Concludes Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries as a Means of Violating Human Rights
The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes. It also concluded its interactive dialogue with the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights.
The Council also heard presentations by Lachezara Stoeva, President of the Economic and Social Council; Zamir Akram, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Right to Development; and Mxolisi Sizo Nkosi, Chair-Rapporteur of the open-ended intergovernmental Working Group to elaborate the content of an international regulatory framework, without prejudging the nature thereof, relating to the activities of private military and security companies.
Marcos Orellana, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, said his report dealt with the harms and risks to human rights posed through the use of mercury in small-scale gold mining. The human rights of miners, their families and communities were increasingly threatened by mercury pollution. The use of mercury for small-scale gold mining was the main source of mercury pollution globally, and mercury releases and emissions from small-scale gold mining had been increasing. In order to combat more effectively human rights violations in the field of mercury use in small-scale gold mining, States and the Minamata Convention needed to prohibit the use and trade of mercury in small-scale mining.
Mr. Orellana also presented reports on his visits to Italy and Mauritius. Italy and Mauritius spoke as countries concerned.
In the ensuing discussion, speakers said the adverse impact on human rights of mercury mining, including via bioaccumulation and environmental harm, was clear and especially felt by indigenous peoples, women and girls, children and persons in vulnerable situations. This was evidence of the inextricable link between human rights and the protection of health and environment, and of the importance of the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Efforts to combat environmental pollution by heavy metals was vital. Protecting human health and the environment was a paramount issue for all, and ensuring chemical safety was of paramount importance, and a child-safe and gender-mainstreaming approach was vital in this regard.
Speaking in the interactive dialogue were the European Union, Côte d’Ivoire on behalf of Group of African States, Djibouti, Samoa, France, Senegal, Ecuador, Costa Rica, United Nations Children’s Fund, India, Germany, Paraguay, Mexico, Panama, Venezuela, South Africa, Russian Federation, Namibia, China, Peru, Armenia, Chile, Malaysia, Cameroon, United States, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Saudi Arabia, Bolivia, Nepal, Ukraine, Tanzania, Azerbaijan, Mali, Vanuatu, Georgia, Malawi, Marshall Islands, Iran, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Cuba, Indonesia, Sudan, and the United Nations Environment Programme.
Also speaking were Earthjustice, iuventum e.V., Youth Parliament for SDG, Centre Europe – tiers monde, International Volunteerism Organization for Women, Education and Development on behalf of Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice delle Salesiane di Don Bosco, Right Livelihood Award Foundation, FIAN International e.V., Conectas Direitos Humanos, World Barua Organization, and Association pour la défense des droits de l’homme et des revendications démocratiques/culturelles du peuple Azerbaidjanais-Iran.
The Council also concluded its dialogue with the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination.
Sorcha MacLeod, Chair of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination, in concluding remarks, said it was encouraging that many States supported the creation of an international instrument that would ensure that human rights violations by private military and security companies were prevented, and that justice was provided to victims. While criminal accountability was an important aspect to access to justice, victims needed to have access to various forms of remedy, and States needed to take a broader approach to these issues.
In the discussion, speakers said the Working Group should bring pressure to bear on States to end the use of mercenaries. The use of mercenaries and affiliated groups impeded access to justice and reparations – these violations and abuses included crimes against humanity, rape, torture, forced disappearance, trafficking in persons, assassinations, and gross and systematic violations of the rights of migrants.
Speaking were the Centre for Gender Justice and Women Empowerment, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain Inc, Justiça Global, Association Culturelle des Tamouls en France, Association des étudiants tamouls de France, Jeunesse Etudiante Tamoule, International Muslim Women’s Union, Alliance Creative Community Project, and Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights Association.
Speaking in right of reply at the end of the meeting were Armenia, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here . All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s fifty-first regular session can be found here .
The next meeting of the Council will be at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 21 September, when it will hear the presentation of the thematic reports by the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner, and then begin the general debate under agenda item three on the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.
Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries
The interactive dialogue with Sorcha Macleod, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the right of peoples to self-determination, started in the previous meeting and a summary can be found here.
Speakers said human rights defenders should not be exposed to violence from mercenaries. The Working Group should bring pressure to bear on States to end the use of mercenaries. The international community as a whole should pay attention to these criminal groups and the damage that they brought to democracy. The use of mercenaries and affiliated groups impeded access to justice and reparations. These violations and abuses included crimes against humanity, rape, torture, forced disappearance, trafficking in persons, assassinations, and gross and systematic violations of the rights of migrants. The allegations of State failure to provide aid to victims by mercenaries were also an issue of concern. Governments had to investigate the roles played by mercenaries and security services employed by them and ensure accountability. There should be international accountability for all acts of genocide, and the international community should aim to ensure this.
SORCHA MACLEOD, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the right of peoples to self-determination, welcomed measures taken at the national levels to regulate mercenaries and private military and security groups. She called on civil society organizations to report violations of international humanitarian law through the Special Procedures processes.
It was encouraging that many States supported the creation an international instrument that would ensure that human rights violations by private military and security companies were prevented, and that justice was provided to victims. Victims were not monolithic and a one-size-fits-all approach to justice may not satisfy all needs. While criminal accountability was an important aspect to access to justice, victims needed to have access to various forms of remedy, and States needed to take a broader approach to these issues.
There was a confusing number of different terms used to describe the groups being discussed, including “private military and security companies,” but none of these terms were legally defined. There were some private military and security companies that engaged in military activities, and these activities needed to be addressed through legislative means.
Human rights defenders and journalists were subject to violence and other forms of reprisals. In some cases, domestic legal systems were not able to provide justice to victims or their families. The Working Group urged States to criminalise the use of mercenaries at the national level. States also needed to properly regulate private military and security companies, and ensure that avenues to justice and remedy for victims existed.
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Hazardous Wastes
The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes (A/HRC/51/35 ) on mercury, small-scale gold mining and human rights, and reports on his visits to Italy and Mauritius .
Presentation of Report
MARCOS ORELLANA, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, said that in the north of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, the main source of protein for members of the indigenous people Esse Ejja was fish from the Beni River. Women of childbearing age in this village had an extremely high body mercury load. This was not an isolated case, but was replicated in other countries of the Amazon Basin, in West Africa, and in the southeast of Asia, among others. His report dealt with the harms and risks to human rights posed through the use of mercury in small-scale gold mining. The human rights of miners, their families and communities were increasingly threatened by mercury pollution. More than 15 million people were involved in this type of extraction, including thousands of children. This mining was often illegal and associated with human trafficking, slavery practices, sexual exploitation and violence.
The use of mercury for small-scale gold mining was the main source of mercury pollution globally. The mercury trade was driven by the insatiable demand for gold in the financial and jewellery markets of richer countries. Refineries in industrialised countries that bought the gold lacked adequate due diligence mechanisms to address human rights abuses associated with mercury and small-scale gold mining.
The Minamata Convention on Mercury was a robust and comprehensive agreement that aimed to protect human health and the environment from emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds. The Convention comprehensively addressed the issue of mercury by regulating its trade, phasing out mercury products and processes, and reducing its industrial emissions, among other provisions. However, the Convention authorised the trade in and use of mercury in mining. This had allowed the persistence of this practice. In addition, the Convention did not set a deadline for completing the phase-out of mercury in small-scale gold mining. Thus, mercury releases and emissions from small-scale gold mining had been increasing.
In order to combat more effectively human rights violations in the field of mercury use in small-scale gold mining, States and the Convention needed to prohibit the use and trade of mercury in small-scale mining. A number of States were already taking this step. A global ban on the use of and trade in mercury in small-scale gold mining alone was an essential measure to strengthen other elements of the Minamata Convention and make them more effective.
On his visit to Mauritius, Mr. Orellana commended Mauritius for its good practices, that were relevant for other small island developing States. Mauritius participated in all multilateral environmental agreements in the chemicals and waste cluster. It had also banned the import of radioactive waste and required that end-of-life radioactive equipment be returned to its source. Mauritius should lead an effort to tighten controls on the navigation of merchant vessels. Mauritius, as a small island developing State, also faced challenges in the sound management of hazardous substances and wastes. The health of soils in Mauritius was threatened by the overuse of pesticides. The Government should actively involve and ensure the meaningful participation of civil society organizations in ensuring a toxic-free environment.
On his visit to Italy, Mr. Orellana commended Italy for its leadership in environmental matters’ legislation. While the present legislation had contributed to address some pressing environmental challenges, Italy would have to increase its efforts to fully implement it, including providing additional resources, so it could address the multiple environmental crises that were exposing people to toxic substances. Italy should prevent the export of banned and highly hazardous pesticides to third countries. The Government should ensure that industries used technologies and production methods that did not impair the health of residents in Italy and take the necessary steps towards a waste strategy for a circular economy, starting with the reduction of wastes.
Statements by Countries Concerned
Italy, speaking as a country concerned, expressed full appreciation for the fruitful collaboration established and for the outcome of the visit itself. Italy had endorsed key standards for the promotion of human rights at both national and international levels, facing the great challenge of the economic, social and environmental dynamics in order to ensure a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and had compiled and implemented relevant policies and measures to address environmental and economic challenges, also taking into due account the need to tackle the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic for a more inclusive recovery.
At the national level, Italy adopted the National Recovery and Resilience Plan, a strategic document submitted to the European Union in April 2021. The Plan included a broad programme of reforms, with the main goal of promoting a sustainable environmental approach and granting health and well-being for the Italian population throughout the country. This year, Italy had also submitted the second voluntary national review to strengthen the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals. Italy was fully committed to turn into action both at the central and local levels all planned measures and commitments which had been debated during the country-visit, and stood ready to support their implementation through continued engagement and collaboration in the years ahead to prioritise the issue of the implications for human rights of hazardous substances and wastes as well as other related issues such as contaminated sites, pesticides and waste management that were mentioned in the report.
Mauritius, speaking as a country concerned, said on 25 July 2020, a Panamanian registered carrier, owned by a Japanese company, the MV Wakashio, ran aground in waters in the south-east of Mauritius and some 800 tonnes of oil were spilled at sea. The impacts were humongous – environmental, economic, social, and health, to name a few. While Mauritius had invested in capacity building and training to deal with an eventual spill, the scale of the calamity was beyond the scope for a single country to deal with, especially considering the resource constraints of Mauritius. The oil spill had impeded the recovery of the economy, which was highly dependent on coastal tourism. This sector was already battered by the impacts of COVID-19.
The Government of Mauritius welcomed the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur and highlighted the following actions that were being pursued: the implementation of an Integrated Environmental Monitoring Plan; and the review of the 2003 national oil spill contingency plan and of the Environment Protection Act 2002. Priority had been given to the purchase of state-of-the-art oil spill combat equipment and training of key oil spill workers. Mauritius had informed the International Maritime Organization of its intention to designate particularly sensitive sea areas around Mauritius and Rodrigues. Mauritius was also pushing to have more oil spill combat capacity at the regional level and the need to have tier 3 level oil spill combat equipment. The authorities of Mauritius would continue their efforts in enhancing their capacity to deal with such incidents in future and support affected communities.
In the ensuing discussion, speakers said the adverse impact on human rights of mercury mining, including via bioaccumulation and environmental harm, was clear and especially felt by indigenous peoples, women and girls, children and persons in vulnerable situations. This was evidence of the inextricable link between human rights and the protection of health and the environment, and of the importance of the human right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment. Efforts to combat environmental pollution by heavy metals was vital. The report emphasised the serious human rights violations and the irreversible damage done through mercury extraction. The figures should alarm the international community and make it pause for thought and become aware of the danger that this activity posed to the enjoyment of millions of people around the world of their right to health, among others.
Some speakers said child labour was a serious offence, and was frequently linked to illegal mercury mining, and the international community as well as States needed to combat this. Children were a vulnerable population, and a growing number of them was exposed to toxic substances such as mercury, which affected them disproportionately at crucial stages of their development. This could result in significant impact on, among others, their IQ levels. Protecting human health and the environment was a paramount issue for all, and ensuring chemical safety was of paramount importance, and a child-safe and gender-mainstreaming approach was vital in this regard. States must strengthen efforts that addressed unfair power imbalances between rights-holders and business entities.
The significant decrease in trade and the supply of mercury in the past 20 years, including thanks to the 2013 Minamata Convention, was an important sign that international action was possible, and yet more needed to be done, some speakers said. The Convention obligated Governments to take special measures to protect vulnerable populations from exposure, and laid the foundation for a legal basis for an obligation in this regard. Putting in place a plan for the environmentally sound management of mercury was essential, even for countries where there was no mercury mining. A clean, healthy and sustainable environment was essential both for the full enjoyment of human rights and for humanity. International cooperation to reduce the illegal trade in mercury also needed to be reinforced. One speaker
rejected the Special Rapporteur’s suggestions for amendments to the Convention, since it was only recently adopted, and required time to be fully implemented.
MARCOS ORELLANA, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and waste, said that the lack of information gave rise to false perceptions regarding mercury amongst small-scale gold miners. Information about the dangers of mercury needed to be transmitted to miners and affected communities. There were alternatives to mercury for extracting gold that were more effective and less dangerous. The effects of mercury lingered for decades. There was a need for more resources to be invested in implementing action plans and sustainable solutions.
In the continuing discussion, speakers said the Special Rapporteur was to be congratulated for the report. Responsible waste management contributed to sustainable development, and was important for the green economy. The best technology should be used when creating new, greener jobs. Waste management, including the management of plastic, was a concern for the international community as a whole. Circular approaches should be used to reduce the generation of waste, including hazardous waste. Protective provisions should be strengthened in all countries as per the Convention and the Framework Law. National plans on the use of mercury should be put in place and the Minimata Convention should be better implemented. Measures should be implemented by all States to ensure that environmentally sound policies were put in place.
In the majority of gold-extraction sites, the use of mercury was a significant hazard to the workers and their families, with violence and environmental degradation resulting from the extraction, some speakers said. The Convention had weaknesses in its provisions, and its implementation should go hand-in-hand with national policies on the use of mercury in small-scale gold mining. Respective national legislation should be periodically updated in order to ensure that priorities were respected. A non-toxic environment was one of the key elements to the enjoyment of the human right to a safe, clean, and healthy environment, and it was important to provide technical assistance to the more disadvantaged countries that were struggling with the need to protect their environment.
MARCOS ORELLANA, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and waste, said in concluding remarks that the implementation of national action plans to prevent the use of mercury in gold mining was a challenge. National action plans often did not have timeframes for when mercury would be eliminated, and had not been discussed with indigenous peoples. These issues needed to be addressed.
The Special Rapporteur placed emphasis on strengthening engagement with monitoring organizations to ensure that they adopted a rights-based approach. There was a dire need to strengthen capacities to ensure proper monitoring of the use of mercury. There was a lack of laws and regulations to ensure due diligence in small-scale gold mining operations. Refineries and jewellery companies were thus complicit in human rights abuses. Countries where refineries were located needed to ensure that the gold that they procured was not obtained through the use of mercury.
Statement by the President of the Economic and Social Council
LACHEZARA STOEVA, President of the Economic and Social Council, briefing the Council on the discussions of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, said the Political Forum addressed the theme “Building back better from the coronavirus disease while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, and conducted in-depth reviews of Sustainable Development Goals 4 on quality education, 5 on gender equality, 14 on life below water, 15 on life on land, and 17 on partnerships for the Goals. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic across all Sustainable Development Goals, and the integrated, indivisible and interlinked nature of the Goals were also taken into account.
As the world continued to recover from COVID-19 amidst a variety of both new and persistent crises, the Political Forum reflected on how recovery policies could reverse the negative impacts of the pandemic on the Goals, and move countries onto a path to realise the vision of the 2030 Agenda. The discussions also focused on localising the Sustainable Development Goals through bolstering actions at local levels, as well as leveraging regional frameworks to support countries on the road to recovery. Many important key messages focused on human rights emerged from this year’s Forum in the context of the theme of recovery and building back better from the pandemic.
The Forum’s Ministerial Declaration provided a strong outcome that reaffirmed commitment to the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals, recognising it as the blueprint for an inclusive, sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and accelerating the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development, leaving no one behind. The Outcome included additional references and calls for action in relation to numerous other rights, such as the right to development, the right to safe drinking water and sanitation, and the rights of children and youth.
Presentation of Report of the Working Group on the Right to Development
ZAMIR AKRAM, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the right to development, said the mandate of the Working Group was to monitor and review progress made in the promotion and implementation of the right to development, to analyse obstacles to its full enjoyment, and to provide recommendations thereon.
In the last two sessions, the Working Group heard general statements from States and non-governmental organizations noting that the realisation of the right to development was a priority. Current global circumstances required enhanced global cooperation and scaled-up investment to improve socioeconomic indicators and to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.
The Working Group discussed how a legally binding instrument might contribute to making the right to development a reality for all. Several States stressed the need to enhance international cooperation, and called for the creation of such a legally binding instrument. On the other hand, some States did not support the elaboration of an international legally binding instrument. In addition, the Working Group discussed the persistent challenges to the right to development, notably in developing countries. Some States highlighted the difficulty in realising the right to development due in part to unilateral coercive measures.
The Chair had prepared and revised drafts of a legally binding instrument on the right to development with the assistance of a group of legal experts. Some States had decided not to participate in discussions on the drafts. It was important to bring deliberations to a close and to submit a final text to the Human Rights Council as soon as possible. Conclusive negotiations and the adoption of the draft convention would have to be done in a forum such as the General Assembly. The draft convention was comprehensive, detailed, covered every aspect of the right to development, and was based on relevant intergovernmental documents and international law.
Presentation of the Report of the Working Group to Elaborate an International Regulatory Framework on the Activities of Private Military and Security Companies
The Council has before it the progress report of the open-ended intergovernmental Working Group to elaborate the content of an international regulatory framework , without prejudging the nature thereof, relating to the activities of private military and security companies (A/HRC/51/40 ).
MXOLISI SIZO NKOSI, Chair-Rapporteur of the intergovernmental Working Group on private military and security companies, presented the progress report on the third session of the intergovernmental Working Group to elaborate the content of an international regulatory framework to protect human rights and ensure accountability for violations and abuses relating to the activities of private military and security companies. At the third session of the Working Group in May 2022, the Chair-Rapporteur presented a revised zero draft of an international regulatory framework on the regulation, monitoring and oversight over the activities of private military and security companies. The revised draft instrument was cast in a format that could form the basis for both a legally and a non-legally binding outcome, with language options to reflect both approaches. Mr. Nkosi thanked all States’ delegations and other stakeholders for their valuable contributions and comments. Concrete textual proposals made during the session were available on the web page of the working group.
The work of the Working Group during the session continued to be very much guided by the need that private military and security companies be regulated in an appropriate and fair manner; human rights abuses needed to be curtailed and victims needed recourse to effective remedies; and States needed to be able to discharge their regulatory responsibilities based on a strong international regulatory instrument.
The Chairmanship was working to prepare a second draft of the instrument on the basis of these proposals with internationally recognised experts in the field of international criminal law, State responsibility, jurisdictional issues, and business and human rights.
Due to a technical problem, the rest of the report was presented by a representative of the Secretariat.
The revised second draft would be submitted before the fourth session from 17 to 21 April 2023, and no later than the beginning of March 2023.
The Chair-Rapporteur expressed the commitment of the Working Group to continue its work towards a much needed framework to end the abuses caused by private military and security companies, and ensure accountability and remedies to victims.
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