Call for submissions “Mercury, artisanal and small-scale gold mining and human rights”
Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights
The report will be presented to the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council in September 2022
The Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights, Marcos Orellana, wishes to thank States, civil society organisations, academic institutions, businesses, international organisations and other stakeholders for the continued engagement with this mandate. He launches the process of gathering inputs from States and other stakeholders to inform his thematic report on mercury, artisanal and small-scale gold mining and human rights. The report will be presented to the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council in September 2022. The Special Rapporteur kindly requests States, UN agencies, civil society organizations, academics, business enterprises and all other interested parties to share views and relevant information, which could feed his work, as explained below.
Scientific evidence on the dangers for human health of mercury exposure has mounted for decades and is compelling. Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM), a method used to separate gold from soil and sediments, is the largest source of mercury emissions to the atmosphere. It is responsible for about 38%, followed by stationary combustion of coal (about 21%), according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)’s 2018 Global Mercury Assessment. UNEP’s Assessment further estimates that combined mercury releases from ASGM to water and land in 2015 were about 1220 tonnes, more than twice the estimated releases to water from other sectors.
In addition to its outsized contribution of mercury emissions to the environment, ASGM is responsible for serious environmental injustices. The impacts of mercury exposure on the workers and their families who extract gold from rivers and jungles offend basic notions of human dignity. Equally troubling are the findings of mercury contamination in members of indigenous peoples in tropical rainforests that do not practice mining. The fish upon which these communities rely for sustenance are now poisoned with mercury. UNEP estimates there are about 10-15 million ASGM workers globally, including 4-5 million women and children, that produce about 12-15% of the world’s gold.
To protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions of mercury, in 2013 the international community adopted the Minamata Convention on Mercury. The Minamata Convention’s approach to ASGM is to “formalize” the sector to control and reduce mercury emissions. These emissions negatively impact the planet and humanity, including future generations, and they particularly affect indigenous peoples that rely on their lands and natural resources to reproduce their identities and for subsistence economies.
The Minamata Convention allows trade in mercury for ASGM, while disallowing it for other activities. As most industrial and medical uses of mercury are phased out, most mercury suppliers focus on ASGM. However, the lack of chain of custody for mercury makes it impossible to trace or distinguish legal and illegal mercury trade and end uses of mercury.
The Minamata Convention requires Parties with significant ASGM to elaborate national action plans (NAPs) detailing how they will minimise or eliminate the use of mercury in ASGM.
The following questionnaire seeks information about measures countries are taking to eliminate mercury from their ASGM sectors and ensure respect for the human rights of the most vulnerable people in their communities, especially indigenous peoples. This includes further information on import and distribution of mercury, as well as the effectiveness of controls and enforcement.
Controls on Mercury
- Has your country prohibited the a) import or b) export of elemental mercury?
- Has your country prohibited mercury use in artisanal or small-scale gold mining (ASGM) by law or regulation?
- What enforcement action and penalties apply to gold miners who use mercury, or to traders who supply mercury for this use, if such use is prohibited? Please share statistics on such actions.
- If your country allows import of mercury but prohibits its use in ASGM, how do customs officers determine the end use of mercury at the point of import to ensure it is not directed to ASGM?
- Are there tracking or certification processes to ensure that imported mercury is used according to its claimed purpose?
- Are mercury importers registered on a government database and their activities periodically audited including the end use of the mercury they import? Are postal imports of mercury banned?
- What remedies are available to persons in your country for pollution damages related to mercury exposure from ASGM activities?
- What actions has your country taken to prevent the illegal importation, smuggling and distribution of mercury to ASGM activities?
- What are the greatest challenges your country faces in preventing illegal mercury imports and smuggling?
- Has your country established cooperative arrangements with bordering countries or at a regional level to combat illegal transboundary movement of mercury destined for ASGM activity?
- Are there instances of corruption among police, military or other officials involving the facilitation of mercury distribution in your country? What measures have been taken to address it?
- Is there any information to suggest local or regional organised crime syndicates are distributing mercury to facilitate gold smuggling in your country?
- Has your country ratified the Minamata Convention on Mercury and if yes, what measures have been taken to eliminate mercury from ASGM, including its diversion to ASGM?
- How could access to capacity building or technology transfer under the Minamata Convention Specific International Programme help your country to eliminate mercury pollution from ASGM?
Protections for Indigenous Peoples
- What specific actions has your country taken to directly protect the health of indigenous peoples from mercury contamination related to ASGM?
- Has any government or public forum for consultation with indigenous peoples about mercury pollution from ASGM been established?
- Have any mercury related health assessments or studies been conducted in your country that relate directly to the exposure of indigenous peoples to mercury pollution from ASGM activities and associated mercury pollution? Please describe or share.
- What health services and advice does your country provide to indigenous peoples to either treat high mercury levels or to minimise their exposure to mercury through diet (e.g. fish) or direct exposure via ASGM activity?
- What constitutional or legal rights do indigenous peoples have to prohibit mercury based ASGM in their traditional lands and territories?
- Please provide any further information that you consider relevant for the purposes of this questionnaire.
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