21 Sep 2022

Venue: Palais des Nations | Room XXV & Online | Webex

This Side Event to the 51st Session of the Human Rights Council discussed the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights on the use of mercury in small-scale gold mining and its impact on human rights. The event was organized by the Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights, and co-sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme, the International Positive Education Network (IPEN), and the Geneva Environment Network.

About this Session

Mercury is highly toxic and hazardous to human health and the environment. The use of mercury for gold extraction is the main source of mercury pollution across the globe. As a consequence of this pollution, the right to life, health, food and a clean and healthy environment, among other rights are severely impacted, as well as people in particular situations of vulnerability, including indigenous peoples and pregnant women. It is also the cause of environmental injustices such as deforestation and biodiversity loss, and an obstacle for the fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals.

In 2013, the Minamata Convention was adopted in order to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury. The Convention contains important provisions that have led to positive developments such as the substantial reduction of the legal trade of mercury. However, the Convention has design and implementation weaknesses.  Instead of banning the global trade in mercury and prohibiting its use in such mining, it allows these practices to continue.

In this context, the Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights, Dr. Marcos A. Orellana dedicated his thematic report to the 51st session of the Human Rights Council to the use of mercury in small-scale gold mining and its impact on human rights (A/HRC/51/35). He analyzed in his report the human rights violations and environmental injustices that result from the use of mercury in small-scale gold mining and proposes ways to address these human rights and environmental violations; as well as the shortcomings of the Convention.

This side event provided an opportunity to further discuss the conclusions and recommendations of the report; the measures and initiatives adopted by States to address the negative impact caused by mercury, the way the mercury pollution impacts on human rights and on people in vulnerable situations and the responsibility of the private sector among other topics.

About the Geneva Toxic Free Talks

The Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights reports every Fall to the Council and to the UN General Assembly on issues related to his mandate. The Geneva Toxic Free Talks aim to harness the opportunity of this moment of the year to reflect on the challenges posed by the production, use and dissemination of toxics and on how Geneva contributes to bringing together the actors working in reversing the toxic tide.

On the sidelines of the 51st session of the Human Rights Council, this year’s Toxic Free Talks took place from 21-22 September — two days of conferences and discussions, celebrating 25 years of the mandate and the struggle for the right to live in a toxic free environment.


  • Rosa Vivien Ratnawati, Director General for Solid Waste, Hazardous Waste, and Hazardous Substances Management and President of COP4, Indonesia
  • Monika Stankiewicz, Executive Secretary of the Minamata Convention
  • Mark Pieth, Professor of Criminal Law and Criminology at the University of Basel
  • Yuyun Ismawati, Nexus Foundation for Environmental Health and Development/IPEN, Indonesia
  • Marcos A. Orellana, UN Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights | Moderator

Key Messages


The video of the event will be available on this webpage.

Live in the room

Photo Gallery


  • Presentations made during the event