The Special Rapporteur on the adverse effects of the illicit movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights, Okechukwu Ibeanu, issued the following statement on 30 January 2007:
In my capacity as Special Rapporteur on the adverse effects of the illicit movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights, I carried out an official visit in Ukraine from 22 to 30 January 2007. I visited the capital city, Kiev and the Lviv and Zakarpattya regions. I had over 20 meetings and interacted with over 100 persons.
The invitation of the Government to visit the country is very much appreciated. It is a promising sign of openness and commitment to address human rights and environmental matters. I thank the Government and in particular the Ministry of Environmental Protection for having opened its doors and given me the possibility to meet all relevant public authorities. I also wish to express my gratitude to the United Nations Office in Ukraine, which facilitated the visit and prepared an intense and comprehensive agenda.
During the visit, I had the honour to meet the Deputy Minister of Environment, the Deputy of General Prosecutor, the Governor of Lviv Oblast, the Deputy Head of the Regional Administration of Zakarpattya and representatives from the Ministry of Justice. I also met the Committee on Ecological Policy of the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament), the Ombudsman’s office, as well as with representatives from regional departments of environmental preservation, district and municipal officials and parliamentarians. I also had meetings with civil society, NGOs, academics and researchers and the media. Finally I visited a number of sites where toxic and dangerous products are stored, including functioning and abandoned industrial sites as well as some villages.
The first remark I would like to make is that there exists in Ukraine a recognition of the urgent problem posed by the accumulation of toxic and dangerous products and wastes, and this is at all levels of Government and civil society. Many of those we met were motivated and were willing to try to find solutions to some of the problems.
Everyone agrees that Ukraine faces important environmental challenges resulting from the presence of significant quantities of toxic and dangerous products and wastes a consequence notably of the large soviet era industrial sector as well as from huge stockpiles of obsolete pesticides. Imports of toxic wastes, the issue which I examined most closely, while posing significant challenges only add to the existing problems the country is facing in the area of protection of the environment.
While I have examined in more details two particular cases namely the Premix in Zakaparttya and acid tars in the Lviv region, I am of the opinion that these are unfortunately not the only cases of illicit transfers of toxic wastes and that this remains an ongoing problem. There are some indications that this may be in part caused by the proximity of the European Union, which has legislation that may contain different norms in the area of toxic waste management than that of Ukraine, leading to some exports of those materials to the country. These two cases have also underlined the importance of adequate controls at the border and the requirement to declare the exact composition of raw materials that are to be imported.
Because of the human rights focus of my mandate, I have specifically tried to look into the adverse consequences of the illicit movement and dumping of these products, on the human rights of the local population. Although I realize that it is difficult to establish scientifically conclusive links between the toxic wastes and health problems of the affected population, I believe that past experiences have shown that products with identical levels of toxicity can be presumed to have adverse health effects. For this reason, the precautionary principle should guide the response of the authorities, even if the complete scientific results are not yet conclusive.
I have observed that there exists an adequate legal framework to deal with the particular issue of the import of toxic and dangerous products and wastes, and I understand that legislative developments are planned to make this framework even more stringent. I welcome the work of both the Government and Parliament in this area.
I observed, in the particular cases of premix, acid tars and obsolete pesticides, that the public may not have received sufficient information that would have allowed the local population to take appropriate preventive measures. I believe that access to information regarding environmental issues and their potential consequences for human rights requires some improvement. Furthermore, I believe that providing full information on these issues will contribute to further improving the existing trust and understanding between the Government and civil society on environmental issues. In this regard I welcome future legislative developments and environmental awareness programs that I have been informed of.
During my visit to Ukraine, I have had an excellent impression of the work of the Prosecutor’s Office in the particular area of environmental crimes. It is encouraging to see that the office has established a specialized branch in this area. Although I realize that the complexity of such cases requires time, I believe that if provided with more funding and improved training the Office could deal with these in a more timely fashion.
Although I realize that in many cases of illicit transfer of toxic wastes ultimate responsibility lies with the corporations involved, in urgent cases, action by the authorities might be considered while at the same time seeking compensation from these corporations through legal action.
I have also been impressed with the vibrancy, interest and awareness of civil society, both of NGOs and of the populations affected by these problems. I believe that they significantly contribute to the raising local issues at the national level and will no doubt play a significant role in bringing about a solution to these problems.
Throughout all my meetings I have observed the same awareness of the problems faced and the need to implement solutions. I understand that funding and availability of adequate technologies to treat these toxic products, are the main challenges to resolving the overall problem, I believe, however, that there is an urgent need to limit the quantity of toxic and dangerous products and wastes present on the territory of Ukraine, by implementing all the necessary measures to put an end to any further import. From the little that I have seen, Ukraine possesses a beautiful countryside, it would be unfortunate to see it spoiled by unwanted toxic and dangerous products.
Mr. Ibeanu, Professor of political science of the University of Nigeria, was appointed Special Rapporteur in 2004 by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, the Human Rights Council’s predecessor. The mandate has since been assumed by the Human Rights Council. On completion of the mission, the Special Rapporteur will prepare a report to be presented to the Human Rights Council.