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The crime of exporting deadly air must end, says UN expert

GENEVA (4 June 2019) - States must end the unethical and illegal trade of extremely toxic fuels between Europe and Africa, said a UN human rights expert on the occasion of World Environment Day (5 June 2019) which this year focuses on air pollution. 

Baskut Tuncak, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, issues the following statement: 

“Businesses based in Europe continue to export fuel containing extremely high levels of sulphur and other toxic substances that would not be allowed for sale in their home countries, but continue to be sold on the African market. This so-called dirty diesel is estimated to kill thousands of people in Africa each year, which may rise to 31,000 premature deaths and countless injuries to health by 2030 if unaddressed.

This exploitation of lower standards of protection in Africa is not only immoral and unethical, but also criminal in certain circumstances and must stop. Europe and Africa must urgently find a path to transition to cleaner, less-toxic fuels.   

Under international law, it is a crime to export substances, including fuels, that are banned or refused registration ‘for any reason’ to countries that are Party to the Bamako Convention from non-contracting Parties. Twenty-seven States in Africa have ratified the Bamako Convention. 

These unfettered exports of deadly fuels to Africa fly in the face of the private sector’s repeated acceptance of its responsibility to prevent and mitigate human rights impacts.  It clearly illustrates the need for States to compel businesses to conduct human rights due diligence that takes into account the risk of exploitation by exposure to toxic pollution.

European and other governments cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the abhorrent practice of exporting prohibited substances to countries with lower standards of protection.  States must ensure that businesses in their jurisdiction respect the human rights of everyone, including the right to breathe clean air.”


Mr. Baskut Tuncak is the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes. As a Special Rapporteur, he is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity. 

UN Human Rights, Country Page: Canada 

For press enquiries and additional information, please contact:
Mr. Alvin Gachie (+41 22 917 9971, agachie@ohchr.org), or write to srtoxicwaste@ohchr.org 

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Mr. Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org) 

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts. 

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