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SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON TOXIC WASTES URGES MEASURES TO COUNTER HARMFUL EFFECTS OF CHEMICALS CONTAINED IN HOUSEHOLD AND FOODS

7 April 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, issued the following statement today on the occasion of World Health Day, 7 April:

“The Special Rapporteur wishes to draw the attention of the international community to the critical issue of the impact on human rights of chronic, low-level exposure to hazardous chemicals, including pesticides, many of which are contained in everyday household and food products.

The large number of people whose human rights to life, health and food, among others, have been adversely affected by toxic and hazardous chemicals, and the gravity of the suffering of some of the worst-hit individuals and communities, make exposure to hazardous chemicals contained in household and food products one of the major human rights issues facing the international community. They also make the adequate regulation of hazardous chemicals most urgent.

Toxic chemicals constitute serious threats to human rights, especially the right to life of the 47,000 persons estimated by WHO to die every year as a result of poisoning from chemicals like pesticides. Exposure to toxic chemicals occurs in different ways: exposure to everyday household and food products; exposure arising from employment in particular sectors, such as the agricultural or the mining sector; exposure to chemicals in the disposal phase, such as electronic products and end-of-life ships; or exposure as a result of an accident, one of the most extreme illustrations being the case of a catastrophic gas leak from a pesticide plant in Bhopal. Each of these situations raises a variety of human rights concerns, but may require different strategies for prevention and redress to victims.

There is a proliferation of products and foods containing toxic chemicals. In a globalized world, such products are traded internationally or produced locally by subsidiaries of trans-national companies, thereby affecting the enjoyment of human rights of individuals and communities in all parts of the world.

Many of the individual cases brought to the attention of the Special Rapporteur relating to hazardous chemicals deal with allegations of irresponsible or illegal corporate behaviour which has direct adverse effects on the enjoyment of human rights by individuals and communities. Such behaviour is too often met with impunity. International human rights law compels States to take effective steps to regulate corporate behaviour in relation to hazardous chemicals and holds private companies accountable for any actions taken in breach of such regulations.

Given the seriousness of this issue, the Special Rapporteur has devoted his last report (document E/CN.4/2006/42) to the analysis of the various human rights -- including the right to life, the right to health, the right to access of information and participation in decision-making processes -- affected by the widespread exposure of individuals and communities to toxic chemicals in everyday household goods and food.

The Special Rapporteur urges States to take serious and concrete measures to counter the harmful effects of chemicals from household and food products on the human rights of their populations; to take measures to assure that the victims of human rights violations arising from actions or omissions by transnational corporations should be allowed to seek redress in the home country jurisdiction, and to ensure that transnational corporations domiciled in their countries be held to account for violating human rights standards”.

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 adversely to affect 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. Ibeanu was appointed Special Rapporteur 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, as well as on issues relating to the impact of the petrochemical industry.

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