The UN Human Rights Council has appointed a new expert to monitor the impacts of toxic pollution on human rights around the world.
Marcos Orellana, a law professor and legal advisor, has taken over the position of special rapporteur on human rights and toxics. The mandate of the previous rapporteur, Baskut Tuncak, ended on 31 July.
Dr Orellana has worked as senior legal advisor to the presidency of the 25th conference of parties for the UN’s framework convention on climate change, held by his home country, Chile. He has also advised UN agencies and governments on issues related to the Basel and Minamata Conventions and was the inaugural director of Human Rights Watch’s environment and human rights division.
As special rapporteur, he plans to “underscore how exposure to dangerous substances is a fundamental human rights issue of massive implications worldwide,” Dr Orellana told Chemical Watch. He will focus on “the plight of vulnerable groups. Those who are marginalised in society often receive the brunt of the impact from exposure to dangerous chemicals and wastes”.
He cited as examples:
children who have been “robbed of their youth as a result of disabilities”;
workers exposed to dangerous chemicals despite their company’s knowledge of the substances’ hazards; and
the “environmental racism” of hazardous wastes dumped on the lands of indigenous peoples.
Dr Orellana will also push for a rights-based approach to implementing international treaties on chemicals, which have “so far … offered a limited and rather timid response to the scale of the global threat posed by dangerous chemicals and wastes”.
The chemicals industry has a role to play as well and “should realise its business is not sustainable unless it upholds its human rights responsibilities to prevent harm to human health and the environment”.
“It is high time for governments and businesses to respect the rights to life, health, physical integrity and a healthy environment,” he said.
Mr Tuncak, the previous rapporteur, will continue to work on issues of toxics and human rights as an attorney and technical consultant in the US and UK, he said. He will help governments “strengthen human rights-based approaches for environmental and occupational threats”, as well as “working with communities to secure access to justice and remedy for toxic exposures by foreign businesses”.
Four final reports from Mr Tuncak’s mandate, including one that will look at the progress made in the 25 years since the rapporteur’s position’s inception, will be available in the next few months.
Chemical Watch, 13 August 2020