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A proposed international treaty to address the damaging effects of mercury should include specific provisions to protect the health of children and other vulnerable populations, Human Rights Watch said today. Governments are to meet in Geneva beginning January 13, 2013, for a fifth and final round of talks for the treaty. Mercury is a toxic metal that attacks the central nervous system and is particularly harmful to children.
So far, the draft treaty has been focused on the environment and neglected the important role that the health sector has to play in addressing the problems caused by mercury, Human Rights Watch said. Western governments have resisted including stronger health provisions.
"Delegates to the mercury treaty negotiations should seize this last chance and draft effective health strategies to prevent and treat mercury poisoning," said Juliane Kippenberg, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Millions of people around the globe are exposed to mercury on a daily basis, in artisanal mining and elsewhere. There is a dire need for stronger prevention and treatment of mercury poisoning."
Human Rights Watch research has documented how small-scale gold miners use mercury to extract gold from the ore, and risk mercury poisoning as a result. At least 13 million people work as artisanal gold miners globally, including many children. Few are aware of the harm mercury can cause.
In Mali, Human Rights Watch interviewed children as young as 11 about their daily work with mercury. InPapua New Guinea, a doctor told Human Rights Watch researchers about the impact of mercury on small-scale gold miners: "We have dozens of cases of mercury poisoning. ....They stare blankly at the wall. You cannot talk to them, they are not conversant, nothing. They are like zombies. And we have several cases that did not recover."
Many health systems are ill-equipped to address mercury poisoning. During a Human Rights Watch investigation in Tanzania, a medical officer in a mining area expressed concern that health workers were "failing to diagnose" people suffering from mercury poisoning because they lack training.
A proposal by Latin American governments for a stand-alone article on health in the mercury treaty was a positive move, Human Rights Watch said. The article should require more public health information, research, surveillance, testing, treatment, and capacity-building of health systems to respond to mercury exposure. In a submission to governments, Human Rights Watch proposed specific language for a health article.
Human Rights Watch welcomed the fact that the current treaty article on small-scale gold mining requires parties to undertake public health activities for artisanal mining communities, but said this is not sufficient to address the problem. Mercury is used in a variety of areas, and as a result affects many different populations. Among other things, it is used in the production of chlorine, of poly vinyl chloride (PVC), a type of plastic, and of batteries, and in dental medicine. Burning fossil fuels, primarily coal, also significantly contributes to mercury emissions.
At the last round of negotiations, in July 2012, Western governments - in particular Canada, the United States, and European Union members - rejected including a stand-alone article on health, contending that treaty is primarily about the environment.
They indicated that including health strategies might interfere with the health sector and drive up the cost of the treaty's implementation. They also said that current references to health strategies in the draft text were sufficient. Their stance caused a heated debate with Latin American and African governments, whose representatives wanted a stronger health article.
"The position of the United States, Canada, and the European Union has been disappointing," Kippenberg said. "Wealthier countries should recognize that environmental and health strategies on mercury go hand in hand, and provide financial support for both."
The treaty is scheduled to be adopted toward the end of 2013 as the "Minamata Convention" in Japan. In the 1950s, the city of Minamata in Japan was the scene of one of the worst mercury poisoning disasters in history, in which more than 1,700 people died and many more suffered lifelong disease and disability. Japan has remained in the background, though, in the debate over including health strategies in the treaty.
"Today, Japan has a chance to say, 'Never again,'" Kippenberg said. "It should take a lesson from Minamata and actively press to include health strategies in the mercury treaty."
Around the world, environmental degradation - including contamination from mercury - has resulted in the denial of rights, including the right to health, Human Rights Watch said. Governments should recognize international human rights law in the preamble to the treaty and integrate human rights into environmental law.
Mercury poisoning can cause a wide range of health problems. Mercury can attack the cardiovascular system, the kidneys, the gastrointestinal tract, the immune system, and the lungs. Symptoms of exposure include tremors, twitching, vision impairment, headaches, and memory and concentration loss. Higher levels of mercury exposure may result in kidney failure, respiratory failure, and death.
Mercury is particularly harmful to unborn babies and infants, and can be transmitted during pregnancy and through breast milk. It can cause irreversible damage to a child's development. Researchers have described mercury poisoning as an "invisible epidemic."
For more Human Rights Watch reporting on the dangers of mercury, please visit:
To read the Human Rights Watch report on the dangers of mercury in Mali, please visit:
To read the Human Rights Watch report on the dangers of mercury in Papua New Guinea, please visit:
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.
"The G7 are trying to sell decades-old and insufficient initiatives as a new 'vision' when at the same time they themselves are complicit in the rising nuclear risks," said the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons—which won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for its work on a landmark treaty banning nukes—and others including survivors of the U.S. atomic bombings of Japan on Friday criticized a Group of Seven joint statement on disarmament as "missing the moment to make the world safer" from the threat of thermonuclear annihilation.
As the G7 summit got underway in Hiroshima, leaders of Japan, Germany, Italy, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, United States—the latter three of which have nuclear arsenals—reiterated their belief that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought."
While the statement acknowledges "the unprecedented devastation and immense human suffering the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki experienced as a result of the atomic bombings" and reaffirms G7 members' "commitment to achieving a world without nuclear weapons," the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) lamented that "it fails to commit to concrete measures towards that goal and even emphasizes the importance of reserving the right to use nuclear weapons."
"The G7 are trying to sell decades-old and insufficient initiatives as a new 'vision' when at the same time they themselves are complicit in the rising nuclear risks and promoting mass murder of civilians as a legitimate form of national security policy," ICAN added.
\u201cBREAKING from Hiroshima: after months of deliberations, the #G7 has just released a statement entitled \u201cG7 Leaders\u2019 Hiroshima Vision on Nuclear Disarmament\u201d.\n\nIt falls way short.\n\nHere\u2019s why \ud83e\uddf5\u00a0 https://t.co/MczDWCOxc5\u201d— ICAN (@ICAN) 1684508458
ICAN said that "the G7's inaction is an insult to the hibakusha, and the memory of those who died in Hiroshima," referring to the Japanese word for survivors of the atomic bombings, which killed between 110,000 and 210,000 people.
G7 leaders spent less than half an hour visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum near ground zero of the August 6, 1945 U.S. nuclear attack. They laid wreaths at the cenotaph memorializing the at least tens of thousands of people who died from the bombing and related illnesses and also met with a handful of hibakusha.
U.S. President Joe Biden drew fire for his refusal to apologize for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.
"If the U.S. admitted that murdering noncombatants in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was inexcusable, it might face questions about [the] legitimacy of maintaining [a] vastly more destructive stockpile now," writer and activist Jon Reinsch tweeted, referring to the approximately 5,400 nuclear warheads in the American arsenal—the world's second-largest after Russia, which has around 6,000 warheads, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
\u201c"Biden not to issue apology in Hiroshima for US use of atomic bomb"\nBecause if US admitted that murdering noncombatants in Hiroshima & Nagasaki was inexcusable, it might face questions about legitimacy of maintaining vastly more destructive stockpile now.\nhttps://t.co/ZeKCljPQr4\u201d— Jon Reinsch (@Jon Reinsch) 1684445246
Meanwhile, street protesters condemned nuclear weapons, the "imperialist summit," military aid to Ukraine, and Japan's complicity in U.S. militarism—especially toward China.
"Japan is saying it will send a peaceful message of abolishing nuclear weapons to the world through this summit, but at the same time it is seeking to rely on nuclear weapons to achieve 'national security.' This is contradictory," Ichiro Yuasa, a spokesperson for the advocacy group Peace Depot, told teleSUR.
\u201c"It is the wish for peace of all Hiroshima people that Japan should acknowledge its wartime atrocities...apologize and make compensation, learn the lessons of the war and prevent the tragedy from happening again."\n\n\u2014Hiroshima resident Yukio Nishioka:\nhttps://t.co/ACXxXf9c1R\u201d— mtp (@mtp) 1684469009
Some hibakusha renewed criticism of leaders of nuclear-armed nations for failing to pursue meaningful disarmament, including their refusal to join scores of countries in signing the landmark Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
"This is not the genuine nuclear disarmament that hibakusha are calling for. This is an evasion of their responsibility," Satoshi Tanaka, a survivor of the atomic bombing and secretary general of the Liaison Conference of Hiroshima Hibakusha Organizations, said of the G7 statement.
"Prime Minister [Fumio] Kishida has said that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is the final passage for a nuclear weapons-free world," Tanaka added. "No, it is not a final passage. It is the entry point. Prime Minister Kishida and other G7 leaders should accept the TPNW and start the real process of eliminating nuclear weapons."
\u201cMessage to #G7 world leaders from hibakusha.\u201d— NHK\u5e83\u5cf6\u653e\u9001\u5c40 (@NHK\u5e83\u5cf6\u653e\u9001\u5c40) 1684458000
Derek Johnson, managing partner of the Global Zero movement for the abolition of nuclear weapons, said that "while the G7 statement embraces the goal of global zero and recites a familiar list of worthwhile ambitions, none acknowledge the fierce urgency of now."
"This is long on vision but short on strategy; Hiroshima deserves to be more than a symbolic setting, and the world deserves more than thoughts and prayers for disarmament," he added.
\u201cWhile the G7 statement embraces the goal of #globalzero and recites a familiar list of worthwhile ambitions, none acknowledge the fierce urgency of now. The world deserves more than thoughts and prayers for nuclear disarmament.\n\nMy full statement here \u2014> https://t.co/46KNynTsjz\u201d— Derek Johnson (@Derek Johnson) 1684512001
ICAN executive director Daniel Hogstra responded to the G7 statement by asserting that "this is more than a missed opportunity."
"With the world facing the acute risk that nuclear weapons could be used for the first time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed, this is a gross failure of global leadership," Hogstra contended, referring to rising fears since Russia invaded Ukraine last year.
"Simply pointing fingers at Russia and China is insufficient," he added. "We need the G7 countries, which all either possess, host, or endorse the use of nuclear weapons, to step up and engage the other nuclear powers in disarmament talks if we are to reach their professed goal of a world without nuclear weapons."
"These MAGA extremists will not rest until they've either turned America into a deadbeat nation or imposed cruel cuts on American families," said Rep. Brendan Boyle.
Hours after the far-right House Freedom Caucus demanded that Speaker Kevin McCarthy call off debt ceiling talks with President Joe Biden, GOP negotiators did just that on Friday as the two sides remained at an impasse over federal spending—which Republicans want to slash deeply—and other issues.
"It's time to press pause because it's just not productive," Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), McCarthy's handpicked lead negotiator, told reporters Friday without saying when or whether talks would resume.
McCarthy (R-Calif.) echoed Graves, saying, "Yeah, we've got to pause."
An unnamed White House official told the Associated Press Friday that additional talks "will be difficult" given the two sides' "real differences."
The abrupt halt to negotiations, which had yet to yield much if any substantive progress, came at a pivotal moment, with the June 1 "X-date" less than two weeks away.
"The nation is days away from a disastrous default crisis and the extreme MAGA Majority is splintering into camps of the unreasonable and the absurd," said Liz Zelnick, director of economic security and corporate power at the progressive group Accountable.US.
"Republicans have made it clear they will hold the world economy hostage unless President Biden gives in to their demands."
Members of the House Freedom Caucus, a faction of dozens of Republicans that nearly denied McCarthy the speakership earlier this year, have signaled that they won't accept anything less than the extreme legislation the House GOP passed late last month.
If approved, that bill would impose devastating cuts to federal spending and kick millions of people off of federal nutrition assistance, Medicaid, rental assistance, and other programs while only raising the debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion—or suspending it through March 2024.
"House Republicans did our job on debt ceiling," the Freedom Caucus tweeted Thursday. "It's time for President Biden and Senate Democrats to do theirs and pass the Limit, Save, Grow Act."
But the legislation in its current form has no chance of passing the Senate, which is narrowly controlled by Democrats. Progressives in the House and Senate have said they won't support any deal that includes the GOP's regressive spending caps or additional work requirements for federal aid programs.
Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said in response to the Freedom Caucus' statement that the far-right GOP faction is "pro-default," adding that "these MAGA extremists will not rest until they've either turned America into a deadbeat nation or imposed cruel cuts on American families."
"This is exactly why I filed a discharge petition to ensure we can avoid default, pay our bills, and save our economy," Boyle added.
But Boyle's discharge petition, which would force a House floor vote on legislation to raise the debt ceiling, is also a longshot solution to the Republican-induced crisis given that it needs at least five GOP votes.
"Let's be clear: this did not have to happen," Boyle said in a statement earlier this week. "By taking our economy hostage and refusing to address the debt ceiling, MAGA extremists have forced Congress to consider other pathways to meet our constitutional obligation—something Congress has done more than 100 times before on a bipartisan basis, including three times in the previous administration."
\u201cMAGA Republicans are the only ones threatening to kill millions of jobs unless they get their demands for cruel cuts.\n\nThey can end this crisis whenever they want \u2014 all they have to do is stop holding our economy hostage.\u201d— Rep. Brendan Boyle (@Rep. Brendan Boyle) 1684519839
As an alternative to legislative action, nearly a dozen senators led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are imploring Biden to get ready to invoke the 14th Amendment to avert a debt default, warning that Republicans aren't negotiating in good faith and are willing to wreck the global economy in pursuit of punishing austerity.
Biden aides are reportedly concerned about the legal fight that would certainly ensue if the president attempted to use his executive authority to end the standoff.
But Sanders reiterated his 14th Amendment message on Friday, writing on Twitter that "Republicans have made it clear they will hold the world economy hostage unless President Biden gives in to their demands."
"Instead," Sanders added, "he should prepare to use the 14th Amendment to ensure we pay our debts and protect working families who are already struggling."
At a talk by Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, activists said that private security guards and Politico staff "brutalized" the demonstrators in their efforts to remove them.
A coalition of climate activists from CodePink, Climate Defiance, Climate First!, and Stop the Money Pipeline disrupted two talks at the Politico Energy Summit at Washington D.C.'s Schuyler event space Thursday, calling out corporate greenwashing and the Biden administration's approval of destructive fossil fuel projects.
At a talk by Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, protesters rushed the stage chanting, "No MVP, no LNG, Granholm you are killing me." Private security guards and Politico staff "brutalized" the demonstrators, the activists said, choking some, body slamming others, and dragging one woman out by her hair.
"We heard the first eight minutes of the conversation with Granholm," Jay Waxse of Climate Defiance told Common Dreams. "From the beginning she was justifying the need for new pipelines, like the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). Especially with her background in clean energy policy, these fossil fuel projects she and the Biden administration are greenlighting are especially horrible."
\u201cUPDATE: we sparked a peaceful mutiny at a speech by U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm.\n\nThey choked us and body slammed us and put us in grave danger. \n\nBut we will keep coming back. They can brutalize our bodies. They cannot brutalize our ideas.\n\u201d— Climate Defiance (@Climate Defiance) 1684465259
President Joe Biden and his administration have disappointed climate campaigners for failing to uphold a campaign promise not to approve any more oil and gas drilling on federal lands. Despite this pledge, Biden actually approved more drilling during his first two years in office than did former President Donald Trump.
In particular, the activists targeted Granholm over two projects: the Alaska LNG Project and the MVP.
The Department of Energy signed off on the Alaska LNG Project in April, despite the fact that its own environmental impact statement found that the project—which would export as many as 20 million metric tons of fracked gas overseas starting in 2030—would spew 2.7 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions over its lifetime—10 times more than the Biden-approvedWillow project.
"This carbon bomb would lock in billions of tons of pollution and cause severe harm to Alaska's arctic wilderness," Waxse said in a statement. "It's completely unacceptable."
Also in April, Granholm sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) affirming the Biden administration's support for the MVP that would carry fossil gas through Virginia and West Virginia.
"We've been treated as a sacrifice zone for so long that I'm absolutely fed up."
"Right now she is giving the thumbs up to the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which is a 300-mile long pipeline that would go through my home state, and we've been treated as a sacrifice zone for so long that I'm absolutely fed up and not willing to just sit by and let things like this slide," Climate Defiance organizer Rylee Haught said in a video interview after the action.
\u201cSpeaking outside the energy summit, activists with @ClimateDefiance discuss their protest today, criticizing Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm\u2019s support for the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Biden Administration\u2019s approval of oil and gas projects\u201d— Brendan Gutenschwager (@Brendan Gutenschwager) 1684445882
Granholm's talk began at around 4:25 pm ET, Waxse told Common Dreams. The first question Politico asked Granhom was about how she justified her approval of the MVP, but Waxse and Haught said in the video interview that her answer was not satisfying and that Politico did not challenge it.
In general, Haught criticized the way the media has framed the response to the Biden administration's sign off on fossil fuel projects.
Reports will say, "'Biden's ticked off some environmentalists,'" she explained, "when really they should be saying that Biden is currently harming the futures of all of us, not just the environmentalists."
The activists disrupted the talk at 4:34 pm, Waxse told Common Dreams. There were 15 activists in the room, including those filming, before security acted quickly to remove them.
"They ripped us out super quick," Haught said in the video interview, adding that she was so agitated by the response that she threw up in the parking lot afterward.
Climate Defiance documented security's aggression in a Twitter thread.
"The militarized response was unlike anything we've ever seen. A Black man was told 'we can shoot you, like you do each other,' the group wrote. "A woman had her neck mashed to the ground."
\u201cURGENT: we found a picture of the woman who mashed our organizer\u2019s neck into the wood floor. We have reason to believe she may be a \u201cjournalist.\u201d Share widely. We need people to see her face. We need her actions to be known. She needs to be banned from her \u201cprofession.\u201d\u201d— Climate Defiance (@Climate Defiance) 1684505356
Climate Defiance said protesters were carted out by their feet, "one misstep away from a catastrophic injury."
The aggression toward the protesters carried over into racial profiling against other summit attendees.
"Black people who didn't even come as part of our group were summarily turned away. One was assaulted by a private security force—told the event was 'full' as white people in suits were allowed to stream in, unquestioned. Three unaffiliated Black women were kicked out," Climate Defiance tweeted.
The group criticized Politico for the violence of its response, as well as for taking money from utilities TC Energy—the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline—and Southern Company to fund the summit.
German media company Axel Springer—which has been known to compromise journalistic ethics to support right-wing talking points—purchased Politico in 2021, as Foreign Policy reported.
"Cancel you[r] subscription to politico. They hosted the event. They militarized it. They took money from utilities to pay for it," Climate Defiance tweeted.
In addition to the Granholm event, three demonstrators also interrupted a panel at around 1:50 pm ET that included Citibank chief sustainability officer Val Smith, presenting her with a "Greenwashing Award."
"It's hard to find a bank more committed to greenwashing than Citi," Arielle Swernoff, U.S. Banks Campaign Manager at Stop the Money Pipeline, said in a statement. "It has worked so hard to appear to be a climate leader yet is the most egregious example of a climate laggard. By almost every metric, Citi appears at the top of the league when it comes to funding fossil fuels and enabling environmental racism. As a global bank, Citi's greenwashing is playing a major role in stopping action on climate change."
\u201c#BREAKING: We just disrupted @Politico Energy Summit: Congratulations @ValCookSmith for getting @Citibank - a major climate destroyer - on a sustainability panel about climate solutions! #StoptheMoneyPipeline #POLITICOEnergy\u201d— Stop the Money Pipeline (@Stop the Money Pipeline) 1684435587
Citi is the second-greatest funder of fossil fuels in the world, according to Banking on Climate Chaos. While the bank has set emissions reductions targets for 2030 and 2050, it has not detailed how it will work with high-emitting clients to meet them, the Sierra Clubnoted in March.