Astana (AsiaNews) – Kazakhstan must respect the human rights of people living in contaminated areas, said Baskut Tuncak, United Nations special rapporteur on human rights, after a two-week visit in the country to monitor the human rights situation of people living in toxic environments.
Speaking at the end of his visit on Wednesday, Mr Tuncak noted the positive steps taken by the government to mitigate the adverse impacts of hazardous material and waste on human rights.
These include the adoption of numerous international human rights and environmental treaties, as well as domestic laws, policies and programs, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said.
However, “While these measures are highly commendable, in my visits around the country I have seen many people living in and around mountains of hazardous waste, cities engulfed in air pollution, houses coated in dust from industrial activities, and received information on illegal radioactive and hazardous waste dumpsites,” the human rights expert said.
During his 14-day mission, the special rapporteur visited several cities and towns in Kazakhstan, a country known for the pollution caused by its oil and gas industry, metal extraction and processing, uranium and coal production, and industrial emission and waste.
“I met with residents of these contaminated areas struggling everyday with the air they breathe, the water they drink, the food they consume, and the many health problems they developed that are linked to contamination from the refineries, mining sites, toxic and radioactive waste dumps around their homes,” the expert noted.
“These at-risk populations’ right to life, health, housing, and food are undermined, denied or outright violated due to the effects of hazardous contamination in their environment.”
“Many of these victims don’t know what to do. Some have given up. Others are waiting to be relocated to a safer environment,” he said. “But, all of them want an effective and timely solution.”
Mr Tuncak noted that in 2006 Kazakhstan ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (adopted by the United Nations in 1966).
He went on to say that Article 2 of the Covenant specifies that individuals have the right to an effective remedy and States are obliged to enforce the remedy by competent authorities.
The expert’s final report is expected to be presented at the UN Human Rights Council in September 2015.
Meanwhile, “The pronounced commitment of the Government to protect and promote human rights should be made into reality,” he explained. “The Government should further its efforts to provide protection to those populations in accordance with international human rights law and standards,” he said.