[New York, NY] “It is inconceivable, unconscionable and reprehensible
that the European Union would put its fear of pesticides above the
lives of innocent Ugandan mothers and children,” the Congress of
Racial Equality’s Cyril Boynes, Jr. said today. “But that is exactly
what is happening. EU charge’ d’affaires Guy Rijcken’s vile threat is
an abuse of his authority and a serious human rights violation. The
Government of Uganda should immediately review his diplomatic
Boynes was responding to Rijcken’s recent memo to Uganda’s health,
agricultural and trade ministers, urging their government not to use
DDT because, the charge’ said, the pesticide poses serious health and
environmental risks. “He is wrong about the risks,” Boynes emphasized,
“and his threats completely ignore the dire health crisis that Uganda
– and many other African countries – face from malaria. Boynes is
director of international affairs for CORE, one of the oldest and most
respected civil and human rights organizations in the United States.
According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, up to 400
million Africans get malaria every year, and as many as 2 million die.
Half are young children, and most of the others are pregnant women.
This mosquito-borne disease is a major cause of Africa’s enduring
poverty, because malaria victims often cannot work, go to school, tend
their fields or care for their families for weeks or months at a time.
“For Rijcken and the European Union to equate this devastation with
‘detectable’ levels of DDT in soils, birds or mother’s breast milk is
absurd,” Boynes said. “For them to suggest that an impoverished
country like Uganda should monitor and test all its produce, in case
some might have minuscule traces of DDT – to assuage Europeans’ fears
of chemicals – is incomprehensible.”
“The Stockholm Convention is clear in its approval of how DDT may be
used by countries with a malaria problem. To my knowledge, Uganda is
in full compliance with the strict guidelines of the World Health
Organization. So why is Rijcken so strident in his memo? Has he been
to Mulago Hospital? Has he witnessed the anguish of mothers losing
children daily?” Boynes asked.
“Europeans can afford to worry about traces of DDT on food or in
African soil,” added CORE national spokesman Niger Innis. “They used
DDT back in the 1940s and 1950s to wipe out malaria and typhus in
their countries. But Africans are still dying from these diseases.
They cannot afford such misplaced concerns, especially when no other
method works as well as DDT.”
Rijcken and the EU bring up human rights on a regular basis, Innis
added. “But there is no more fundamental human right than to live.
Rijcken’s edict denies that basic right to Africans.”
Boynes’ wife is Ugandan and has had malaria many times. “Fiona
Kobusingye lost two sisters, two nephews and her own son to this
disease,” he noted. “Don’t talk to me about birds,” she has said. “And
don’t tell me a little DDT in our bodies is worse than losing more
children to malaria. African mothers would be overjoyed if our biggest
worry was DDT in our breast milk.”
The New York Times has consistently said Western countries
should support DDT use to control malaria. Even Greenpeace now
supports DDT use “if it's going to
save lives,” Boynes pointed out. And still, Rijcken and the EU are
telling Uganda not to use DDT, saying that its use could threaten the
trade partnership between that country and the EU.
This puts Uganda in an impossible
position, he argued. “No country faced with a health crisis of this
magnitude should have wealthy, healthy Europeans telling it the lives
of its citizens must come second. Used as Minister of Health James
Muhwezi proposes, the spraying of DDT to saves lives in Uganda poses
no threat to the environment or crops of Uganda.” Further, years of
study shows that DDT is not harmful to people and does not have the
negative effect on the environment as once widely feared. Yet
irresponsible environmentalists still claim it threatens people and
“Rijcken has this information and
knows better,” continued Boynes. “It appears he is just an
old-fashioned racist. He should leave Uganda immediately.”
CORE demands that Mr. Rijcken and the
European Union apologize for this outrageous memo, retract it and
issue a new statement affirming Uganda’s right and obligation to bring
malaria under control – and urging it to use every available means,
Otherwise, say Boynes and Innis, CORE
will demand Rijcken’s resignation and bring the matter before the full
European Union, the EU human rights commission and the United Nations,
where CORE has consultative status.
Boynes is the Center of Racial Equality's (CORE’s) director of
international programs (www.CORE-online.org).
He may be contacted at