COTE D'IVOIRE: Toxic Waste Victims Wait Years for Compensation

  • by Inaki Borda (united nations)
  • Inter Press Service

'There is a complete lack of transparency as to what happened to the millions of dollars which should have been paid out by the government compensation scheme,' Benedetta Lacey, special advisor on corporate accountability at Amnesty International, told IPS.

According to a United Nations report published in 2009, toxic waste from a tanker chartered by the international commodities trading firm Trafigura Beheer BV affected more than 100,000 people, who sought medical attention for a range of health problems. The incident has been linked to the deaths of 15 people.

Since 2007, Trafigura has paid 260 million dollars in several payouts, but much of the money remains unaccounted for and thousands of victims still have not received any economic compensation that would, if paid, be equal in some cases to a year's worth of wages.

'It is unacceptable that so many people who were affected by the dumping have not received the compensation money they are entitled to,' Amnesty International said in a press release. 'President Ouattara's government must act decisively to show that corruption and misappropriation of funds will not be tolerated.'

In February 2007, Trafigura entered into a settlement agreement with the government of Côte d'Ivoire under which the company paid 195 million dollars.

By the Ivorian government's own figures, 95,000 victims should have received compensation, Lacey told IPS. 'However, the government compensation process was never completed and an enquiry into the compensation process which was opened under the previous government was never concluded,' Lacey said.

In April 2008, Trafigura made a full and final payment of 20 million dollars to the Ivorian government to pay for additional cleanup costs.

A year after that, 30,000 Ivorians filed a lawsuit in Britain seeking damages for personal injury. An out-of-court settlement was reached and Trafigura made a payment of 45 million dollars. However, six thousand people never received any of that money.

A local group claiming to represent the victims and calling itself the National Coordination of Toxic Waste Victims of Côte d'Ivoire (CNVDT-CI) was in charge of distributing the money. The head of CNVDT-CI is now reported to have disappeared and there is no further indication as to when the remaining compensation will be paid out.

'We have been informed that a criminal complaint has just been lodged in the Ivorian courts against CNVDT-CI and we hope that this will deliver justice for the victims,' Lacey said.

Amnesty International is now calling on the new government to ensure that 'the missing millions are located as a matter of priority and the distribution process gets up and running to pay out to the remaining 6,000 who are still waiting for the money,' Lacey told IPS, calling for the money to be accounted for and paid out.

Geneviève Diallo, representative of a group of victims living next to the Akouedo dumpsite, said that five years after the incident, 300 people in the area still had not received their compensation.

'Those who have misappropriated the money must be brought to justice,' Diallo said. 'Justice must be done.'

In July 2010, a Dutch court found Trafigura guilty of illegally exporting toxic waste from Amsterdam and concealing the nature of the cargo, the BBC reported. The firm was fined one million euros for transporting its waste cargo from Amsterdam to the Ivory Coast in its ship, the Probo Koala.

Trafigura insists the waste was not toxic.

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service