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A Toxics-Free Future


Handful of countries seek to block safety requirements in UN Convention

Kathleen Ruff,

At the Rotterdam Convention conference taking place in Geneva today, country after country called for chrysotile asbestos to be put on the Convention’s list of hazardous substances, as recommended by the Convention’s scientific body (the Chemical Review Committee).

Rolph Payet, executive director of the Rotterdam, Basel and Stockholm Conventions, called on countries to move “from science to action” and accept the recommendations of the UN scientific bodies.

A handful of countries – Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Pakistan, India, Cuba and Zimbabwe – refused to accept the recommendation to list chrysotile asbestos. In so doing, they are denying a basic human right – the right to prior informed consent with regard to export of a hazardous substance. They are denying the right of countries to control their borders. They are denying the right of countries to protect their citizens from harm.

The President of the Conference of the Parties has set up a contact group which will try over the next two days to achieve a consensus to list chrysotile asbestos.

Baskut Tuncak, UN Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, stated that he is deeply troubled by the erection of obstacles to the listing of asbestos and paraquat under the Rotterdam Convention. Paraquat is an extremely hazardous herbicide that has killed agricultural workers. The scientific committee has recommended it be put on the Convention’s list, but Guatemala and India have blocked its listing.

“Both asbestos and paraquat are undeniably hazardous substances, the use of which has profound impacts on the right to the highest attainable standard of health, the right to adequate housing or the right to food, the right to safe working conditions, and other basic human rights,” stated Mr. Tuncak.

“It is both legally and morally unjustifiable for countries to continue to obstruct the listing of asbestos and paraquat under the Rotterdam Convention and derogates from their obligation to realize the right to access information,” stated UN Human Rights rapporteur, Baskut Tuncak.

At the meeting in Geneva, both the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization called for chrysotile asbestos to be put on the Rotterdam Convention’s list of hazardous substances.

Mr Sharad Vittnal Sawant, a chrysotile asbestos victim from India, addressed the delegates attending the Rotterdam Convention conference, calling on them to take action to protect health and put chrysotile asbestos on the Convention’s list.

It is shameful that a handful of countries are refusing to listen to scientific experts and refusing to listen to asbestos victims. They are putting asbestos industry profits ahead of human life. They have ratified the Rotterdam Convention, but instead of supporting the Convention, they are seeking to destroy it.