21 Sep 2022
18:15–19:45

Venue: Centre Administratif de Varembé & Online | Webex

On the sidelines of the 51st Regular Session of the Human Rights Council, this year’s Geneva Toxic Free Talks took place over 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.

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 take 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.

About this Session

The HRC Mandate concerning toxic and human rights was established by the former Commission on Human Rights in 1995. In addition to documenting the extent of human rights affected by the still not reversed toxic tide affecting the planet, the mandate also specified the human rights to be implemented for the protection of all segments of the population, starting with the most vulnerable. The mandate also emphasized the importance of the fundamental right not to be exposed to anthropogenic toxic substances. This discussion and the reception that followed offered an opportunity to bring together all the friends of the mandate.

This session was followed by a Reception for the 25 years of the mandate on toxics and human rights

Speakers

By order of intervention.

Marcos ORELLANA

UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights

Valentina SIERRA

Permanent Mission of Uruguay to the United Nations in Geneva

Felix WERTLI

Head of the International Affairs Section, Swiss Federal Office for the Environment

Rolph PAYET

Executive Secretary, Basel Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions

Jacqueline ALVAREZ

Director, Latin America and the Caribbean, UNEP | Chief, Chemicals and Health Branch, UNEP (effective 1 October 2022)

Maria NEIRA

Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, World Health Organization

David AZOULAY

Managing Attorney, CIEL Geneva Office | Director of Environmental Health Program, CIEL

Yves LADOR

Representative of Earthjustice to the United Nations in Geneva | Moderator

Video

Key Messages

Summary

Welcome | Yves LADOR, Geneva Representative, Earthjustice

Over the past few years, the mandate on toxics and human rights has raised the question of the “right not to be exposed”. We now take this opportunity to reflect on how we were able to move forward in protecting people from being exposed to toxic substances, and what are the next steps and challenges that the mandate still has to face in the coming years.

Introductory Remarks | Marcos ORELLANA, UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights

The topic of human rights and toxics was very controversial at the beginning, but it has now gained a place at the table of the Human Rights Council (HRC). While discussing the global right to a healthy environment (R2E) at the HRC last year and now at UNGA, some States were arguing that the content of this mandate was unclear, and that further discussion was needed to clarify the content. This conversation was settled with the adoption of the landmark resolution on R2E.

One element that flows from it is the recognition that R2E can be seen as an umbrella right that brings together the accumulated experience at the interface of human rights and the environment.  There have been a number of denunciations by treaty bodies, special procedures and international tribunals on this issue connecting R2E with a range of rights, including the right to life, health public participation, food, water, cultural rights, and more. The mandate has benefited and been a part of this process. Today, we can speak with a compelling voice about the right to a toxic-free environment, the right not to be exposed to hazardous substances in relation to all these other rights and to R2E.

What are the key challenges today? Further dissemination, further awareness, and implementation. Implementation must take place at all levels – national and international. The mandate will continue these efforts. The scientific evidence we have about how humanity has exceeded the safe space of the planetary boundaries for chemical and pollution is dramatically shocking and should lead us to further action.

In relation to the R2E, the resolutions highlight the importance of the full implementation of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). The renewed mandate on toxics and human rights puts an emphasis on looking at the development in international instruments on chemicals and waste, including gaps and shortcomings. The mandate thus has a vision of direction, looking at the big picture, but also needs to look at the specifics, for example by engaging with the Basel, Stockholm and Rotterdam Conventions, the Minamata Convention on mercury.

At the interactive dialogue on the SR Toxics report on mercury use in small-scale artisanal gold mining, the level of engagement from Member States was higher than ever before. Many States, from all regions, expressed a strong commitment to the mandate. In the early days of the toxics and human rights debate, it was extremely polarized. But what we see now is a global embracement of the mandate, which is encouraging. The link between toxics and human rights and the significance of the mandate the need for international cooperation for the detoxification of the planet are now clearly understood. As we paused to celebrate 25 years of the mandate, let’s recognize the consensus and mobilization that the mandate was able to gather as a big achievement. Now it’s time for action.

Coming Soon

  • Member States | Valentina SIERRA, Permanent Mission of Uruguay to the United Nations in Geneva
  • Member States | Felix WERTLI, Head of the International Affairs Section, Swiss Federal Office for the Environment
  • Environmental Community | Rolph PAYET, Executive Secretary, Basel Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions
  • Health Community | Maria NEIRA, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, World Health Organization
  • Civil Society | David AZOULAY, Managing Attorney, CIEL Geneva Office | Director of Environmental Health Program, CIEL

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