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Statement by the Special Rapporteur on Toxic waste concludes his visit to the Kyrgyz Republic

Bishkek, 09 October 2009

Mr. Okechukwu Ibeanu, Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the adverse effects of the movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights issued this statement today:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to begin by thanking the Government of Kyrgyzstan for extending an invitation to me in my capacity as the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the adverse effects of the movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights to visit the Kyrgyz Republic from 30 September to 9 October 2009. I had planned to undertake this mission before now following an earlier invitation extended to me, but because of unforeseen circumstances we had to postpone it.

I would like to extend my appreciation to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which played a major part in the preparation and organisation of this mission. Throughout the mission, officials from various ministries and State agencies offered me invaluable help, and candidly identified the main challenges faced by the country in its efforts to minimise the health hazards associated with the current way of managing uranium tailings and other hazardous products and wastes. Indeed, the openness shown by the Government before and during the mission demonstrates its commitment and willingness to co-operate with the international community in the solution of the outstanding problems faced by the country in the field of sound management and disposal of toxic and dangerous products and wastes.

My warm appreciation also goes to the United Nations Development Programme and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bishkek for their excellent organisation and provision of technical and logistical support, as well as local knowledge, for the purpose of this mission.

My visit here was to gather first-hand information about toxic and dangerous products and wastes, including in particular uranium tailings and obsolete and banned pesticides and chemicals, and their adverse effects on the human rights of the people of Kyrgyzstan . During my mission, I was able to meet with a variety of stakeholders, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, officials of several Ministries, Agencies and Departments of government including the Department of Monitoring and Prognosis of Emergency Situations and Managing Tailings of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, Department of Chemicalization and Phytosanitary Control of the Ministry of Agriculture, the State Department of Sanitary-Epidemiological Control, State Agency on Environmental Protection and Forestry, State Geological Agency, the Ombudsman of the Kyrgyz Republic, some members of the Jogorku Kenesh, academics, civil society organizations and representatives of the private sector. Also, I met with representatives of several United Nations Specialized Agencies, Programmes and Bodies, as well as representatives of the donor community.

I also had the opportunity to visit some uranium tailings dumps sites, storages of obsolete pesticides and chemicals, specialized laboratories and a mining processing enterprise located in various parts of the country namely, in Bishkek, Kara-Balta, Kant and Orlovka.

On the whole, there are 92 dump sites containing an estimated 254 million cubic meters of radioactive, hazardous and toxic wastes across the Kyrgyz Republic , particularly Mailuu-Suu, Min-Kush , Ak -Tyuz and Kadji-Sai. In addition, it is estimated that 2,500 metric tonnes of obsolete and/or banned pesticides and chemicals are abandoned in several storage facilities in many locations across the country, including Suzak and Kochkorka.

I welcome the progress made by the Kyrgyz Government in addressing the significant problems related to the several radioactive and toxic waste dump sites, as well as its efforts to attract the attention of the international community on the serious transboundary threats of contamination of groundwater resources and rivers located in the Central Asian region. These efforts culminated in the organisation of the High Level International Forum on Uranium Tailings in Central Asia, held in Geneva , Switzerland , on 29 June 2009.

In the joint declaration issued at the end of the Forum, the participants, which included high-level delegations from Government of the four Central Asian republics and representatives of the donor community, affirmed their willingness to consolidate efforts in addressing transboundary problems of the uranium tailings and toxic waste in Central Asia through joint action, and highlighted the importance of regional and international co-operation in this field.

I also welcome the efforts undertaken by the Kyrgyz Government to promote and protect the human rights of those living in the vicinity of tailings sites and storage facilities for obsolete chemicals. These measures include the elaboration of a National Implementation Plan under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, the adoption of urgent recovery measures for high-priority tailings sites and the development and implementation of some measures to improve monitoring, capacity building and public awareness.

These positive developments notwithstanding, there are a number of identifiable challenges which need to be addressed. First, the level of co-operation among the different ministries and Government agencies responsible for the management and disposal of radioactive and toxic products and wastes should be strengthened. Also, there are considerable gaps in the co-ordination of Government actions at the central, regional, district and local levels. This lack of co-ordination among the different agencies and levels of Government hampers the efforts undertaken by the Kyrgyz Government to ensure the sound and safe management and disposal of radioactive and toxic products and wastes and to minimise their possible adverse effects on the enjoyment of human rights.

Second, while I acknowledge with satisfaction the adoption of a law on access to information, I note with regret that information on the status of the sites and their possible adverse effects on human health and the environment is limited, especially at the local level. The limited access to information held by public authorities concerning the threats posed by uranium tailings sites and storage facilities for obsolete pesticides also affects the right of affected local communities to actively participate in the design, implementation and monitoring of strategies aimed at reducing the risks posed by hazardous products and wastes dumped or stored in proximity of their villages.

Third, the social and economic impact of uranium tailings and toxic waste dump sites on the local population has also not been properly addressed. Local communities living in proximity of these sites often live in conditions of extreme poverty. The high level of unemployment forces a growing number of individuals, especially men of working age, to leave their communities in search of employment opportunities elsewhere. Women and children who are left behind often scavenge the sites in search of re-usable scrap metal and other materials to be sold, and livestock continues to graze on highly radioactive or toxic pastures.

Fourth, I note that the existing normative framework on chemicals and waste management is not effectively enforced, and responsible ministries and agencies do not possess sufficient human and financial resources to monitor its implementation.

Last but not least, I would like to remind the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic that the lack of adequate financial resources does not assuage its obligation of discharging fully its obligations under international human rights law, including the obligation to monitor the extent of the realization of human rights, in particular the right to the highest attainable standards of health, and to devise strategies and programmes for their promotion. Even where resources are demonstrably inadequate, the obligation remains for a State to ensure the widest possible enjoyment of the relevant rights under the prevailing circumstances. Consequently, I wish to underline that even in times of severe resources constraints, the vulnerable members of society must be protected by the adoption of relatively low-cost targeted programmes, for example the appropriate fencing of tailings sites and storage facilities.

Finally, I wish to emphasise that in accordance with Articles 55 and 56 of the Charter of the United Nations, international cooperation for the realization of civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights is an obligation of all States. Therefore, I call on the international community, including developed countries, international and regional organizations, financial institutions and the private sector, to continue to provide assistance and financial support to the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic to effectively address the problems of uranium and toxic wastes in the Kyrgyz republic, with a view to ensuring their  sound disposal  or recycling them where possible.

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Mr. Okechukwu Ibeanu is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Nigeria . As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. For further information on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, please visit the website: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/environment/waste/index.htm