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Montevideo, June 5th 2023 - 14:19 UTC



Mercury has catastrophic consequences on Bolivian indigenous peoples, UN experts say

Thursday, December 2nd 2021 - 09:52 UTC
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The Bolivian State is allegedly in breach of the 2013 Minamata Agreement on mercury. Photo: André Bärtschi / WWF Regional. The Bolivian State is allegedly in breach of the 2013 Minamata Agreement on mercury. Photo: André Bärtschi / WWF Regional.

United Nations specialists have sent the Bolivian Government a “Letter of Allegations” after finding irregularities resulting from the unauthorized use of mercury which has brought up environmental and human rights consequences, it was reported Wednesday.

UN rapporteurs Marcos Orellana (toxic substances and human rights) and José Francisco Cali Tzay (rights of Indigenous Peoples) have signed the document in response to the complaint filed in August by the Bolivian Documentation and Information Center (Cedib), the International Pollutant Elimination Network (IPEN) in coordination with Reacción Climate.

The specialists have cited studies which showed high levels of mercury contamination in indigenous women between 18 and 44 years of age from the Esse Ejja indigenous group, settled along the Beni River basin, in areas where gold mining is common practice. These levels of mercury can cause brain damage, blindness, among other effects on the body, the specialists said. They also pointed out the implications of pollution in pregnant women, whose effects on the fetus can cause neurological disability, loss of IQ, in addition to damage to the kidneys and the cardiovascular system.

The UN scientists have also found it alarming that Bolivia does not have specific and effective regulations to adequately control the importation, commercialization and use of mercury, in addition to the illicit traffic of mercury from Bolivia to other countries.

The letter also underlines the lack of effective regulation of mercury in Bolivia, which is directly linked to the extraction of gold, which has quadrupled in the last 9 years in Bolivia, thus raising concern over the excessive increase in the import and use of mercury in Bolivia, with its serious consequences on the environment, as well as on the life and health of Indigenous Peoples.

The Bolivian State is allegedly not only in breach of the Minamata Agreement on mercury, signed in 2013, but also has presented contradictory information on the increase in the amount of gold mining in the country.

Both scholars have also urged Bolivian authorities to adopt all necessary measures to protect the rights and freedoms of the affected indigenous people and communities, in addition to investigating, prosecuting and imposing adequate sanctions on those responsible for human rights violations.

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