Paraguay must undertake an effective and thorough investigation into fumigations with agrochemicals and the subsequent poisoning of peoples, including children, and contamination of water, soil and food, according to an expert UN body.
In a decision published last week in Geneva, the UN Human Rights Committee urged Paraguay to prosecute those responsible, to make full reparation to the victims, and to publish the decision in a daily newspaper with a large circulation.
The full decision is available to read on-line.
The victims are rural workers from the same family, engaged in family farming in Canindeyú Department, an area of major expansion of agribusinesses and extensive mechanized cultivation of genetically modified soybeans.
The large-scale use of toxic agrochemicals in the region has had severe impacts on the victims’ living conditions, health, livelihoods, contaminating water resources and aquifers, preventing the use of streams, and causing the loss of fruit trees, the death of various farm animals and severe crop damage. The victims have experienced a range of physical symptoms, including nausea, dizziness, headaches, fever, stomach pains, vomiting, diarrhoea, coughing and skin lesions. The contamination has so far resulted in the death of one person and the poisoning of 22 other inhabitants of this community.
An amparo –a remedy for the protection of constitutional rights– was filed. The Court noted that, by failing to discharge its duties, the Ministry of the Environment and the National Plant and Seed Quality and Health Service have allowed serious physical harm: “the State failed to honour its obligation or discharge its duty to protect the constitutional right to health, to physical and psychological integrity, to quality of life and to live in a healthy and ecologically sound environment”. The court ordered both institutions “to protect environmental resources and ensure that buffer zones separate the areas where agricultural phytosanitary products are used, from human settlements […] and waterways”. Nevertheless, the decision has not been implemented. Fumigations have continued without any environmental protection measures, and soybean producers located next to the victims’ home are still applying massive amounts of agrochemicals without environmental permits.
A criminal complaint was lodged and samples were collected from the well at the victims’ home. The results showed the presence of banned agrochemicals. More than eight years after the facts, the investigations have made no substantive progress and have not led to any finding of criminal responsibility or to the redress of the harm.
The Human Rights Committee, an independent body composed of 18 international human rights experts, observes the existence of an undeniable link between the protection of the environment and the realization of human rights. The Committee recalls that the right to life also concerns the entitlement of individuals to enjoy a life with dignity and to be free from acts or omissions that would cause their unnatural or premature death.
In the present case, the Committee notes that Paraguay did not exercise adequate controls over illegal polluting activities. The Committee concludes that heavily spraying the area with toxic agrochemicals poses a reasonably foreseeable threat to the victims’ lives. Therefore, the Committee declares the violation of the right to life and the right to private life, family and home.
“This is a landmark decision in favour of the recognition of the link between severe harms to environment and the enjoyment of core civil and political rights. Hundreds of similar cases around the world could be submitted for our consideration. We deeply encourage States to protect the right to life understood as the right to enjoy a life with dignity against environmental pollution”, said Hélène Tigroudja, Member of the Committee.
As Paraguay acceded in 1995 to the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Committee has the mandate to examine allegations of human rights violations by the State party. The Committee has requested Paraguay to report back within 180 days, detailing the measures it had been taken to implement the decision.
The Human Rights Committee monitors States parties’ adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which to date has 173 States parties. The Committee is made up of 18 members who are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties.