Statement: Monika Stankiewicz at the 51st Session of the UN Human Rights Council

20 Sep 2022

Statement by Monika Stankiewicz, Executive Secretary of the Minamata Convention, during the Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, Marcos Orellana (Agenda Item 3), on 20 September 2022 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Minamata Convention

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Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen,

I am Monika Stankiewicz, Executive Secretary of the Minamata Convention on Mercury, and it is my pleasure to join you here today and welcome the Special Rapporteur’s initiative to present a thematic report with a focus on mercury, small-scale gold mining and human rights.

It is the first time that the secretariat of the Minamata Convention takes the floor at the Council. And the reason is that the issues you are discussing here today are at the very heart of the existence of our Convention.

The Minamata Convention – which entered into force five years ago – is a multilateral response to the catastrophic pollution in Minamata, Japan, where industrial releases of methylmercury caused the epidemic known as the Minamata disease in the 1950s and onwards. This is the root of the core objective of the Convention, which is to protect the human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury pollution.

The violation of human rights, in the context of artisanal and small-scale gold mining, is of crucial importance as 137 parties are currently embarking on the first effectiveness evaluation of the Convention. Identifying trends in levels of mercury in vulnerable populations is a key element in this process.

The Convention requires reducing and, where feasible, eliminating the use of mercury in artisanal and small-scale gold mining. National action plans are the designated instrument for parties to achieve this requirement. They have extensive required elements, such reduction targets, and strategies for managing trade, stakeholders’ involvement and for preventing exposure of vulnerable populations. National action plans are not meant to sit on a shelf – parties are required to implement them and must provide periodic reviews of their implementation to the Conference of the Parties.

I applaud the 20 countries who have completed and submitted their national action plans, and an additional 27 countries who are working on their plans. While I know that this represents a significant portion of the known global use of mercury in this sector, I also look forward to seeing more.

Having these plans in place will allow us to understand what reduction in use of mercury can be expected and if the plans are sufficient to achieve the objective of the Convention. What we already know is that this first set of plans include mercury reduction targets which represent a decrease from over 350 tons per year to just over 100 tons by the end of this decade.

National action plans also provide essential data for parties to make informed decisions on whether to consent to mercury import, and I am glad to see that some parties are using them in this way, as part of their ongoing efforts to get large stocks of mercury out of circulation, away from both legal and illegal trade routes.

Implementation of national action plans in the very complex informal sector of artisanal and small-scale gold mining is certainly challenging. On behalf of parties, I would like to express my gratitude to the Global Environment Facility for working with 23 parties under the planetGOLD programme and providing global scale funding to bring artisanal and small-scale gold mining communities to mercury-free approaches. This programme improves economic, health, and environmental conditions in community-specific and gender-responsive ways that are laser focused on vulnerable communities. PlanetGOLD programme is expected to reduce mercury emissions by about 900 tons.

And parties are paying close attention to the negative impacts of mercury pollution on vulnerable populations. The most recent Conference of the Parties, when adopting updated national action plan guidance, requested the secretariat to compile views on the needs and priorities of indigenous peoples as well as local communities with regard to mercury use in artisanal and small-scale gold mining, and called upon parties to engage indigenous peoples, local communities and other relevant stakeholders in the development and implementation of national action plans.

It is still very early in the life of the Minamata Convention, and it is early to fully assess the impact of national action plans and of the transformational projects funded by the Convention’s financial mechanism. But one thing is sure, the Minamata Convention is key to reducing human suffering and the adverse effects of mercury pollution on human health.

In closing, I would like to inform you that I have already forwarded the thematic report and its recommendations to parties, and I look forward to further collaborating with the Special Rapporteur on this important matter.