The Government of Sudan has been burying radioactive waste in close proximity to people and water sources where it poses a serious health risk. This burial of radioactive waste demonstrates the government’s blatant disregard for the health and safety of Sudanese citizens. The waste has resulted in high contamination in the water sources that is harmful to the people and the livestock on which the people rely heavily for food and income.
After allegations of the burial of nuclear waste in the Northern Sudan desert, the Justice Minister of Sudan formed a fact-finding committee heading by the Chief Public Prosecutor in Khartoum and representatives from various government agencies such as the National Police and the Sudan Atomic Energy Commission. The committee had to determine whether there was a presence of chemical or radioactive materials in the area of the Merowe Dam and its environmental implications. After reviewing the claims regarding Chinese companies’ burial of radioactive nuclear waste in the desert during the construction of the Merowe Dam, the committee found that there are no radioactive substances in the region despite persistent conflicting evidence.
Media reports recently quoted the former director of the Sudan Atomic Energy Commission (SAEC), Mohamed Sidig, as saying that sixty containers of toxic waste were brought to Sudan together with construction materials and machinery for the building of the Merowe Dam. Sidiq claimed that forty containers were buried in the desert near the dam construction site while another twenty containers were left out in the open.
Environmental human rights include access to the “unspoiled natural resources that enable survival” such as land, shelter, food, water, and air. The Human Rights Council has established a mandate on human rights and the environment in order to study the human rights obligations concerning a “safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment,” and the best practices related to the use of human rights in environmental policymaking.
Sudan is bound by the Framework Principles on Human Rights and the Environment. The report emphasizes that all human rights can only be fully enjoyed in a sound environment. The right to an adequate environment is one of the “so-called third-generation or solidarity rights,” which indicates that these rights are both declaratory and binding in nature. Article 24 of The African Charter, for instance, states that “All peoples shall have the right to a general satisfactory environment favorable to their development.” In the Report of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, environmental protection is described as an individual right. The Declaration states that “Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations.”
The report of the World Commission on Environment and Development describes environmental rights as an individual right: “All human beings have the fundamental right to an environment adequate for their health and well-being.” Finally, environmental rights are also mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Sudan must also consider the recommendations and suggestions of the INIR (Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review) team such as: finalizing national policies to support the nuclear power program; strengthening plans to join international legal instruments and assessing and developing the country’s legal and regulatory framework; implementing plans to support organizations and enhancing public awareness about the nuclear power program; and further analyzing the preparedness of radioactive waste management.
In order to improve the situation in Sudan, scientists recommend treating the water with chemicals, which is costly. They also advise the creation of an artificial lake in contaminated water sources, such as Lake Miri, to transfer water before it becomes contaminated by the high radioactivity in the soil. Finally, scientists recommended the evacuation of people from the Lake Miri area and refraining from the use of local water or foodstuffs.
Sudan has violated its human rights obligations by burying nuclear waste in populated areas which has resulted in food and water supplies becoming contaminated. Scientific findings indicate that locations near burial sites are hazardous and researchers recommend evacuating the people located in these areas. Sudanese officials must consider these scientific findings and cease the burial of dangerous, radioactive waste in populated sites. Sudan has an international obligation to ensure its people have access to healthy conditions and a clean environment. Consequently, Sudan must rectify its failure to meet these standards.