ASTANA (8 April 2015) – United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak, today called on the Government of Kazakhstan to step up efforts in protecting those who live in environmentally high-risk areas.
Mr. Tuncak, speaking at the end of an official visit* to the Republic of Kazakhstan, noted the positive steps taken by the Government to mitigate the adverse impacts of hazardous substances and wastes on human rights. These include the adoption of numerous international human rights and environmental treaties, as well as domestic laws, policies and programmes.
“While these measures are highly commendable, in my visits around the country I have seen many people living in and around mountains of hazardous waste, cities engulfed in air pollution, houses coated in dust from industrial activities, and received information on illegal radioactive and hazardous waste dumpsites,” the human rights expert said.
During his 14-day mission, the Special Rapporteur visited several cities and towns in Kazakhstan that are known for its pollution attributed to the oil and gas industry, metal extraction and processing, uranium and coal production, and industrial emission and wastes.
“I met with residents of these contaminated areas struggling everyday with the air they breathe, the water they drink, the food they consume, and the many health problems they developed that are linked to contamination from the refineries, mining sites, toxic and radioactive waste dumps around their homes,” the expert noted.
“These populations live in fear every day for the health of themselves, their families and their children,” Mr. Tuncak stressed. “These at-risk populations’ right to life, health, housing, and food are undermined, denied or outright violated due to the effects of hazardous contamination in their environment.”
“Many of these victims don’t know what to do. Some have given up. Others are waiting to be relocated to a safer environment,” he said. “But, all of them want an effective and timely solution.”
The Special Rapporteur recalled that Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Kazakhstan in 2006, specifies that the individuals have the right to an effective remedy and States are obliged to enforce the remedy by competent authorities.
Mr. Tuncak commended the Government of Kazakhstan for having ratified key international human rights treaties and environmental conventions, as well as the authorities’ efforts to try to find a solution to those populations at risk.
“However, the Government has to do more. These populations cannot continue living in fear,” he stressed. “The pronounced commitment of the Government to protect and promote human rights should be made into reality. The Government should further its efforts to provide protection to those populations in accordance with international human rights law and standards.”
During his visit to Kazakhstan, the expert met senior officials from ministries, local authorities, private sector, members of the Parliament, the Ombudsman for human rights, judiciaries, UN officials, NGOs, and individuals and families.
His final report, including findings and key recommendations is expected to be presented at the UN Human Rights Council in September 2015.
(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full end-of-mission statement:
Mr. Baskut Tuncak (Turkey) was appointed Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Environment/ToxicWastes/Pages/SRToxicWastesIndex.aspx
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. For more information check: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx
OHCHR Country Page – Kazakhstan: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/ENACARegion/Pages/KZIndex.aspx
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