Tuesday, January 25, 2011

‘Minamata’ tag for treaty nixed

THE proposal to name a global mercury-control treaty after Minamata—a serious and often deadly illness caused by exposure to methylmercury—has raised eyebrows among environmental groups, saying the tragedy must be properly addressed first by the Japanese government and Chisso Corp.

The disease had been so named because its first outbreak was found near Minamata Bay in Japan in 1959.

Seventy-five groups from 42 countries signed a statement of solidarity with Minamata victims, including environment groups from the Philippines, such as the waste-and-pollution watchdog EcoWaste Coalition, Ang NARS, Arugaan, Ban Toxics, Cavite Green Coalition, Citizens Concerned with Advocating Environmental Sustainability, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Health Care Without Harm, Institute for the Development of Educational and Ecological Alternatives, Mother Earth Foundation and Sanib Lakas ng mga Aktibong Lingkod ng Inang Kalikasan.

They signed the Honoring Minamata Statement at the Makuhari Messe Conference Centre in Chiba, Japan, the site of the second negotiating meeting for the mercury-control treaty, in protest of the plan to name the global mercury treaty Minamata Convention.

The groups insisted that naming the global mercury-control treaty the Minamata Convention directly connects the treaty to the tragedy.

It will be recalled that in 2010, then-Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama proposed naming the mercury-control treaty the Minamata Convention although the proposal was not discussed with Minamata groups before the announcement.

“We call on the government of Japan to make a public commitment to resolving the tragedy and to take concrete steps toward a genuine resolution of the tragedy before the treaty is finalized in 2013,” said Mariann Lloyd-Smith, International POPs Elimination Network (Ipen) cochairman. “After 55 years of struggling, we stand in solidarity with the Minamata victims’ groups in calling for a genuine resolution of the problem.”

Ipen is a global public-interest NGO network with more than 700 organizations in 100 countries in all regions. It collaborated to advance the common goal of creating a strong and effective global POPs treaty.

Earlier, the Minamata victims and supporter groups issued a statement expressing their opposition to naming the international treaty for the Minamata disaster before victims’ issues were resolved. The groups called for clarity on the full extent of the disaster, compensation for all victims, implementation of the “polluter pays” principle and full cleanup of the mercury contamination in Minamata Bay and Shiranui Sea.

Over the years, more victims have come out and now tens of thousands of people have reported being stricken with the disease.

Methylmercury entered the bay from the wastewater discharges of a plant owned by the Chisso Corp.

The plant produced the chemical acetaldehyde using a mercury-catalyzed process. Although the disease was first diagnosed in 1959, the Chisso plant continued discharging methylmercury into the bay through 1968.

Despite a public apology by Japanese Prime Minster Yukio Hatoyama in 2010 and a 2004 ruling by the Supreme Court of Japan that the government of Japan and the Kumamoto Prefecture were responsible for not preventing the spread of the disease after 1960, the vast majority of victims remain unrecognized and uncompensated.


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