Russian Assault on United Nations Convention
The attack by Russia on the hopes and lives of millions of people continues unabated. Outraged by the bloodbath caused by the invasion of Ukraine, the General Assembly of the United Nations on March 2, 2022 overwhelmingly passed a resolution reaffirming Ukrainian sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and demanding that Russia: immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.1
Just a fortnight later, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for Russia to be suspended from the Human Rights Council (UNHCR) in response to Moscows invasion and alleged rights abuses in Ukraine.2 On March 24, another resolution calling for the immediate end to the Russian invasion was supported by the majority of the General Assembly.
Whilst, at least some UN bodies have acknowledged that the murderous behaviour of Russia disqualifies it from participating as an equal member in UN deliberations, it seems, alas, that the Secretariat of the UNs Rotterdam Convention (RC) is yet to get this message.3
On my third attempt to clarify whether a Russian delegation would be attending the June 6-17, 2022 meeting of the RCs 10th Conference of the Parties (COP10), I was told:
Please bear in mind that the Conferences of the Parties are the governing bodies of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions. They are composed of representatives of States and regional economic integration organizations that have accepted, ratified or acceded to the respective Conventions. As such, representatives of all Parties including the Russian Federation may be present at the meetings in accordance with the provisions of the Conventions and the rules of procedure for the Conferences of the Parties to each Convention.4
On May 30, 2022, thirteen civil society groups5 from Asia, Oceania, Latin America and Europe representing millions of trade unionists, asbestos victims, medical professionals, technical experts and concerned citizens wrote to the Secretariat (see: May 30, 2022 letter to the Secretariat) asking how a Russian-backed asbestos lobbying group The International Chrysotile Association6 could be allowed to participate as an Observer at COP10 and hold a side-event with the contemptable and provocative title: SDGs: The contribution of chrysotile asbestos.7
In recent ICA propaganda, the lobbyists claimed that the asbestos policies of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) supported the asbestos industrys fallacious reassurances that chrysotile (white) asbestos could be used safely and posed zero threat to human life or the environment.8 These statements were lies.
Asked to comment on the ICAs propaganda, the ILO and the WHO reacted expeditiously. The statement by a WHO spokesperson on May 23, 2022 was categorical:
The World Health Organization is concerned that countries receive accurate and clear information about the health risks of chrysotile. Chrysotile asbestos causes cancer in humans, specifically, it causes mesothelioma and cancer of the lung, larynx and ovary. The scientific evidence that it causes cancer is conclusive and overwhelming. No threshold for adverse effects has been identified, and therefore it is not possible to establish safe levels of exposure... The World Health Organization reiterates its policy, which remains unchanged, that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to the stop the use of all types of asbestos. WHO continues to offer its support to countries to address the problem of chrysotile asbestos and the serious threat it poses to public health.9
On May 24, 2022, an ILO spokesperson reiterated the Organizations position as follows:
Asbestos, in all of its forms, including chrysotile, is a proven human carcinogen. More than 125 million workers continue to be exposed to asbestos in their working environments. While the most recent estimates indicate that exposure to asbestos causes 210,000 deaths each year, this figure is likely to be underestimated. Occupational exposure to asbestos is the 2nd deadliest occupational risk factor among chemical exposures, and the 4th deadliest occupational risk factor overall...
Noting that all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile, are classified as human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and expressing its concern that workers continue to face serious risks from asbestos exposure, particularly in asbestos removal, demolition, building maintenance, ship breaking, and waste handling activities, it calls for the elimination of the future use of asbestos and the identification and proper management of asbestos currently in place as the most effective means to protect workers from asbestos exposure and to prevent future asbestos-related diseases and deaths.10
The proposed ICA side event on June 14, 2022 at 18:15 does not make a positive contribution to the discussion at the COP. It is a propaganda tool to spread confusion and uncertainty amongst delegates in order to frustrate progress being made which would protect vulnerable populations from even more years of toxic exposures. Asbestos stakeholders are desperate to prevent importing countries being provided essential information to make informed decisions about whether chrysotile asbestos and products containing it can be safely used by their citizens. The right to know the human health and environmental risks posed by importing asbestos is not tantamount to a ban on asbestos but is most certainly a boon to decision-makers.
In a reply from the Secretariat received on June 5, 2022, the extreme disquiet and concern over the attacks on the Rotterdam Convention (RC) and Chemical Review Committee (CRC) by the International Chrysotile Association expressed by the 13 civil society groups were totally ignored.11 Hiding behind bureaucratic flim-flam, the RCs terse communication disregarded the threat posed to the legitimacy of the Convention by the actions and participation of Russian and other asbestos stakeholders at COP10. By refusing to acknowledge the humanitarian disaster and environmental catastrophe caused by Russia in Ukraine,12 the Rotterdam Convention Secretariat ignores not just the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council but also the desperate pleas of Ukrainians and the outrage of civilized countries the world over who are demanding that Putins evil regime be held to account for its actions. Shame on them!
June 6, 2022
1 General Assembly resolution demands end to Russian offensive in Ukraine. March 2, 2022.
UN General Assembly demands Russia end Ukraine war. March 25, 2022.https://www.euractiv.com/section/global-europe/news/un-general-assembly-demands-russia-end-ukraine-war/
3 From 2013 until 2019, a Russian-led cabal of asbestos refusniks blocked progress on listing chrysotile (white) asbestos on Annex III of the Convention. Russia is the worlds leading supplier of asbestos fiber, exporting 500,000+ tonnes of asbestos fiber to customers in Asia and Eastern Europe every year.
4 Email received on April 12, 2022 from the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions, United Nations Environment Programme.
5 The organizations endorsing this letter were: the Building and Wood Workers International, the Asian Ban Asbestos Secretariat, the Asian Network for the Rights of Occupational and Environmental Victims, the Indonesian Ban Asbestos Network, the [Indonesian] Local Initiatives OSH Network, Associação Brasileira dos Expostos ao Amianto [Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed], Associacao de Saude Ambiental Toxisphera [Toxisphera Environmental Health Association] Brazil, the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia, Union Aid Abroad APHEDA, Australia, Australian Council of Trade Unions, Solidar Suisse, International Ban Asbestos Secretariat and Hazards Publications UK.
6 The ICA is the mouthpiece for the global asbestos lobby. Although, its source of funding is a tightly guarded secret, it is not unreasonable to suggest that Russia, which supplies the majority of the worlds annual consumption of asbestos, is one of its largest funders. The ICA is registered in Quebec and its six directors are: Yury Kozlov, from the Uralasbest mine in Russia, Kanat Kopbayev, from the Kostanai asbestos mine in Kazakhstan, Dr. G. Vivekanand and Galvan Carriles representing asbestos stakeholders in India and Mexico respectively, Chirandu Dhlembeu, representing asbestos mining interests in in Zimbabwe and Bob Pigg, former president of the long defunct Asbestos Information Association, North America. The legal representative of the ICA is Emiliano Alonso Pelegrin who has been the spokesperson for the ICA at meetings of the RC and led efforts to block the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance on the Convention's list of hazardous substances. His law firm Alonso & Associates has offices in Belgium and Spain which carry out lobbying activities at the EU and the UN.
7 Schedule of side events at the meetings of the conferences of the Parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions, 6 - 17 June 2022, Geneva, Switzerland.
8 International Chrysotile Association. After 16 years of repetitive discussions, WILL PARTICIPANTS SEE THE LIGHT AT THE COP-10 ROTTERDAM CONVENTION? May 2, 2022.
ICA. COP10 Rotterdam Convention June 2022. ICA Summary for Decision-Makers.
9 Statement issued by the WHO. May 23, 2022.
Also see: WHO. Chrysotile Asbestos. 2014.
10 Email from ILO spokesperson. May 24, 2022.
11 Email from Juliette Volnov Kohler, Senior Legal Officer and Head of the Legal and Policy Unit, Governance Branch, of the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions. June 5, 2022.
12 Верховную Раду призвали запретить асбест и принять закон “Об отходах” [Verkhovna Rada was urged to ban asbestos and adopt the law On Waste]. May 6, 2022.