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Mercury is a toxic substance that pollutes our environment through airborne releases from coal-fired power plants, cement manufacturers, incinerators, and large and small scale mining operations that contaminate soil, surface and groundwater. Mercury drains into streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans. Almost all of our water bodies are now impacted. When mercury enters the aquatic environment, it is transformed into a more toxic form called methylmercury. In this form, it is a dangerous neurotoxin that locally and globally threatens human health, fish and wildlife, and our environment. Mercury accumulates and magnifies in fish and aquatic animals, and frequent eating of fish containing even small amounts of mercury may result in health effects. The developing fetus and children are particularly vulnerable. Possible health effects include neurological damage, kidney damage, and heart disease. Much of this burden falls on Indigenous Peoples, as our territories are often disproportionately contaminated and our Peoples are at a higher health risk because of the consumption of contaminated indigenous traditional foods. Additionally, fear of contaminants in traditional foods can cause our people to avoid them. In order for our people to exist, our children must have the ability to learn our traditions and have the capacity to flourish in this world.
The United Nations has recognized, through the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a number of rights which are negatively impacted by mercury contamination, including the right to health, subsistence and cultural practices. These rights must be taken into account in the INC discussions and be reflected in the outcomes.
Recognizing that we, as Indigenous Peoples, share many of the harms associated with mercury, we ask that your organization, Nation and/or People join with us to conduct outreach, gather testimonies, and participate in the creation of the United Nations Environmental Programme’s global mercury treaty. Our hope is that with an effective treaty in place, national, regional, and global human-activity sources and releases of mercury will halt; that we will have the will of nation-states to agree on mandatory action to control all anthropogenic mercury sources, and create funding mechanisms and technologies required to address the entire mercury life-cycles; clean-up existing contamination, and determine that no human activities will continue to release mercury to the air, lands, waters in the future.
As a first step, please review the attached statement of Indigenous Peoples, sign on and forward it others.
Indigenous Peoples Position on the global mercury treaty
We, Indigenous Peoples, indigenous nations, and indigenous organizations who appear as signatories to this letter represent the Indigenous Peoples of the world who support a global, legally binding treaty that protects human health and the environment from all anthropogenic mercury sources and all human activities that release mercury to the environment – Mother Earth.
We respectfully request that the State Parties representing governments of the world that agreed to negotiate a global mercury treaty to be finished by 2013 recognize that the issues before them have severe impacts on health and continuance of our Peoples. Globally, Indigenous Peoples are struggling to maintain our centuries old cultural practices and subsistence needs due to mercury contamination. We have suffered enough through past releases to demonstrate the horrors of mercury contamination on the human body, from the severely impacted to more subtle attacks on our ability to continue our cultures and well-being. This violates our human rights to health, cultural practices, Treaty rights, subsistence, Rights of the Child, and our Right to Free Prior and Informed Consent as recognized by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other international human rights instruments, norms, obligations, and standards. It is time for the global community to stand up for what we all know to be true; mercury from anthropogenic sources should never be released into the environment and the ecosystems of Mother Earth.
To assist in the creation of this global mercury treaty, we respectfully submit the following position, which contains the minimum added elements required in order for this treaty to support the restoration and future protections needed globally so that Indigenous Peoples can continue our traditions. We propose the following points must be included in the treaty:
- This be a legally binding treaty.
- The treaty must ensure the full and effective participation of Indigenous Peoples in the treaty negotiating process and its subsequent implementation.
- The treaty must contain mechanisms for reductions of mercury in all its forms and pathways, including air, land, water, and in particular methylmercury, and must support mechanisms for the protection of Indigenous Peoples’ traditional subsistence diets and ways of life. We support a treaty that brings together and integrates measures to control mercury emissions into air with measures to control mercury releases into water and land. Mercury moves between environmental media. A treaty focusing only on controlling air emissions is limiting and will not achieve the protection to human health and the environment that Indigenous Peoples seek within these negotiations.
- The treaty must have legally binding measures to control coal combustion power plants and other major sources of mercury emission in favor of clean renewable energy sources.
- The treaty must prevent the development and reopening of large scale gold mines, which result in uncontrolled releases of mercury and result in contamination of fish and other subsistence foods.
- The treaty must address mercury releases from large-scale mining, including both current operations and legacy sites of abandoned and orphaned gold, silver, and mercury mines. Mine sites must be inventoried and recognized as continued releases of mercury into the environment and addressed in the treaty. Financial and technical mechanisms for cleanup and remediation must also be included. Both ferrous and nonferrous metals should be included in a single annex describing source categories;
- The treaty must recognize that Artisanal and Small-scale Gold Mining (ASGM) is damaging to human health and the environment and is not a sustainable economic option for impacted communities. Governmental Parties with ASGM on its territory must have mandatory obligations to develop national action plans to inventory mercury and develop measures for achieving targets for reduction and elimination of mercury releases in ASGM. These plans should include:
- Restriction of the global supply of mercury, making it less available and attractive to miners
- Measures for Parties to take for clean-up and remediation of mercury-contaminated land and water in ASGM areas, and surrounding communities.
- A just transitional plan that provides financial assistance and technical aid for those that depend on ASGM for their livelihood and a plan for alternative sustainable development options.
- It should be mandatory for Parties to the treaty to:
- fully address contaminated sites, including mining legacy sites;
- prepare, implement and report on plans for developing a comprehensive inventory of mercury-contaminated sites on their territory;
- include a full characterization and evaluation of each site including health impacts on Indigenous Peoples and other local communities;
- have measures for assessing and prioritizing remediation for most-at-risk communities; and
- identify the responsible party for the purpose of compensation and site remediation.
- The treaty must include financial mechanisms to develop and review new technologies to trace the source of mercury and methylmercury contamination and to reduce it on land and in waterways.
- The treaty must protect our traditional territories and sacred areas from potential waste storage, including oceans.
- The treaty recognizes and addresses the global nature of mercury and resulting physical and cultural health and integrity of Indigenous Peoples who rely on fish and seafood, particular in the Countries with Economies in Transition (EIT) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and where mercury emissions are consolidated as in the Arctic.
- The treaty includes the following Article to address the rights of Indigenous Peoples:
Recognizing the disproportionate health, reproductive, cultural and economic impacts of mercury contamination on Indigenous Peoples and other local communities which depend on fishing and related food resources, including aquatic birds and animals, for their primary means of subsistence, as well as various international instruments including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Article 1 in common of the Human Rights Covenants which affirm subsistence rights for Indigenous and other Peoples, Parties shall take effective measures to ensure that contamination of fish and other traditional subsistence food sources from new emissions, as well as from legacy mining, storage and dumping of mercury, is eliminated.
The Indigenous Peoples of the world will continue to fight to put an end to the destruction of our health, our well-being, our children’s health, nature and put our minds and hearts together to protect Mother Earth. We respectfully are seeking your support of our local efforts to reduce mercury through this treaty.
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