Toxic Trade News / 19 January 2006
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The Reign of Toxic Terror
by S Faizi, (UK)
19 January 2006 – The French are truly living up to the methods of their hymned revolution by seeking to force their lethal waste, Le Clemenceau, on India rather than treat the same on their own territory. The revolutionaries created the Reign of Terror, one of the most reckless massacres ever committed, and their descendents have created for us the reign of toxic terror.

It is not only in the application of violence that the current scenario evokes the lessons of revolution but also in the glaring dichotomy of the values of the revolution. It was well after the terror laden French revolution that the country has massacred hundreds of thousands of people in Africa and the Caribbean for asking for freedom from occupation, for equality among all humans and for human liberty. The Clemenceau sailing to the Indian shores is a declaration that what is unsafe for the French is readily fit for a Third World country.

The west has transformed contemporary life into a sharp Orwellian irony by arguing war is peace and occupation is freedom. While France and allies keep lecturing down to the South, often with the aid of bombs, on the importance of respecting international laws, here are several international laws thrown into the waste bin on the strength of imperial might. The decision II/12 adopted by the Conference of Parties to the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, in 1994, banning the export of toxic waste by the countries of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, grouping of industrialized countries) to developing countries and its subsequent incorporation into the text of the treaty the next year stand out as tribute to the unusual political will and negotiation skill that developing countries have shown in a multilateral forum. This was something similar to the victory of the South in negotiating a fair and balanced Convention on Biological Diversity, though it has subsequently failed to defend the hard fought provisions of the treaty.

A dead war ship like Clemenceau is obviously a waste, a hazardous one at that. The Conference of Parties to the Basel Convention had through its decision VII/26 had clarified this in order to preempt arguments such as the one held by the French court which has illegally stated that this 270,000 tones of waste containing about 1000 ton cancer causing asbestos that is banned in Europe is a ‘material of war’, and not the hazardous waste that it is. If a dilapidated vessel without an engine, without crew and on tow is not scrap then what is ?

It did not occur to the French court to ask why the ‘material of war’ could not be disposed off in France with all the technological marvel the country possesses. With their values flowing from the French revolution how could the court have made its decision based on the premise that the notions of equality are not limited to the Caucasian boarders? The Supreme Court of India did us in the whole South pride, though the Ministry of Environment has miserably failed us, by asking, in its interim observation, “When the French government had not permitted the ship to be broken there, why should we allow the ship to come to India?”. It said further, “Whether breaking the ship will result in pollution or not is immaterial”. The question, that the government has failed to address, is, why should India take something that is considered unacceptable in France.

The French govt has lied about the quantity of the carcinogenic asbestos- banned in France- in the structures of the end-of-life war ship. While the government claimed that it had only 160 tones, Technopure, the company contracted to undertake the de-commissioning, in an unusual display of honesty, has disclosed that the ship has asbestos between 500-1000 tones. Violation of the Basel Convention is a criminal offense and should this occur on India’s waters criminal proceedings should be initiated against those responsible, and the recalcitrant government should be taken to task as provided by the compliance mechanism of the Convention and the body of international environmental law. In addition to asbestos, the French scrap also contains significant quantities of lead and polychlorinated biphenyls , the latter legally designated as a persistent organic pollutants by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. This as well as the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade require, for the export of these substances, the prior informed consent of the of the countries of import and transit. French government has violated the provisions of these multilateral treaties as well.

I wasn’t entirely surprised to see the Egyptian Environmental Agency caving in after asking the ship’s agents to produce the relevant permits from the national focal points for Basel Convention in India and France. However, like the intervention of the Supreme Court in India, the Egyptian Parliament has asked not to allow passage for the waste through the Zeus, until the issue is discussed in the house, which is apparently a reflection of the flare of democracy seen in the last election to the Parliament.

The industrial world has grown to be too huge a burden for the developing world to bear. The rabidly racist Rudyard Kipling’s ‘whiteman’s burden’ must be corrected as ‘whiteman is the burden’. He has been so, for the last five hundred years. Introducing France Fenon’s classic narrative of the French massacres in Algeria, Jean Paul Sartre told the west, “the Third World sees us through the scars of their wounds”. This great French soul was incorrect, for our wounds have not been healed to have scars.

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