UN reveals that Bolivia has become the center of the illegal mercury trade in the region

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Toxins and Human Rights Marcos Orellana announced on Wednesday that Bolivia has become the center of the illegal mercury trade in the region and that this situation is dangerous given the severity of the trade and indiscriminate use of this element in international forums is made visible, as well as compliance with the Minamata Convention by the state.

“The fact that Bolivia has become the illegal mercury center, resulting in illegal mining in other countries in the region including Peru, Brazil, Colombia and others, and we express our concern about the lack of effective measures against mercury to address it in the face of these effects and also the lack of implementation of the Minamata Convention on mercury ”, said the rapporteur via Zoom from Italy.

The United Nations toxins and human rights expert said there is multiple evidence of illicit mercury trafficking that could spark a response from neighboring countries that could begin closing their borders on the illicit mercury trade, and stricter controls on the Passenger traffic and international trade from Bolivia.

“This problem is known from testimonies in law enforcement or environmental crimes in Peru, also from monitoring by the United Nations Environment Program,” Orellana said during the workshop: “Impact on human rights of mercury from gold mining in Bolivia” organized by the Bolivian Documentation and Information Center (Cedib) and Climate Reaction.

The representative, who had the opportunity to answer journalists’ questions about the emissions concentrated in a central hotel in La Paz, is reflected in the fact that “the countries of the region and the rest of the world are starting to look at this country with different eyes” because it thwarts global challenges.

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“So if a country acts in a way that thwarts the goals of the international community, it becomes a situation that could affect international cooperation (…). I also see a question of access to international funds, international resources for the implementation of environmental programs, which generally go to countries that express goodwill and demonstrate compliance with the commitments made in international agreements, “he said.

What the Minamata Convention strives for, Orellana stressed, is that countries are able to meet global environmental and human rights challenges, particularly those of high-risk populations, as is the case with indigenous peoples Are affected by mercury emissions from the food you eat.

In the letter of allegation addressed to the Bolivian state, both Orellana and the UN Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, José Francisco Cali Tzay, expressed their “deep concern about the excessive increase in the importation and use of mercury in Bolivia, with its serious consequences for the people The environment, human health, the disproportionate effects of pollution on indigenous territory, and the life and health of indigenous peoples ”.

However, he regretted that more than 60 days after the allegations were posted, the Bolivian state had not responded or created a National Action Plan on Mercury, so the following steps will be activated to activate a mechanism that enables more effective dialogue.

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Orellana could not hide his surprise that Bolivia responded in 2019 that gold mining on its territory is “more than insignificant”. “These countries are obliged to certify this fact and implement a national action plan,” he said.

Greater spread of the Bolivian case

The Special Rapporteur expected greater dissemination and visibility of the Bolivian case, both in the context of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) carried out by the Human Rights Council to monitor implementation levels and progress in realizing human rights, and in other international fora.

“We can anticipate the visibility of this topic in international environmental forums, be it in the Conference of the Parties to the Minamata Convention or in other environmental forums. In all of these areas we will begin to visualize and see what response Bolivia sees to the serious problem it is facing with the increase in the use and trade of mercury, ”he said.

The workshop was also attended by the Executive Director of Cedib, Óscar Campanini, the representative of Climate Reaction, Raúl Dorado, the representative of the High Commissioner in Bolivia, Claudia Sierra and the spokeswoman for the National Coordinator for the Defense of Indigenous Peasant Areas and Protected Areas (Contiocap), Álex Vilca.

According to Cedib, Bolivia’s import of mercury rose to an annual average of 192 tons between 2015 and 2020, according to official figures.

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