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HAZARDOUS WASTES PROTOCOL OPENED FOR SIGNATURE

by Someshwar Singh


Geneva, 7 March 2000 -- Three months after its adoption by governments, the Protocol on Liability and Compensation for Damage Resulting from the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal is being opened for signature Monday in the Swiss capital of Bern.

According to informatoin by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Protocol will remain open for signature until 17 March at Switzerland's Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. The Protocol is linked to the 1989 Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. "The Basel Convention is the first environmental treaty to establish a legally binding regime for liability and compensation," said Per Bakken, Officer in Charge of the Basel Convention Secretariat, which is administered by UNEP. "Today's signing ceremony therefore celebrates a major step forward in global environmental protection."

Mr. Moritz Leuenberger, Federal Councillor of Switzerland, was the first government minister to sign. Many other governments are expected to follow.

The Protocol will later be open for signature at United Nations Headquarters in New York from April 1 to 10 December 2000. Governments must then ratify or accede before becoming Parties.

The agreement will enter into force after it has received 20 ratifications.

The Protocol was adopted by the fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention on 10 December 1999. It will provide a comprehensive regime for determining liability and ensuring prompt and adequate compensation in the event of damages resulting from the transboundary movements and disposal of hazardous wastes, including illegal traffic in those wastes.

The Protocol will determine who is financially responsible in the event of an incident. Each phase of a transboundary movement, from the generation of wastes to their export, international transit, import, and final disposal, is considered. The meeting that adopted the Protocol also adopted a decision on assisting developing countries and countries with economies in transition, in cases of emergency.

The Protocol negotiations began in 1993 in response to developing countries concerns about their lack of funds and technology for coping with illegal dumping or accidental spills.

The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal was adopted in 1989 and entered into force in 1992.

As of today, 133 states and the European Union are Parties to the Convention. The Convention addresses the problems posed by the annual world-wide production of hundreds of millions of tonnes of hazardous wastes.

These wastes are considered hazardous to people and the environment if they are toxic, poisonous, explosive, corrosive, flammable, eco-toxic, or infectious.

The Convention regulates the movements of these wastes and obliges its members to ensure that such wastes are managed and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner. Governments are expected to minimize the quantities that are transported, to treat an dispose of wastes as close as possible to where they were generated, and to minimize the generation of hazardous wastes at source. (SUNS4622)

The above article first appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS) .

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