by Flavio Cotti, Federal Councillor, Switzerland
The adoption of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, in March 1989, was a landmark in the struggle against the dumping of hazardous wastes from industrialized nations in countries with less advanced technical capacities and less stringent environmental laws. As president of the Ministerial Conference that adopted the Convention, and as representative of the country which hosted it, I was closely associated with the efforts made by the international community for solving this problem through international law.
The legal regulation of hazardous waste management has been of particular interest to the Swiss government for over a decade. Indeed, in the aftermath of the Seveso accident in 1983, Switzerland, in consultation with other countries, initiated the elaboration of a treaty aiming at restricting and controlling the transportation of hazardous wastes. In these early days, such a treaty was contemplated within the framework of the OECD, but in 1987, as work was advancing, it became evident that its scope should be extended to all countries if it were to be truly effective. With the support of Senegal and Hungary, my government therefore proposed to the Governing Council of UNEP to elaborate a global convention on the control of international movements of hazardous wastes. This proposal was well received. Less than two years later, the Ministerial Conference I was honoured to chair, adopted the treaty. As the adoption took place in Basel, that city gave its name to the new convention.
Work, however, did not halt there. The Basel Convention entered into force in 1992, and a number of regional agreements on waste management have been adopted. Under the guidance of the Geneva-based Convention secretariat, Parties to the Convention explore further ways of eliminating illegal traffic in hazardous wastes, and strengthening the capacity of less industrialized countries to deal with their own wastes. Furthermore, political opinion has evolved from recognizing the need to control the movements of hazardous wastes to enforcing a ban on all exports of such wastes from OECD to non-OECD countries. This trend is reflected in a growing number of regional conventions and international instruments on hazardous waste management. It has further been endorsed by the 2nd meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention, held in Geneva in March 1994.