I wish to speak briefly about the compliance mechanism of the Basel Convention. Today it was announced that Canada has finally agreed to take back about 70 remaining containers of household garbage from the Philippines that had been dumped their 6 years earlier. During that same time period of 6 years, there were relentless protests by NGOs in the Philippines and around the world. Two legal analyses were conducted showing a clear violation of international law -- the Basel Convention.
In this 6-year saga the governments of the Philippines, Canada and the Basel Secretariat were revealed to be cowardly or irresponsible, take your pick. Canada admitted that they did not transpose the Basel Convention properly into their national law to cover Annex II wastes. And yet under the Vienna Convention of Treaties, that can never be a legal excuse not to abide by the Convention they signed. When we pointed this out they did not correct their very serious mistake and certainly they did not trigger the non-compliance mechanism for their own certain non-compliance. So, we asked the Philippines to take the matter to the ICC. Philippines officials privately confided to us that they could not do that, as they could not afford to risk angering Canada. The Philippines did not trigger the non-compliance mechanism. So BAN and several other environmental groups joined to write a letter to the Basel Secretariat complete with the legal analysis, laying out the case against Canada showing undeniable non-compliance. We asked them to use the Secretariat trigger to bring this case to the ICC. A few weeks later BAN received a 4-page response, full of technicalities, tortured legal interpretations and hair splitting explaining that they would not exercise the trigger-- not because there was no non-compliance but because they did not believe the Secretariat was within their very limited mandate to do so.
So even though there was a compelling case of non-compliance, the people and environment of the Philippines were failed by two governments and an intergovernmental body designed to prevent and mitigate just such acts. This is what we can only call dysfunctional. And three words come to mind. Shame on us.
While with today's news one can say in the case of the Canada, better late than never, but in fact during the long wait, many containers leaked leachate from the garbage for years into the soil, and dozens of the containers of trash were dumped illegally in the territory of the Philippines and are not coming back. For these wastes and pollution reparations are certainly in order.
This incident was a major blunder by all of those that had responsibility to rectify it and was only finally rectified by relentless NGO pressure. Looking forward, the Parties hopefully led by Canada, should review the secretariat trigger and ensure that it is not so narrow as to be virtually useless when we need it. And that we empower the Secretariat to be emboldened to do its job. Remember the non-compliance mechanism exists not to punish but to address and prevent future debacles such as this one. Let us ensure that we in fact learn from our mistakes and take substantive steps to ensure this never happens again.