Plastic Recycling is Clear Example of Disinformation in Context of Toxics

OHCHR

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on hazardous substances and wastes, who said that plastic recycling was a clear example of disinformation in the context of toxics as less than 10 per cent of plastics were actually recycled, while recycling concentrated the myriad toxic substances that were added to plastics. 

The Council also heard the presentation of thematic reports by the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as statements by the President of the Economic and Social Council, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Paraguay, the Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the right to development and the Chair-Rapporteur of the intergovernmental open-ended Working Group to elaborate the content of an international regulatory framework relating to the activities of private military and security companies.  The Council also concluded its interactive dialogue with the Working Group on the use of mercenaries.

Marcos A.  Orellana, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, said that recycling was widely considered as a potential solution to plastic waste.  However, investigative journalists had uncovered that the recycling messaging was crafted, not by environmental groups, but by the plastics industry.  Less than 10 per cent of plastics were actually recycled, while recycling concentrated the myriad toxic substances that were added to plastics.  He said that disinformation was not unique to plastics, further explaining that there were numerous examples of tactics by industry, and also by governments, to delay controls, divert attention, and escape effective accountability for exposure to dangerous substances.  The Special Rapporteur also presented his report on

the human right to benefit from scientific progress, and its implications for the sound management of hazardous substances. 

In the discussion, speakers welcomed the relevance of the Special Rapporteur’s report, which made it possible to highlight the correlation between science and policy, in particular the consideration of scientific advances in the context of the development of public policies that protected human rights.  Policies based on scientific knowledge were necessary to ensure the protection of human rights, in particular those of individuals or groups exposed to hazardous products and wastes.  Speakers further stated that it was the responsibility of States to ensure that the right to science was respected and promoted, by giving priority and the necessary means to public research. 

Speaking in the discussion were: European Union, Cameroon, Ecuador, United Nations Children’s Fund, Costa Rica, Senegal, Armenia, Indonesia, France, Venezuela, Kenya, Uruguay, Russian Federation, Morocco, Malaysia, Nepal, China, Fiji, Vanuatu, Georgia, Mauritius, Azerbaijan, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Panama, Tanzania, Marshall Islands, Chile, Djibouti and South Africa.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: iuventum e.V., Center for Global Nonkilling, Edmund Rice International Limited, Center for International Environmental Law, Franciscans International, Franciscans International, Earthjustice, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, China NGO Network for International Exchanges and Institut International pour les Droits et le Développement.

The Council also heard Peggy Hicks, Director, Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, present an update and thematic reports by the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights on COVID-19 vaccines, the right to development, artificial intelligence, capital punishment, the prevention of genocide, the responsibility to protect, contribution of development to the enjoyment of all human rights, indigenous peoples, cultural heritage, and the Special Procedures.

Collen Vixen Kelapile, President of the Economic and Social Council, briefed the Council on the 2020-2021 session of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development that took place in July this year.  Also speaking this afternoon was Zamir Akram, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the right to development, and Mxolisi Sizo Nkosi, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the intergovernmental open-ended Working Group to elaborate the content of an international regulatory framework relating to the activities of private military and security companies.

Euclides Roberto Acevedo Candia, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Paraguay, addressed the Council at the beginning of the meeting.  He said that being a member of the Human Rights Council was of great importance for Paraguay. 

The Council also concluded its interactive dialogue with the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the right of peoples to self-determination.

During the discussion, speakers deplored that there had been a proliferation of private military and security companies operating in contexts of armed conflict, natural disasters, epidemics and other crises, as well as in peace operations.  This posed significant challenges with respect to the protection of civilians, violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and respect for humanitarian principles, and this made the regulation and oversight of their activities, as well as accountability and remedies available to the victims of such violations, all the more essential. 

Speaking on the use of mercenaries were Iran and Panama.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: Community Human Rights and Advocacy Centre, Organisation internationale pour les pays les moins avancés, Partners For Transparency, Association for Defending Victims of Terrorism, Center for Organisation Research and Education, Il Cenacolo, China Society for Human Rights Studies, Escuela del Estudio de la Intuición Enseñanza de Valores and Asociación Civil Sin Fines De Lucro.

At the end of the meeting, Democratic Republic of Korea, Armenia, Algeria, Turkey, Azerbaijan, China, Japan and Greece spoke in right of reply.

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 forty-eighth regular session can be found here.

The Council will resume its work at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 September, to hold a general debate on agenda item 3 – the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.  The Council will also hear a statement from Anar Karimov, Minister of Culture of Azerbaijan.

Statement by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Paraguay

EUCLIDES ROBERTO ACEVEDO CANDIA, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Paraguay, said that being a member of the Human Rights Council was of great importance for Paraguay.  For a long time, it used to be that human rights were limited to reporting on impingements on freedoms.  Today everything had changed.  It was no longer a matter of denouncing violations, but of ensuring that freedom, peace and development were a reality for all, since that was the purpose of human rights.  The pandemic had made all the world equal before death, and unequal before the opportunity to have access to the means to fight the pandemic – equitable access to vaccines.  “What good is freedom if you don’t have access to the right to health”, he asked.  The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Paraguay concluded by saying that nationalities were only an “ideological or legal construction” and that Paraguay’s quest to be a member of the Human Rights Council was not an “ostentatious step”, but a will to cooperate and defend universal brotherhood, and the right to enjoy peace, security and health.

Interactive Dialogue with the Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries as a Means of Violating Human Rights and Impeding the Right of Peoples to Self-determination

The interactive dialogue with Jelena Aparac, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the United Nations 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 morning meeting and a summary can be found here.

Discussion

Speakers deplored that there had been a proliferation of private military and security companies operating in contexts of armed conflict, natural disasters, epidemics and other crises, as well as in peace operations.  This posed significant challenges with respect to the protection of civilians, violations of human rights and respect for humanitarian principles, and it made the regulation and oversight of their activities, as well as accountability and remedies available to the victims of such violations, all the more essential.  Some speakers emphasised that mercenaries and private military and security companies still posed a great threat to human rights, especially civilian safety.  They could contribute to an escalation of conflict and aggravate regional instability.  Speakers regretted that some States were relying on these private military contractors heavily.

Some speakers agreed with the Working Group that a critical reflection was required on the types of situations and spaces in which private military and security companies operated, including in the humanitarian field.  They believed that this issue should be addressed by the Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group charged with developing the content of an international normative framework on this issue.  Throughout its history, the Council had faced challenges related to enforced disappearances through the different functions contemplated in its mandate: granting precautionary measures, analysing cases and petitions that came to its attention, as well as monitoring the countries of the region.  Speakers encouraged States to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, as an official expression of their commitment to prevent and eradicate this abhorrent practice.

Concluding Remarks

JELENA APARAC, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the United Nations Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the right of peoples to self-determination, was pleased to have such positive reactions from many delegations and such a willingness to engage.  She made some recommendations, saying that the Working Group regularly called on States to refrain from using and training mercenaries and private military and security companies.  She urged States to prohibit such conduct and to implement effective and transparent prosecution, as well as to provide effective remedies for victims.  She concluded by saying that the Working Group had formulated concrete time-bound formulations to ensure respect of international humanitarian law and the protection of all civilians in all contexts.  She reiterated her call for a binding regulatory framework.

Interactive Dialogue with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Implications for Human Rights of the Environmentally Sound Management and Disposal of Hazardous Substances and Wastes

Presentation of Report

MARCOS A. ORELLANA, United Nations Special Rapporteur on implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, said that recycling of plastics was a clear example of disinformation in the context of toxics.  Recycling was widely considered as a potential solution to plastic waste.  However, investigative journalists had uncovered that the recycling messaging was crafted, not by environmental groups, but by the plastics industry.  Less than 10 per cent of plastics were actually recycled and recycling concentrated the myriad toxic substances that were added to plastics.  Disinformation was not unique to plastics, said Mr. Orellana, as he further explained that there were numerous examples of tactics by industry, and also by governments, to delay controls, divert attention, and escape effective accountability for exposure to dangerous substances.

Mr. Orellana then presented his report about the human right to benefit from scientific progress, and its implications for the sound management of hazardous substances.  This right had immense implications on other human rights, such as the rights to life with dignity, health, non-discrimination, safe work, clean air and safe water, and the right to a healthy environment.  The right to science had, until recently, been largely ignored by the human rights community.  It was high time that this right got the attention and implementation it deserved.  The right to science required that governments adopted measures to prevent exposure to hazardous substances, on the basis of the best available scientific evidence.  Today, however, the intentional spread of misinformation regarding scientific evidence undermined the ability to benefit from scientific knowledge.  The Special Rapporteur highlighted the fact that disinformation had become a powerful tool for manipulating public understanding and debate, generating confusion and mistrust in science.  It had become a lucrative business to propagate doubt about the dangers and harms of hazardous substances.  Certain businesses specialised in deliberately sowing uncertainty and misunderstanding in society.  He also felt compelled to emphasise attacks on scientists, in particular; when scientists published or spoke out about the hazards and consequences of toxic substances, they were frequently the target of campaigns that harassed, threatened, or undermined them and their families.

The Special Rapporteur said that the right to science implied that truthful scientific information would be available and accessible.  This included scientific evidence which served as the basis for policymaking and legislation, including underlying data.  Information on hazardous substances should not be kept away from the public domain, yet unwarranted claims of confidential business information, as well as secrecy agreements in the settlement of cases involving toxics, impeded access to information that was critical to protect people from the risks and harms of toxics.  In conclusion, the Special Rapporteur said that the world was in the midst of a triple environmental crisis of pollution, climate change and loss of nature that threatened to render the world uninhabitable for humanity.  The planetary emergency would not go away unless disinformation was tackled, awareness was raised, and robust action was taken.  The right to science gave everyone the drive and the tools to do precisely that.

Discussion

Speakers welcomed the relevance of this theme, which made it possible to highlight the correlation between science and policy, in particular the consideration of scientific advances in the context of the development of public policies that protected human rights.  Policies based on scientific knowledge were necessary to ensure the protection of human rights, in particular those of individuals or groups exposed to hazardous products and wastes.  It was the responsibility of States to ensure that the right to science was respected and promoted, by giving priority and the necessary means to public research.  Speakers called on companies to make scientific data more accessible to all, especially for developing countries, with a view to developing policies and regulations on hazardous products based on available and updated scientific knowledge.  Some speakers stated that science generated knowledge and helped to identify the risks and harm to life associated with hazardous substances and wastes.  However, they said protections for scientists must be put in place to allow them to freely express their knowledge without being subjected to undue pressure or intimidation.  In addition, international cooperation was needed to ensure that scientific advances were better integrated and consistent at all policy levels. 

Some speakers remained deeply concerned about the growing number of children exposed to hazardous substances.  While exposure to toxic substances was harmful for everyone, children were affected disproportionately and had life-long consequences.  Their developing physiology made children uniquely vulnerable.  Exposure to hazardous substances had been linked to multiple adverse health outcomes such as childhood cancers and physical abnormalities, neurodevelopmental issues, an increase in noncommunicable diseases, endocrine disruption, stillbirths, miscarriages, low birthweight and maternal death.  Speakers mentioned that these impacts carried across generations, had socio-economic impacts upon communities, and exacerbated inequalities.  They called on States, businesses and all stakeholders to accelerate and increase action to eliminate exposures to hazardous substances and wastes of workers, their families and communities.

Interim Remarks

MARCOS A. ORELLANA, United Nations Special Rapporteur on implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, said that there was a lot that States could do on regulation, on fraud, on security, and on competition, among others.  On the subject of “citizen science”, which was the participation of individuals in the process of the scientific method, this raised the participation of the community that focused on the issues of their concerns, which was positive.  States did not exist in isolation, and governments, in taking measures, should listen to other sources of knowledge; they should listen to science but not to the exclusion of other sources of knowledge.  He concluded by stating that the precautionary principle was not anti-science but addressed the limit of science, and incremental knowledge.

Discussion

Speakers welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur and concurred with his recommendation to ground policy, law and regulation-making on independent scientific evidence, including underlying data, publicly available.  Independent, impartial and accessible environmental impact assessments based on scientific evidence were key elements to prevent human rights and environmental disasters.  Some speakers said they were very concerned about the impact of hazardous wastes, mainly the land mine contamination which put vast areas of agricultural lands out of use, affecting the environment, food production, and destroying livelihoods.  Speakers called on the Human Rights Council and the international community to take more measures and support the efforts of peacekeeping and peace-making through the protection of people and the environment.  Some speakers stated that it was unfair to intensify the war losses and make more victims and injuries when the mines could easily be removed.  They regretted that the lack of mine maps had a chain of socio-economic and environmental negative impacts. 

Speakers further welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur and concurred with his recommendation to ground policy, law and regulation-making on independent scientific evidence, including underlying data, that was publicly available.  Independent, impartial and accessible environmental impact assessments based on scientific evidence were key elements to prevent human rights and environmental disasters.  Other speakers said that hazardous substances posed risks and hazards to human health and the environment, which was a new challenge facing global human rights governance. 

Concluding Remarks

MARCOS A. ORELLANA, United Nations Special Rapporteur on implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, said that a settlement agreement had to be taken with caution when it put other people’s lives at risk.  In order to enhance public trust in science, access to information, access to the data that underlined legislation, as well as scientific literacy were key.  “Those elements can increase public trust”, he said.  Scientific evidence was not monolithic, and scientific consensus evolved with time as more knowledge was gained.  On the idea of a global platform, he said that the importance of such an interface would be that it would be free of conflict of interest.  “The time to act is now” he concluded.

Statement by the President of the Economic and Social Council

COLLEN VIXEN KELAPILE, President of the Economic and Social Council, briefing the Council on the 2020-2021 session of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development that took place in July this year, said the Forum had attracted engagement at the highest level.  Almost 200 high-level speakers had participated in the discussions.  The Forum had focused on its 2021 theme of a sustainable, resilient and inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and reviewed in depth nine Sustainable Development Goals on: 1. poverty, 2. hunger, 3. education, 10.  reduced inequalities, 12. responsible consumption and production, 13. climate action, 16. peace, justice and strong institutions, and 17. partnerships and their interlinkages.  The Forum had also taken a bird’s eye view of the world’s situation regarding the Sustainable Development Goals and the impact of COVID-19, and discussed national experiences, among other issues.  Forty-two countries had presented voluntary national reviews.  The thematic review of the Forum was based on the Secretary-General’s Sustainable Development Goals progress report, which substantiated the great concern about the impact of COVID-19 on the Goals, as well as about the continuing environmental and climate crisis.  The Forum had resulted in a Ministerial Declaration, adopted by consensus, which reaffirmed the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement as the blueprints for sustainable recovery.  A strong message that had permeated throughout was that ensuring equitable, universal and affordable to the vaccines was a moral imperative, the only way to overcome the pandemic, and an essential condition for a resilient and sustainable world recovery.  The High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development and the Human Rights Council must work together to ensure that economic, social and cultural rights were respected as the 2030 Agenda was being implemented.

Presentation of Thematic Reports by the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights

PEGGY HICKS, Director, Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, first provided an oral update on the human rights implications of the lack of affordable, timely, equitable and universal access and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and the deepening inequalities between States.  The global picture of access to COVID-19 vaccines was unbearably unequal as more than 5.7 billion vaccine doses had been administered globally, but 73 per cent of all doses had been administered in just 10 countries.  High-income countries had administered 61 times more doses per inhabitant than low-income countries.  This short-sighted vaccine nationalism needed to stop.  Developed countries needed to stop stockpiling and start distributing.  States should urgently support the Secretary-General’s call for a Global Vaccine Plan to double vaccine production and ensure universal and equitable distribution of vaccines, using the COVAX facility as a platform.  The world economy appeared to be building back, with global growth forecast to hit 5.3 per cent this year.  But this figure hid a recovery that was unconscionably uneven across geographical, income and sectoral lines, where existing inequalities were widening further.  As well as reducing the tragic loss of life inflicted daily by COVID-19, making vaccines accessible to all avoided massive economic consequences, as it was estimated that delayed vaccination timelines would cost the global economy $2.3 trillion in the next 3 years.

Ms. Hicks presented the annual report of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the right to development that focused on the response to and the recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, and the High Commissioner’s report on the effects of artificial intelligence on the enjoyment of the right to privacy.  She also presented the Secretary-General’s yearly supplement to the quinquennial report on capital punishment that focused on the consequences arising from the lack of transparency in the application and imposition of the death penalty, followed by two summary reports of a one-day dialogue on cooperation in strengthening capacities for the prevention of genocide and a panel discussion to mark the fifteenth anniversary of the responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, that took place on 11 May.  She further presented the High Commissioner’s report on the intersessional seminar on the contribution of development to the enjoyment of all human rights held this May, where participants stressed the need to overcome differences; show greater solidarity; and step up international cooperation, including South-South cooperation, to put the world on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals and realise all human rights for everyone, everywhere. 

Ms. Hicks presented the report of the High Commissioner on the rights of indigenous peoples which highlighted the Office of the High Commissioner’s efforts at country, regional and global levels to contribute to the realisation of the rights of indigenous peoples.  On the summary report of the High Commissioner on the workshop on cultural rights and the protection of cultural heritage, held online in June 2021, she said that the discussion focused on: mainstreaming a human rights-based approach to cultural heritage; cultural heritage in crisis; and supporting the work of cultural rights defenders.  Finally, she spoke about the Office of the High Commissioner’s study on the contribution of the Special Procedures in assisting States and other stakeholders in the prevention of human rights violations and abuses, which illustrated the extent to which the various aspects of the work of Special Procedures contributed to assisting States and other stakeholders in the prevention of human rights violations and abuses. 

Ms. Hicks concluded by updating the Council on the delayed submission of nine reports scheduled for submission at this or earlier Council sessions due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Organization’s financial crisis, noting that three reports that were delayed last year, as well as six reports that were scheduled for delivery this year, could not be delivered during the Council’s forty-eighth session.

Statement by the Working Group on the Right to Development

ZAMIR AKRAM, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the right to development, said that 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.  At its last session, the Working Group had heard general statements by representatives of 22 States, one intergovernmental organization and 12 civil society organizations.  States had noted that the realisation of the right to development was essential for both human development and the enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.  The Working Group had heard statements about the negative impact on the economy and society and the consequent exacerbation of inequalities within and between countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Several States had stressed that a legally binding instrument could ensure that the operationalisation of the right to development became a priority in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  The Chair-Rapporteur said that this challenging objective would require everyone to demonstrate flexibility, cooperation and goodwill.  He noted that a group of States was not in favour of elaborating an international legal standard of a binding nature on the right to development, as they did not believe that the Working Group was an appropriate or efficient mechanism for realising the right to development.  As requested by the Council, the Working Group had commenced the consideration and negotiation of a draft convention on the right to development. 

Statement by the Intergovernmental Open-ended 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

MXOLISI SIZO NKOSI, Chairperson-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, said that the Working Group had, at its second session in April 2021, continued its work on an international regulatory framework – without prejudging its nature – to protect human rights and ensure accountability for human rights violations related to the activities of private military and security companies.  The Working Group’s work was based on the recognition that private military and security companies should be appropriately regulated, with human rights violations addressed and remedies made available.  In April, the Working Group had hosted experts who provided information on private military and security companies as well as identified and refined several elements of a binding legal framework in this area.  The Chairperson-Rapporteur asked all relevant stakeholders to provide input.  The Working Group would then develop a third draft of its proposed legal instrument to “ensure the protection of human rights and access to justice for victims” by regulating the activities of private military and security companies.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/09/le-recyclage-des-plastiques-est-un-exemple-clair-de

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