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Statement of the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes to the Human Rights Council 27th Session

9 September 2014

Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen:

Today I am presenting my first report to the Human Rights Council. As I address you for the first time in my capacity as Special Rapporteur, I would at the outset like to express my gratitude to the Council for the confidence placed in me. I assure you I will do the utmost to complete my mandate fully, and in accordance with the terms of the relevant Council resolutions.

I am humbled to have been chosen to succeed Marc Pallemaerts, the previous mandate holder. Mr. Pallemaerts’ personal integrity and unyielding commitment to environmental protection and human rights made an impact on countless people around the world. While his untimely death is a tragedy, Mr. Pallemaerts leaves behind a range of accomplishments that enable the realization of the numerous human rights implicated by toxic chemicals, and a reputation that I am certain will inspire generations of future human rights advocates and environmental leaders.

Although Mr. Pallemaerts and I did not have the opportunity to coordinate before assuming the mandate, I know we agreed on one thing in particular: the challenge of protecting human rights from hazardous chemicals and wastes grows more challenging by the day.

Over the past 17 years, there has been a twenty percent increase in childhood cancers; a twenty percent increase that cannot be explained by lifestyle choices or genetics alone. A cocktail of hundreds of toxic chemicals are found in people all over the world, including unborn and newborn babies during critical periods of development. Besides children, other populations that are vulnerable to disproportionate impacts include low-income communities, developing and least-developed countries, indigenous peoples, women, minorities and marginalized peoples. People have been victims because their rights are not respected.

Compounding the situation is the fact that the production of chemicals and wastes is accelerating at a rapid rate around the world, as much as 60 percent by 2020. The largest increases are expected to come in countries and regions with less developed and/or experienced systems in place for the management of chemicals and wastes.

Even without this rapid increase, hazardous substances from human activity can be found in the food people eat, the air people breathe, the water people drink, and places people work. Hazardous chemicals are used to make countless products, products that may contain toxic chemicals, and which eventually become waste. This Council affirmed just three years ago that the complete lifecycle of hazardous substances and waste may constitute a serious threat to the full enjoyment of human rights. The rapid acceleration in chemical production clearly suggests the likelihood of an increasing threat to the full enjoyment of human rights, particularly the human rights of the most vulnerable.

Recognizing the growing challenge, the Council expanded this mandate in 2011 to examine the human rights implications of the environmentally sound management of hazardous substances and wastes throughout their lifecycle, from initial production to final disposal.

The mandate you have given me is broad and ambitious, and appropriately so. It concerns virtually all sectors of economic activity, and a wide range of activities all along the life-cycle of chemicals and wastes. It addresses a diversity of human rights issues, some of which also fall within the scope of other mandates or special procedures.

In this report I present my plan for completing the mandate provided to me. This report builds upon the plan outlined by the previous Special Rapporteur, noting the extraordinary and unforeseen circumstances that prevented many of the elements of Mr. Pallemaerts’ plan from being addressed over the past two years. Given these circumstances, and my assumption of the mandate just over one month ago, I am not in a position, in this first report, to present specific proposals, recommendations and solutions to existing problems requiring immediate intervention, as hoped by the previous mandate holder during his last presentation to the Council.

In discharging my duties under the mandate, my report outlines an iterative process of engagement with all stakeholders. This process should eventually lead to the development of a guide to good practices in the management of hazardous substances and wastes as they pertain to adverse effects on human rights, and other elements mandated in Resolution 21/17, such as an analysis of gaps in the effectiveness of international regulatory mechanisms. I look forward to presenting progress on these elements at the 30th session of the Council.

I emphasize that I will strive to provide opportunities for all interested stakeholders to submit evidence that falls within the scope and function of the mandate. To this end, I plan to hold a series of consultations during the term of this mandate in order to give an opportunity to all stakeholders to submit any and all evidence relevant to this mandate. These meetings will allow the identification and consideration of existing problems and gaps in chemicals management that carry human rights implications, and draw attention to cases that require immediate intervention.

As requested by the Council, I have already begun to develop closer collaboration with relevant UN organizations, such as the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) and International Labour Organization (ILO), as well as several other relevant organizations, and the secretariats for relevant international agreements. For instance, I have agreed to provide inputs to UNEP’s upcoming report, the Global Waste Management Outlook, from the human rights perspective. This crucial report will provide necessary evidence of the growing global challenge of managing waste and relevant recommendations, and I hope that I strengthen the report by applying a human-rights based approach to waste management.

I fully expect to undertake two country visits per year. As was the case with my predecessor, I will strive for a proper balance in the choice of destinations for country visits, in order to visit all regions of the world and all categories of countries. I hope that one of my first visits will be made later this year in response to an invitation extended to my predecessor, which he was unable to undertake.

For my next thematic report, I am considering a study of the right to information in the context of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes. As noted by previous mandate holders, access to, and the communication of, information about hazardous substances and wastes and their effects on the environment “are essential to guarantee certain other rights, such as the rights to life, to health and to adequate food.” In order to avoid duplicating earlier work, the report will focus on aspects of particular relevance to the tasks mandated under the recently expanded mandate.

When choosing the issues on which to focus thematic reports, criteria such as the extent and the gravity of actual or potential human rights violations arising from a particular issue, and whether an analysis from the perspective of victims of human rights violations could add impetus to international efforts to address a particular issue, will be applied.

I look forward to comments and suggestions from the Council on the plans outlined in the present report, and particularly to any feedback on methodological issues and the organization of country visits. In addition, I look forward to receiving invitations for country visits from as wide as possible a range of countries, in all regions of the world. I appeal to all stakeholders to provide information and evidence relevant to this mandate, including on situations of particular human rights concern, at their earliest convenience and on an ongoing basis.

Thank you.