China: UN human rights expert calls for greater transparency in the wake of tragic Tianjin explosion
Tianjin chemical disaster
19 August 2015
GENEVA (19 August 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak, today called on the Government of China and relevant businesses to ensure complete transparency in the investigation of the chemical disaster in Tianjin, including both causes and effects of the explosion.
“The Chinese authorities should also assess whether China’s laws for hazardous substances and wastes are consistent with international human rights standards, including the right to information,” said Mr. Tuncak, who will present a special report on the right to information in the context of hazardous substances to the UN Human Rights Council on 16 September.
The Special Rapporteur noted that, under international human rights standards, the State has an obligation to generate, assess, update and disseminate information about hazardous substances, and businesses have a responsibility respect human rights, including effectively communicating information.
“This chemical disaster serves as yet another tragic example of the need of information about hazardous substances to protect, respect and realize human rights,” the expert stated.
“The lack of information when needed—information that could have mitigated or perhaps even prevented this disaster—is truly tragic,” he stressed. “Moreover, the reported restrictions on public access to health and safety information and freedom of the press in the aftermath are deeply disturbing, particularly to the extent it risks increasing the number of victims of this disaster.”
Mr. Tuncak underscored that “information about hazardous substances must be available and accessible in order to protect and respect the rights to life, health, meaningful public participation and an effective remedy, as well as freedoms of expression and the press.”
The Special Rapporteurs are 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 organization and serve in their individual capacity.