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Human rights approach to toxic waste ‘more pressing than ever’ – UN expert

NEW YORK (27 October 2020) - The need for a human rights approach to hazardous substances and wastes is today more pressing than ever, the new Special Rapporteur on hazardous substances, wastes and human rights, Marcos Orellana, said today in his first statement to the UN General Assembly since taking up the position.

“The mandate I now occupy was established in 1995. Twenty-five years on, the breadth and depth of environmental injustices resulting from exposure to hazardous substances has become increasingly visible,” Orellana said.

During his statement, the Special Rapporteur presented the report of his predecessor, Baskut Tuncak, which reflects on recent work of the mandate and identifies challenges and opportunities going forward.

“Around the world, the human rights that everyone should enjoy regarding freedom from toxic pollution are unfortunately treated as a privilege of the few, not a right of everyone,” the report says. It also stresses that, “the most vulnerable in society continue to find themselves on the wrong side of a toxic divide, under an invisible weight of systemic injustice and discrimination where the poor, workers, migrants, and minorities, among others, are more often than not legally poisoned.”

“While toxic exposures can be reduced, by failing to compel human rights due diligence by key industries and to ensure access to remedies, States and businesses continue to lead us toward the increasing toxification of our planet and bodies, a common dystopian future that no one wants but for which the political will is lacking to prevent,” the report notes.

One deplorable example of environmental injustice highlighted in the report – an injustice that continues - is the practice of wealthy States exporting their banned toxic chemicals to poorer nations lacking the capacity to control the risks.

“I welcome this report, which illustrates that a life with dignity is not possible on a planet contaminated with hazardous substances and wastes. In the face of pervasive and insidious environmental injustice around the world, all States have a duty to prevent exposure to toxics and uphold every person’s right to live in a healthy environment,” Mr. Orellana concluded.


Dr. Marcos A. Orellana the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes.

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 and media requests, please contact Ms Sara Cavallo, Human Rights Officer(scavallo@ohchr.org )

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact: In New York, Jonathan Fowler (+ 1 917 208 6656 / jonathan.fowler@un.org). In Geneva, Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / rrosariodesouza@ohchr.org)

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