Indigenous Peoples and the Minamata Convention: a shared commitment to end mercury pollution

09 Aug 2023

On the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, the Secretariat of the Minamata Convention takes the opportunity to share its contribution to ensuring that Indigenous Peoples around the world can enjoy an environment free of mercury pollution.

Indigenous Peoples

Because of their reliance on natural resources, Indigenous Peoples are among the world's most vulnerable to the impacts of mercury pollution, an invisible poison that causes irreversible harm to humans, wildlife and ecosystems. For example, in artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM), which is the largest man-made source of mercury pollution worldwide, hundreds of tonnes of mercury that enable gold to be mined and extracted with very low technological input, are released into Indigenous territories every year, leaving behind mass environmental destruction that threatens the very existence of many Indigenous communities.

The Secretariat of the Minamata Convention is working with Indigenous communities across the globe to better understand their needs and priorities regarding the use of mercury in ASGM. The first step has been to map how the needs and priorities of Indigenous Peoples vary according to their relationship with ASGM to inform measures by governments and other actors. For example, numerous Indigenous communities in Asia, Africa and South America rely on ASGM as their sole or main source of income. For these communities, mercury-free technologies, access to financing and shortening the gold supply chain are seen as game changers.

Unfortunately, the easy access to illicitly traded mercury, soaring gold prices and lack of transparency in the gold supply chain create the perfect conditions for outsiders to set illegal ASGM operations on Indigenous lands and territories. To those Indigenous communities, the priorities encompass combating the illicit trade of mercury and upholding the rights of Indigenous Peoples, including their rights to a safe and clean environment.

The emerging conclusion from the work is that action must be tailored to the specific context and priorities of the Indigenous communities among a suite of possible options that include combating this illicit trade, developing alternative livelihoods, awareness raising among community members, improved mercury-free technologies and access to financing, better health monitoring and treatment.

Indigenous Peoples are sharing their views on what can be done to address this complex challenge. As part of its efforts, the Secretariat has recently launched the Indigenous Peoples Platform of the Minamata Convention to bring together Indigenous voices and promote the full and effective participation of Indigenous Peoples in the work of the Minamata Convention to put an end to mercury pollution.

In October, a meeting of Indigenous representatives will be held in Brasilia, Brazil to convey the priorities of Indigenous communities in Latin America and the Caribbean region. The meeting will help Indigenous organizations to coordinate ahead of the fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention (COP-5) happening later this year. During COP-5, Parties will engage in discussions aimed at advancing the ASGM agenda under the Convention, with a stronger focus on responding to the needs of Indigenous Peoples.

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