GENEVA (25 October 2018) – A UN human rights expert has urged the Japanese Government to halt the ongoing relocation of evacuees who are children and women of reproductive age to areas of Fukushima where radiation levels remain higher than what was considered safe or healthy before the nuclear disaster seven years ago.
The UN Special Rapporteur on hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak, will present a report to the General Assembly in New York today, highlighting key cases of victims of toxic pollution brought to his attention in recent years that demand global action. The expert said the Japanese Government’s decision to raise by 20 times what it considered to be an acceptable level of radiation exposure was deeply troubling, highlighting in particular the potentially grave impact of excessive radiation on the health and wellbeing of children.
“It is disappointing to see Japan appear to all but ignore the 2017 recommendation of the UN human rights monitoring mechanism (UPR) to return back to what it considered an acceptable dose of radiation before the nuclear disaster,” he said.
Following the nuclear disaster in 2011, which was triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami, Japan raised the acceptable level of radiation for residents in Fukushima from 1 mSv/year to 20 mSv/year. The recommendation to lower acceptable levels of exposure to back to 1 mSv/yr was proposed by the Government of Germany and the Government of Japan ‘accepted to follow up’ on it, according to the UN database. However, in the expert’s view, the recommendation is not being implemented.
Japan has a duty to prevent and minimise childhood exposure to radiation, added the UN expert referring to his 2016 report on childhood exposure to toxics. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Japan is a Party, contains a clear obligation on States to respect, protect and fulfil the right of the child to life, to maximum development and to the highest attainable standard of health, taking their best interests into account. This, the expert said, requires State parties such as Japan to prevent and minimise avoidable exposure to radiation and other hazardous substances.
The Special Rapporteur said Japan should provide full details as to how its policy decisions in relation to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, including the lifting of evacuation orders and the setting of radiation limits at 20mSv/y, are not in contravention of the guiding principles of the Convention, including the best interests of the chid.
Tuncak has expressed his concerns at the Human Rights Council in recent years, accompanied by explicit requests and pleas by concerned organisations for the Government to invite the mandate to conduct an official visit. The Japanese Government has a standing invitation to all mandate holders but has not to date invited the mandate on hazardous substances and wastes to conduct an official country visit.
Seven years after the nuclear disaster, actions for the reconstruction and revitalisation of Fukushima are in full implementation process, with evacuation orders lifted for most of the areas, and with plans in place for lifting evacuation orders in even the highest contaminated areas during the next five years. In March 2017 housing subsidies reportedly stopped to be provided to self-evacuees, who fled from areas other than the government-designated evacuation zones.
“The combination of the Government’s decision to lift evacuation orders and the prefectural authorities’ decision to cease the provision of housing subsidies, places a large number of self-evacuees under immense pressure to return,” Tuncak said.
“The gradual lifting of evacuation orders has created enormous strains on people whose lives have already been affected by the worst nuclear disaster of this century. Many feel they are being forced to return to areas that are unsafe, including those with radiation levels above what the Government previously considered safe.”
The presentation of the thematic report at the General Assembly today will be live-streamed on the United Nations Web TV.
Mr. Baskut Tuncak is Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes. As a Special Rapporteur, he is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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