On Wednesday, a new United Nations mercury treaty was ceremonially launched at the “Eco-Park.” Leaders from around the world stood atop 1.5 million cubic meters of toxic mercury waste – an image that Minamata victims said they find strange and ironic.
During negotiations of the mercury treaty three years ago, Sakamoto personally handed a letter to a top government official from victims groups opposing the proposal to name the treaty the “Minamata Convention.” The letter uses polite language to express an underlying outrage that Minamata victims feel about naming the mercury treaty after their unresolved tragedy.
However, the concerns of Sakamoto and other victims extend far beyond their small city as the letter expresses the hope “for a strong global treaty which will significantly decrease mercury contamination worldwide so that fish are once again safe to eat.” The UN treaty seeks to reduce mercury supply and trade, and phase out or phase down some products and processes that use it. Some treaty provisions are legally binding, while others require governments to “endeavor” to take action.
At home, the Minamata victims hope the treaty will ensure that all are recognized and compensated, contaminated areas are cleaned up, the polluter takes full financial responsibility and a comprehensive, independent health study is finally conducted.
The mercury treaty now bears Minamata’s name. This creates a special obligation to meet the victims’ demands and transform a human tragedy into an opportunity for change.
This article originally ran at Environmental Health News, a news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.