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Kenya: UN Human Rights Office supports poor community take legal action against lead poisoning by a smelter

"Lead poisoning on Kenya's Coast: A Poor Community Fights Back"

...Phyllis is an environmental activist locked in a battle over toxic pollution that is pitting the impoverished community of Owino Uhuru against the country’s most powerful entities – government and big business. No one among the community’s 5000 residents doubts why the children died: The community believes that they were poisoned by lead from an adjacent smelter and battery recycling plant that operated with impunity for more than seven years — and without the mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment — until it was finally forced to shut down in 2014. The damage inflicted during those seven years is still visible. In this poor shantytown whose residents often live on a dollar a day, many children still haven’t been tested for lead poisoning; few of those who have are receiving medical treatment; and homes and water sources are still contaminated from the toxic dust that once floated overhead...

Phyllis had tried to raise the alarm but in vain: she had insufficient proof. So she tested sick children at her own expense. The results were predictable: all suffered from lead poisoning. She contacted environmental, business, economic and health authorities, again to no avail. Owino Uhuru was, after all, a marginal community, while the metal company – and its powerful owners and allies – was part of a massive economic effort to industrialize Kenya’s coast. Yet along Owino Uhuru’s dirt-packed streets, the stories continued to tumble forth...

Along with the residents of Owino Uhuru, she launched a class action suit against the two companies involved and the Kenyan government. “They should never have allowed this smelter to operate right where people live,” she said. “Going up against business entities and power groups can be exceedingly dangerous,” said Marcella Favretto, Senior Human Rights Adviser in Kenya...UN Human Rights heard of her fight and offered to help as part of its mandate to support implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and protect civic space. In addition to supporting the litigation case, UN human rights have provided a bridge with the Kenya authorities to urge protection of CJEA and members of the Owino Uhuru community when they came under threat.

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