Rotterdam Convention Conference of the Parties (COP6): Day 2 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Having witnessed the obstructionist behavior of the Russian asbestos cabal at the Convention meetings yesterday, we were in no doubt when we arrived at the Conference Centre what today would hold.

As we entered the building, we were greeted by a pile of glossy asbestos industry propaganda magazines (12 pages in full color) which had been translated into English. Entitled – in screaming capitals – PEOPLE FOR CHRYSOTILE they extolled the health-giving benefits of all things chrysotile.

Article after article praised the benefits of the asbestos industry and the “life” it had given to people who lived in the Russian town of “Asbest.”

As well as conveying the chrysotile party line, the publication attacked the anti-asbestos campaign as “evil.” This was the word used by Natalia Karavayeva, Vice Principal of the Asbest Polytechnic School. The article by Sofia Shkarednaya, Veteran of the Chrysotile Industry, went so far as to blame the current European Union economic crisis on the EU asbestos ban.

Discussions amongst activists and delegates revealed a palpable loss of patience; not only with the seven parties which are holding the Convention to ransom but also with the Convention itself. This much-lauded “modest instrument,” as it was termed last night by one delegate, looks increasingly discredited. If on its 4th attempt, the Parties are unable to resolve the commercial veto imposed by a handful of vested interests, what is to prevent the producers of other hazardous substances using similar tactics.

An asbestos side-event this afternoon provided the perfect opportunity to inform delegates of the asbestos reality in Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. Dozens of Conference delegates were joined by representatives of civil society to hear veteran campaigner Sugio Furuya from Japan, Engineer Fernanda Giannasi from Brazil, and filmmaker Alessandro Pugno describe the humanitarian disasters caused by asbestos in their countries.

From Eastern Europe, speakers Vladimir Kototenko and Elina Doszhanova described the almost total lack of public and professional awareness of the asbestos hazard in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The panel was in total agreement regarding the crucial importance of listing chrysotile asbestos on Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention; they called on delegates to make every effort to resolve the current impasse in order to protect human health by providing the right to know to chrysotile importing countries.

As on previous occasions, Russian asbestos lobbyist Andrey Kholzakov attempted to interrupt the meeting. The screams he uttered denouncing the speakers, who he alleged spoke “not one word of truth,” were heard in the next room by delegates attending a discussion session in the plenary chamber.

Despite his best efforts, the meeting was adjudged a resounding success by delegates who engaged in a lively exchange of information with the experts present.

As Scarlet OHara said in Gone with the Wind: “Tomorrow is another day.”

May 8, 2013



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