Speaking ahead of the 10th anniversary of the illegal dumping of toxic waste in Côte d’Ivoire, a group of United Nations experts* urge the Ivorian Government, all responsible States and the international community to take this opportunity to address the ongoing human rights impacts of the incident.
The UN human rights experts also call on Trafigura, the company behind the ‘Probo Koala incident’, to support this process by disclosing all the information it has about the contents and nature of the waste dumped in Côte d’Ivoire, and its likely ongoing health and environmental consequences.
“On 19 August 2006, the cargo ship ‘Probo Koala’ discharged 500 tonnes or the equivalent of over twelve 20 shipping containers of toxic waste in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. The hazardous substances, which belonged to the Anglo-Dutch commodity trading company Trafigura, were later dumped at 18 sites around the city while many other possible locations remain unknown to date. A month earlier, Trafigura decided not to dispose of the toxic waste in the Netherlands because proper disposal costs more.
According to official estimates, 15 people died, 69 people were hospitalized and over 108,000 others sought medical treatment after the so called ‘Probo Koala incident’.
Ten years on, victims of the dumping and other residents in Abidjan remain in the dark about the ongoing dangers to their health. Residents still complain of the smell from the waste when it rains heavily, as well as headaches, skin problems and respiratory issues that they believe are linked to the incident. Many victims have not received an adequate remedy for the harms caused by the incident and report that they are have not been able to afford medical treatment notably after October 2006 when the relevant free medical treatment finished.
They still do not even know what was in the toxic waste; whether the dumpsites have been adequately cleaned-up, and whether the waste has entered the water supply or the food chain. Recognizing the lasting adverse impacts that hazardous materials can have on water and soils, there is real concern for food safety and the health of future generations.
The Government of Côte d’Ivoire must seize the opportunity of the 10th anniversary to address the long-term health and environmental impacts of the incident and seek additional financial and technical assistance from public health experts and the wider international community.
In a post-conflict country such as the Côte d’Ivoire, it is even more vital for the international community to provide support for this work. Given their role in these events, the governments of the Netherlands and the United Kingdom where Trafigura is registered, have a particular responsibility to do so.
Many victims also report that they have still not received compensation. It is estimated that only 63% of registered victims received compensation under a February 2007 settlement agreement between Trafigura and the Ivorian Government. Victims’ associations appear not to have been consulted before the agreement was signed.
Although another 30,000 victims were due to receive compensation following the settlement in September 2009 of a civil claim against Trafigura in the UK, funds destined for over 6,000 of those victims were reportedly misappropriated by a fraudulent group who claimed to represent the victims in Côte d’Ivoire.
Those responsible for the funds’ misappropriation were sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment on 13 January 2015, confirmed by the Court of Appeal in Abidjan on 27 July 2016.
However, none of them have been arrested and no warrant has been issued for them. We urge the Government of Cote d’Ivoire to execute this sentence soonest. As underlined in the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, access to an effective remedy is critical to address business-related harm.
Also, in March 2015, the United Kingdom refused to launch a criminal investigation into whether Trafigura’s London-based subsidiary had conspired in the UK to dump the waste in Abidjan.
This lack of action and information has left those affected by the dumping feeling abandoned and vulnerable to further victimization. Some have joined the many associations that have been established in Abidjan to claim additional compensation from Trafigura. These associations have brought new legal actions against the trading company in the Netherlands and Abidjan.
We are concerned that some victims’ associations have allegedly taken advantage of this situation by making dubious promises of compensation in return for upfront fees from victims and a share of any damages that they are awarded. The government must take steps to regulate these associations and ensure that people do not become victims twice over – of both the dumping and unscrupulous actors.
In November 2015, the Côte d’Ivoire government announced that it had completed the decontamination of all of the dumpsites. At the request of the Côte d’Ivoire Government, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) performed an environmental audit of the dumpsites in July 2016 to verify their decontamination. UNEP is due to publish its results and recommendations at the end of the year. The government has also recently initiated a process to check the health of victims in one of the villages most affected by the dumping.
We welcome these steps and urge Côte d’Ivoire to communicate widely the results of UNEP’s findings, to affected communities in particular. We also urge the Ivorian authorities and the international community to take effective measures to protect the right to health and the right to a healthy environment of all victims and their families, including through free medical treatment for long-term health consequences and preventative measures for environmental threats.
We urge Trafigura to facilitate this process by disclosing all information it has about the contents and nature of the waste and its likely health and environmental impacts.”
(*) The experts: Mr. Mohammed Ayat, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Côte d’Ivoire; Mr. Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes; Ms. Hilal Elver, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Mr. Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to health; Mr. Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation; and Mr. Pavel Sulyandziga, current Chairperson of the Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.
Source: Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).