The Special Rapporteur said his visit to Greenland had underlined several issues including the obligation to clear military debris.

“The disposal of contaminated military debris, unexploded ordnance and military equipment in a manner consistent with international standards is an obligation for all States,” said Mr. Tuncak, welcoming Danish plans to help clean up the debris and continue researching the potential impact of radioactive materials.

“The total exclusion of the local population in past decisions over the US military presence in Greenland has fuelled serious tensions and resulted in recognized past violations, such as the removal of the population originally living in the area where Thule Airbase was built,” the expert added.
 
“Still today, the lack of transparency by US forces on the nature of all hazardous materials deployed in Greenland is a source of concern.”

The Special Rapporteur also stressed the need for fully informing and consulting communities on the potential impacts of mining, although he acknowledged that informing residents and monitoring activities in remote areas were “hugely challenging” tasks. 

The expert also underlined the vulnerability of the Arctic population to pollution and the potential impacts of climate change on Greenland’s delicate environment.

“The expansion of extractive industries, fishing activities and transportation in the Arctic must be carefully monitored to avoid compromising the lives of indigenous communities in the area,” said Mr. Tuncak.

During his mission, the UN Special Rapporteur met multiple Government authorities in Copenhagen and Nuuk, members of the business community and NGOs. He will present a comprehensive report with his findings and recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2018.

ENDS

Mr. 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. As Special Rapporteur, he is 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.

UN Human Rights, Country Page: Denmark

For more information and media requests, please contact:
In Denmark and Greenland (during the visit):  (Marcelo Daher   +41 79 444 5401) or mdaher@ohchr.org

In Geneva (before and after the visit): Marcelo Daher (+41 22 917 9431 /mailto:) or write to srtoxicwaste@ohchr.org

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