MINELRES: ERRC Action Concerning Roma Living on Toxic Site

MINELRES moderator minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Mon Dec 6 13:28:23 2004


Original sender: European Roma Rights Center <errc@errc.org>


Press Release

Kosovo Authorities Place Roma in Poisonous Area

On November 26, 2004, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) sent a
letter to Mr Pascale Moreau, Head of UNHCR Kosovo, Mr Bob Cruz, Head of
UNMIK Administration in Mitrovica/Mitrovice, and Mr Dragisa Milovi?,
President of 
the Zveean/Zvecan Municipal Assembly, expressing concern at the apparent
unwillingness of their respective offices to move 112 Romani families
living in camps for Internally Displaced Persons who were found to have
high levels of lead in their bloodstreams to safe living areas. In its
letter, the ERRC demanded that the UNHCR, UNMIK and Zveean/Zvecan
municipal authorities take immediate actions to move the Romani families
to safe living areas and arrange for the provision of all necessary
medical treatment for all affected persons. The full text of the
November 26 ERRC letter follows:


Honourable Mr Moreau, Mr Cruz and Mr Milovi?,

The European Roma Right Center (ERRC), an international public interest
law organisation which monitors the human right situation of Roma and
provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, is deeply
concerned by reports of the UNHCR, UNMIK and the responsible
Zveean/Zvecan municipal authorities’ unwillingness to move one hundred
and twelve Romani families living in camps for Internally Displaced
Persons (IDPs) in Mitrovica/Mitrovice (North Mitrovica Romani camp) and
Zveean/Zvecan (Zitkovac Romani camp), who were earlier this year found
to have high blood lead levels (BLLs) by the World Health Organisation
(WHO).

According to information provided to the ERRC by Mr Paul Polansky of the 
Kosovo Roma Refugee Foundation (KRRF), the UNHCR built the IDP camps in 
question in 1999 very near a toxic waste site, despite the protests of
Mr Polansky, who was at the time an advisor to the UNHCR on Romani
issues. WHO documentation dated July 11, 2004, on file with the ERRC,
reveals
extremely harmful BLLs in Romani residents of the North Mitrovica and
Zitkovac IDP camps. The US Center for Disease Control recommends that
special attention be given to BLLs higher than 10 g/dl. WHO testing of
18 Romani persons indicates that all have BLLs above 10 g/dl, six of
whom tested between 45 and 64.99 g/dl BLL and six of whom tested above
65 g/dl BLL. The BLLs are reportedly highest among young children, with
twelve children between the ages of 2 and 3 years of age old
experiencing such high BLLs that they require anti-convulsive
medication.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an agency of the
US Department of Health and Human Services, reports that the "main
target for lead toxicity is the nervous system, both in adults and in
children. Long-term exposure of adults to lead at work has resulted in
decreased performance in some tests that measure functions of the
nervous system. [...] At high levels of exposure, lead can severely
damage the brain and kidneys in adults or children. In pregnant women,
high levels of exposure to lead may cause miscarriage. High-level
exposure in men can damage the organs responsible for sperm production."

According to US Environmental Protection Agency, "The main treatment for
lead-poisoning is to stop the exposure. Removing the lead from a
person's environment helps to ensure a decline in blood-lead levels. The
longer a person is exposed to lead, the greater the likelihood that
damage to the person's health will result." Mr Polansky has informed the
ERRC that despite his urging, the UNHCR has refused to remove the
affected Romani IDPs, and particularly children and pregnant women, from
the camps in the absence of a permanent solution. The ERRC has seen
correspondence indicating that the UNHCR regards municipal authorities
as responsible for the camps. The WHO also recommended in July 2004 that
children and pregnant women be moved from the area until confirmation of
the routes of exposure were identified, that municipal authorities end
all smelting activities in the camps, and that fresh water be provided
in the camps. The ERRC is alarmed at the evident unwillingness on the
part of the UNHCR and municipal authorities to take emergency steps in
line with the recommendations of the WHO or to remove the displaced
Romani families from the camps they established and which are now
causing serious harms and threats of further extreme harms to the health
of residents.

Honourable Mr Moreau, Mr Cruz and Mr Milovi?, Article 12(1) of the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR),
to which Serbia and Montenegro succeded in 1992, guarantees "the right
of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of
physical and mental health." The Committee on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights (CESCR), which monitors compliance with the ICESCR, has
interpretted the right to health "as an inclusive right extending not
only to timely and appropriate health care but also to the underlying
determinants of health, such as access to safe and potable water and
adequate sanitation, an 
adequate supply of safe food, nutrition and housing, healthy
occupational and environmental conditions [...]." The ERRC notes that
the European Court of Human Rights has found states in violation of a
number of provisions
of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) including Article 2
(right to life) and Article 8 (right to private and family life) in
cases in which authorities have been alerted to environmental hazards to
individuals and have failed to act adequately, appropriately or with all
due speed proportionate to the threatened harm. These issues may also
implicate ECHR Article 3 (ban on cruel and inhuman or degrading
treatment or punishment) as well as Article 14 (ban on discrimination)
and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy).

Honourable Mr Moreau, Mr Cruz and Mr Milovi?, the ERRC is deeply
concerned\ that, despite being aware of the extreme health concerns
posed by the location of the camps, UNHCR, UNMIK and local government
officials have failed to take actions to ensure the safety of the
affected families. The ERRC demands that the UNHCR, UNMIK and
Zveean/Zvecan municipal authorities take immediate actions to move the
Romani families from the IDP camps to a safe and adequate living area.
The ERRC further demands that the UNHCR, UNMIK and the responsible
Zveean/Zvecan municipal authorities arrange for the provision of all
necessary medical treatment for all affected persons. We request to be
informed of all actions taken by the UNHCR, UNMIK and Zveean/Zvecan
municipal authorities with respect to these issues. Failure to take
concrete measures will prompt the ERRC to consider, where appropriate,
legal action against all responsible persons or other relevant measures.
We would welcome the opportunity to discuss this most serious matter
with you further.

Sincerely,

Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director

Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:

Mr Pascale Moreau, Head of UNHCR Kosovo
UNHCR Kosovo
Rr.e Kragujevcit 8
38000 Pristina/Prishtine, Kosovo
Fax: +381-38-501-516

Mr Bob Cruz
Head of UNMIK Administration in Mitrovica/Mitrovice
Fax: +381-38-504-604 Ext 7442

Mr Dragisa Milovi?, President
Zveean/Zvecan Municipal Assembly
Fax: +381-28-664-728

Mr Ruud Lubbers, High Commissioner for Refugees
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Case Postale 2500
CH-1211 Geneve 2 Depot
Switzerland
Fax: +41-22-739-7377

Mr Soren Jessen-Petersen
Special Representative to the Secretary General and Head of the UNMIK
UNMIK, Office of the SRSG
P.O. Box 999
Pristina/Prishtine, Kosovo
Fax: +381-38-504-604 Ext. 5406

Mr Marek Nowicki, Ombudsperson
Ombudsperson Institution in Kosovo
Str. Agim Ramadani n.n.
Pristina/Prishtine, Kosovo
Fax: + 381-38-545-302

Ms Laurie Wiseberg, Minority Returns Advisor
UNMIK, Office of Returns and Communities
MHQ Room 214A
Pristina/Prishtine, Kosovo
Fax: +381-38-504-604 Ext. 5592


_____________________________________________

The European Roma Rights Center is an international public interest law 
organisation which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal
defence in cases of human rights abuse. For more information about the
European Roma Rights Center, visit the ERRC on the web at
http://www.errc.org.

European Roma Rights Center
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93
Hungary


Phone: +36 1 4132200
Fax:   +36 1 4132201

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