EU Position on DDT Violates Human Rights

EU must retract threat to ban Uganda exports, if country uses DDT to control malaria.

CORE official calls Rijcken an old-fashioned racist who should leave Uganda.

Cyril Boynes, Jr.

A Journal for Western Man-- Issue XXXI-- February 15, 2005

            [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 credentials.”

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 animals.

“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, including DDT.

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.

Cyril Boynes is the Center of Racial Equality's (CORE’s) director of international programs (www.CORE-online.org). He may be contacted at cboynes@core-online.org 

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