By: Samuel Schimel
Impunity Watch Staff Writer
COLONIA YERUTI, Paraguay – Paraguay made history in a 2019 ruling that held Paraguay responsible for failing to safeguard its citizens from the severe environmental contamination caused by illegal chemicals used on large-scale agribusinesses. These illegal agrochemicals were found to violate the State’s international obligations to protect the rights to life and respect for private and family life and the home.
The landmark case, Portillo Cáceres v. Paraguay, was held before the United Nations Human Rights Committee (Committee). This case was brought as a result of toxic chemical pollutants that caused the death of Rubén Portillo Cáceres and a myriad of serious health concerns for other community members. These symptoms included “nausea, dizziness, headaches, fever, stomach pains, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing and skin lesions.” However, the grave of effects of these chemical pollutants did not stop here. Additionally, these chemical pollutants have had devastating effects on the environment including the killing of fruit trees, crops, and farm animals.
In reaching the decision, the Committee showed its support by stating that a right to life also concerns the entitlement of individuals to enjoy a life with dignity. It does not include any acts or omissions that would cause an individual’s unnatural or premature death. Unfortunately, this case did not end the pervasive use of dangerous agrochemicals in Paraguay entirely.
In 2020, the running street value for banned pesticides in Paraguay is more than $2 million. The illegal pesticides and their strength are twice that of pesticides that are legal in Paraguay’s neighboring border country, Brazil. Much of the illegal pesticides prevalent in Brazil end up in Paraguay due to the shared massive, yet largely unmonitored, border. Pesticides are mostly produced in China and then smuggled across the Paraguay border. Roughly 287,000 tonnes of Atrazine and 63,000 tonnes of Syngnta were sold in Brazil in 2018.
Since the last two decades, illegal trafficking of pesticides has quickly heightened into one of the world’s most profitable criminal enterprises deserving of more recognition. The pesticide trade is operated akin to a narcotics trade and is often controlled by rival gangs and mafias. This has led to the introduction of counterfeit and contraband pesticides that are now in heavy circulation in both developed and underdeveloped countries. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) these pesticides carry with them extreme environmental and social consequences. There is an estimate of 3 million people poisoned and 200,000 killed each year due to exposure to these harmful and largely unregulated substances. Their use, researchers find, can poison soil, contaminate water sources and ravage entire ecosystems. These large-scale harms, of course, are supported by illegal and unregulated trade.
While the Paraguayan border is still largely unregulated leading to an influx of agrochemicals, this issue would largely be off the radar of health organizations without the 2019 ruling of Cáceres v. Paraguay. While the issue is still rampant, it is important to note that an individual’s health and safety are still protected from these dangerous agrochemicals under law and health organizations, like the WHO, which continue to advocate for agrochemical trafficking to be better policed.
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