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ON WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY, UN EXPERT URGES STATES TO END IMPUNITY FOR VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS DUE TO TOXIC AND DANGEROUS PRODUCTS AND WASTES




2 June 2006

The Special Rapporteur on adverse effects of the illicit movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights, Okechukwu Ibeanu, today issued the following statement:

“On the occasion of the World Environment Day (5 June), I would like to draw the attention of the international community to the question of impunity for violations of human rights around the world due to the illicit movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes, resulting in unmitigated deterioration of the environment, particularly in the developing countries.”

“Economic growth and demand for energy and consumer products have led to unprecedented levels of industrial production, thereby increasing the problem of toxic wastes that have to be disposed of. In the industrialized countries, the classic disposal options, namely land filling and incineration, are being subjected to restrictions, bans or phase-outs, principally because they are widely rejected by the population. Therefore, there is an increased pressure to export waste to poor and remote areas.”

“Over the last four decades, at least 50,000 tons of obsolete pesticides have accumulated in stockpiles across the African continent. For decades, these chemicals will continue to threaten the environment and surrounding communities - often the poorest and most vulnerable - through the contamination of food, water, soil, and air. Added to this is the emergence of new phenomena such as the export of polluted vessels to developing countries for ship-breaking, the growing trade in electronic waste, the transfer of industries producing large quantities of waste and the export from industrialized countries to developing countries of near obsolete products, ranging from cars to medicines. Products that are banned, taken off the market, strictly regulated or not permitted in industrialized countries continue to be produced and exported to developing countries where their use is encouraged through advertising, linking their use to project financing and aid, or falsification and manipulation of data.”

“Although not sufficiently reflected in the media, exposure to toxic wastes constitutes nonetheless a peril for the health and life of millions of people, and this has been widely documented. In my last report, I noted the impact on human rights of chronic, low-level exposure to hazardous chemicals, including pesticides. As well, in a recent report, Greenpeace has described the effects of exposure to chemicals on reproductive health. Yet, this situation has persisted in all countries and there is reluctance to assert the responsibility of various actors in producing and transferring toxic wastes and exposing populations to their deadly effects.”

“Various factors impede identification of those responsible including difficulties in tracing the origin of products, establishing a causal link between the offence and the injury, and identifying the victims with precision. There is yet a pervasive dearth of information to the public on the composition of products and their impact on health and the environment. Industries and their lobbies try to prevent initiatives that might establish their responsibility and offer redress to victims. States are also unenthusiastic about investigating the claims of victims, as scrutiny may show that they have direct or indirect responsibility in exposing their nationals or foreigners to harm.”

“Therefore, I urge States to take effective and concrete measures to end impunity for exposition of populations to toxic wastes, and to fulfil their duty to protect the life and health of their populations, as well as not to endanger the life and health of the populations of other States. I appeal to all States to take measures to control the activities of their industries and transnational corporations and to ensure that they do not violate human rights through harmful environmental practices, such as the illicit movement of toxic and dangerous products and wastes, particularly in developing countries. States should ensure that measures are taken to establish responsibility for the production of toxic wastes and their management, and, in case of violation of human rights due to these products, that legal remedies and compensation are made available to victims.”

“I urge all States to, inter alia, implement procedures to trace toxic wastes from their production to their disposal, including all parties that intervene in that process; to clearly establish the parties that are to be held accountable and responsible for the disposal of toxic wastes and for eventual harm to human rights of individuals or communities; to conduct scientific and medical assessment of all products that may potentially generate biological and environmental hazards, and to set up legislations that halt production of toxic wastes for which there are no established disposal means without endangering human rights.

“I invite civil society to bring to my attention such cases of violations of human rights, which I will forward to the Human Rights Council. I also call on States to ensure that commitment and efforts to combat pollution of the environment and the negative effects of toxic wastes on the enjoyment of human rights are taken into account when the Council reviews the fulfilment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments.”


Background

In 1995, the Commission on Human Rights adopted its first resolution specifically concerning the adverse effects of the illicit movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights (resolution 1995/81). The Commission noted with grave concern that the increasing rate of illicit dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes in developing countries continued to affect adversely the human rights to life and health, and decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur with a mandate (a) to investigate and examine the effect on the enjoyment of human rights; (b) to investigate, monitor, examine and receive communications and gather information on the subject; (c) to make recommendations and proposals on measures to control, reduce and eradicate illicit traffic and dumping; and (d) to compile a list of the countries and transnational corporations engaged in such practices, in addition to a list of victims.

Mr. Okechkwu Ibeanu (Nigeria) was appointed to this function in 2004. He is a professor of political science at the University of Nigeria, and has published widely on environment issues, including on the link between environment and security, and on issues relating to the impact of the petrochemical industry.

For more information:
http://www.ohchr.org/english/issues/environment/waste/