PH Groups Join Global Call to Resolve Minamata Tragedy before Mercury Treaty Named for Victims

Over 200 civil society groups from 70 countries, including over 35 from the Philippines, have asked the Government of Japan to resolve a 55-year old struggle for justice by Minamata mercury pollution victims and survivors.

Through the “Honoring Minamata” statement, the groups insisted that the still ongoing tragedy must be properly addressed by the Government of Japan and the Chisso Corporation before the global mercury treaty can take the name the Minamata Convention in 2013.

A Chisso Corporation plant producing the chemical acetaldehyde using a mercury catalyzed process irresponsibly discharged wastewater tainted with methyl mercury into the Minamata Bay in Kumamoto Prefecture from 1932-1968, causing what is now called the “Minamata disease” among people who ate the contaminated fish and other seafood.

The Japanese government is set to holds meetings on June 26 in Minamata to explain why the new mercury treaty should be named the Minamata Convention, triggering civil society groups around the world to express support for the Minamata victims and survivors.

“We call on the Government of Japan to make a public commitment to resolving the tragedy and to take concrete steps toward a genuine resolution of the tragedy before the treaty is finalized in 2013,” said Mariann Lloyd-Smith, IPEN co-chair. “After 55 years of struggling, we stand in solidarity with the Minamata victims’ groups in calling for a genuine resolution of the problem.”

“Naming the global mercury control treaty the Minamata Convention directly connects the treaty
to the tragedy,” said Olga Speranskaya, IPEN co-chair. “If the treaty has this name, then the victims and their legitimate demands must be honored and the lessons of the Minamata tragedy must be applied to the treaty.”

In 2010, then Prime Minister Hatoyama proposed naming the mercury treaty the Minamata Convention, though the proposal was not discussed with Minamata groups prior to its announcement.

As victims of the Fukushima tragedy mount, the Minamata disaster may provide important lessons about compensation, clean-up, and polluter pays, the groups said.

In January 2011, Minamata victims and supporter groups released a statement on the tragedy at the global mercury treaty negotiation meeting in Chiba, Japan calling on the government to take authentic steps towards its resolution.

Among the local groups that have supported the “Honoring Minamata” statement were Alaga LAHAT, Alliance of Progressive Labor, Alyansa Tigil Mina, Ang Nars, Arugaan, Ban Toxics, Bangon Kalikasan Movement, Buklod Tao, Inc., Cavite Green Coalition, Citizens’ Organization Concerned with Advocating Philippine Environmental Sustainability, Consumer Rights for Safe Food, Ecological Society of the Philippines, EcoWaste Coalition and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives.

Also signing were Green Convergence for Safe Food, Healthy Environment and Sustainable Economy, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Green Stage Filipinas- Maskara, Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Alliance – Philippines, Health Care Without Harm Southeast Asia, Institute for Educational and Ecological Alternatives, Interface Development Interventions, International Academy for Oral Medicine and Toxicology- Asia, Kinaiyahan Foundation, Krusada sa Kalikasan, Ministry of Ecology of Risen Christ Parish (Silang, Cavite) and Miriam P.E.A.C.E.

The other signatories were Mother Earth Foundation, Order of Friars Minor – Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, People’s Alternative Study Center for Research and Education in Social Development Inc., Pesticide Action Network Philippines, Philippine Earth Justice Center, Sagip Sierra Madre Environmental Society, Inc., Sanib Lakas ng mga Aktibong Lingkod ng Inang Kalikasan, Save Sierra Madre Network and the Soljuspax.