What Africans Can Do Now To Protect Themselves from Toxic Waste Dumping
An Urgent Briefing Document for African States from the Basel Action Network
28 September 2006 (Seattle)
In the wake of the horribly tragic dumping of toxic chemical waste in Cote d'Ivoire in West Africa, it is vital that we channel our outrage into actions that will both help to prevent future dumpings of this kind, but moreover provide the possibility for justice should such unscrupulous acts take place again. While, Europe and the developed world must bear their primary responsibility, it is vital that Africa do what needs to be done to ensure that the international laws which Africa helped bring into place to deal with this type of toxic trade are in fact ratified and enforced globally. It is ironic that only a handful of African states have ratified the single most important international accord designed to prevent and criminalize this type of affront to the environment and human rights. That accord, which Africa was instrumental in creating is known as the Basel Convention's Ban Amendment. Not to be confused with the Basel Convention, which is primarily a paper notification regime and the framework treaty, the Basel Ban Amendment adopted in 1995 completely forbids export of hazardous wastes for any reason moving from developed to developing countries. Yet this agreement has still not entered into global force due both to a lack of ratifications and also due to ambiguity as to which countries can be instrumental in bringing the amendment into legal force. The most terrible irony is that Cote d'Ivoire has not ratified this amendment. Indeed only 10 African countries have done so. Furthermore, there is now an opportunity for African states to press for rapid entry into force of this ban amendment at the upcoming Basel Conference in Nairobi at the end of November of this year to overcome a controversy there as to when this amendment should enter into force. Further, African states that have not already done so, should ratify the Bamako Convention, which is Africa's own continental treaty barring hazardous waste importation into Africa. Finally African States must diligently enforce and implement the international accords they sign and ratify.
1. African States must Ratify the Ban Amendment Now
It is unfortunate that only 10 African states have ratified the very agreement which they were responsible for bringing into being -- the Basel Ban Amendment. Only Botswana, Ethiopia, Egypt, Gambia, Ghana, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Tunisia have ratified the accord. IT IS VITAL that all African Governments take immediate steps to deposit their instrument of ratification in the New York depository of the United Nations. Usually the first step is for the competent authorities of the Basel Convention to brief there minister on the importance of the matter. Then the Minister approaches the head of state or Parliamentary Committee for action. Once the political decision has been made usually be a vote of Parliament or by Presidential decree, this ratification can be transmitted to the United Nations. For information on how this is done, the legal officer of the Basel Convention can be contacted: Ms. Donata Rugarabamu <firstname.lastname@example.org>. It is vital that at the upcoming meeting of the Basel Convention (COP8) in Nairobi, Kenya at the end of November that the African states come fully able to state that the ratification is accomplished or underway.
2. African States Must Call for the Most Rapid Interpretation of Entry into Force of Ban Amendment at COP8 Meeting in Nairobi
Regarding the Ban Amendment, the Basel Convention is now engaged in a debate as to precisely how amendments enter into force in the Convention. In the Convention's Article 17 there is text which appears somewhat ambiguous. Article 17 talks about entry into force happening after 3/4th of the Parties of the Parties "having accepted them" have ratified. The parties that were present in 1995 when the Amendment was adopted, numbered 82. While it is known that 3/4ths of 82 is 62, and currently we have exactly 62 ratifications, what is being debated is whether the 62 can be drawn from the number of Parties that exist today, or must be drawn only from the Parties that were present and voting in 1995. This debate needs to be resolved by the Parties to the Basel Convention themselves. They alone can resolve the ambiguity. However there are countries like the United States, Canada, and Japan that have opposed the Basel Ban Amendment and would not like to see it come into force. Therefore what is needed is a strong push led by African States to call for the most rapid interpretation of entry into force of the amendment; that is that already we have the necessary 62 and the Amendment should go into force NOW. This important decision can take place at the Basel Convention Conference of the Parties (COP8) which for the very first time will take place in Africa. Africans must come to the meeting prepared to demand an interpretation of Article 17 which will ensure immediate entry into force of the Ban Amendment. Further, they should indicate in advance to the Basel Secretariat and COP8 President of the Bureau of this preferred interpretation. Recently a letter went out from the Bureau president asking for such guidance: http://www.basel.int/notif-expbur-200606.pdf
3. Ratify the Bamako Convention
Also very important and to be done simultaneously to Basel Ban ratification, is ratification of Africa's own Convention on Hazardous Waste known as the Bamako Convention. While this treaty is very important, it is not a replacement for the Basel Ban Amendment because that agreement places the responsibility and obligations to end this trade on exporting developed nations (OECD/EU and Liechtenstein) where such obligations rightly belong and can be properly enforced.
For the text of this Convention see: http://www.ban.org/Library/bamako_treaty.html.
For a list of current ratifications of Bamako please visit:
The countries that have ratified already are: Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Comoros, Congo, Dem. Rep. of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gambia, Libya, Mali, Mozambique, Mauritius, Niger, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
4. Diligent Enforcement of Anti-waste Dumping Laws Required Particularly for Ongoing Shipments of Electronic Waste
Finally, it is vital that the above Conventions or national laws forbidding or controlling toxic waste imports be diligently implemented and prosecuted on the ground. Currently as the Basel Action Network documented last year there is a very significant and legally questionable trade in hazardous electronic wastes, including old televisions, computers, and cell phones, arriving in Africa. While it is often exported as "non-waste" working equipment, it is however 75% useless material which gets dumped and burned. BAN's report on this constant waste dumping in Africa entitled "The Digital Dump" can be downloaded from the Ban website at www.ban.org. It is important that each country assess this growing trade and be prepared to turn back imports that are not certified as working equipment from the state authorities of export.
Just as in the late 1980s and early 1990s when Africa rose up and demanded the creation of the Basel Convention and the Basel Ban Amendment and the Bamako
Convention, it will be vital for Africa again to press the international community for an end to the abuse of the African Continent and indeed the world. Civil society groups should apply pressure and encouragement to their governments to fulfill the above 4 crucial steps still needed some 20 years after this ugly form of trade first surfaced.
BAN would appreciate hearing from you on what steps your country is taking or will be taking. Contact: Jim Puckett at email@example.com
For more information: visit the website of the Basel Action Network: www.ban.org
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