Côte d’Ivoire toxic waste dump victims reflect on “small victory”

Victims of the 2006 toxic waste dumping scandal in Côte d’Ivoire told Amnesty International on Monday that a ruling protecting their compensation was a “small victory”.

There were celebrations in the capital Abidjan last week when a court ruled that the $45m settlement paid by oil-trading company Trafigura to people affected by the toxic waste dumping should not be transferred into the account of an organisation which is falsely claiming to represent all 30,000 of them.

“What happened on Friday was a small victory but we still haven’t had what is due to us,” warned Genevieve Diallo, a victims’ representative from the dumpsite area in Akouedo, Abidjan.

“Now the justice system needs to do its work so that each and every one of us receives our compensation money. People are waiting impatiently for their money.”

A freezing order on the bank account holding the $45m compensation is still in place and the victims’ lawyers, Leigh Day & Co., must now appeal the court’s decision to freeze the money.

“The court’s decision last Friday was a relief, but I was not totally satisfied with the outcome,” Karim Kourouma, another victims’ representative from the Abobo area told Amnesty International.  

“Given that the court refused the application to transfer the money, the logical consequence should have been for the freezing order to be dropped immediately.”

The compensation was frozen on 22 October after an organisation – the National Coordination of Toxic Waste Victims of Côte d’Ivoire (CNVDT-CI) – falsely claimed it represented all of the claimants and said the money should be transferred into its bank account instead.

CNVDT-CI has now appealed the court’s decision not to transfer the funds to its account. The appeal hearing has been set for next Thursday 19 November, further delaying the compensation payout process.

“People feel utter desolation and revulsion at the prospect of this money being stolen from them. They will all be there in front of the court next Thursday to express that,” said Karim Kourouma.

In August 2006, toxic waste was brought to Abidjan on board the ship Probo Koala, which had been chartered by Trafigura.

This waste was then dumped in various locations around the city, causing a human rights tragedy. More than 100,000 people sought medical attention for a range of health problems and there were 15 reported deaths.

On 23 September 2009, the High Court of England and Wales approved a settlement agreement between nearly 30,000 victims of the toxic waste dumping, who had brought a case in the UK, and Trafigura.

The $45m had been transferred to an account in Côte d’Ivoire set up by the victims’ lawyers for distribution to the claimants.  

“The priority should be for the payment process to resume so that each claimant receives the money that they are owed. We will be keeping a close eye on what happens next,” said Benedetta Lacey, a special advisor at Amnesty International who has visited Côte d’Ivoire and met victims of the dumping.   

“30,000 people need to see that their struggle for compensation for the terrible events of 2006 has not been in vain.”