Victims of the Trafigura toxic waste disaster have told of their desperate and anxious wait to find out if they will get any of the $45 million compensation owed to them.
The prospect of receiving nothing has left victims feeling devastated.
In the latest development in the ongoing legal battle, the Ivorian Supreme Court has issued a temporary stay on the money being transferred to a group falsely claiming to represent the victims.
There was an international outcry following an appeal court decision in late January that ruled that a group, known as the National Coordination of Toxic Waste Victims of Côte d’Ivoire (CNVDT-CI), should receive the compensation money.
Several victims had earlier gone on hunger strike to draw attention to their plight.
Karim Kourouma, a victims’ representative, told Amnesty International: “The victims are very anxious, they are desperate.”
“If this money falls into the hands of CNVDT-CI, there is a real risk that victims won’t receive their money. It is a fictitious organisation which does not have a legal mandate and was formed suddenly last year.”
“Over 20,000 victims presented a petition to the appeal court stating that CNVDT-CI does not represent them.”
Genevieve Diallo, who is entitled to compensation said: “We were completely shocked by the decision. Justice has become blind. How is this possible? We are now very anxious and anything can happen.”
The Supreme Court will now decide on the 8 February whether the stay on the money being transferred should remain in place. If the court decides to remove the stay, the money is once again at immediate risk of being transferred to CNVDT-CI’s bank account
“This is the final chance for justice for the thousands of people that have suffered in this toxic waste tragedy and who are owed the compensation money that is legally theirs,” said Benedetta Lacey, a special adviser at Amnesty International who has worked closely on the case.
In late 2009 CNVDT-CI claimed that it represented some 30,000 victims who had brought a court case against Trafigura in the UK. The claimants and Trafigura had reached an out-of-court settlement for $45 million in September 2009.
All of the claimants in the case are actually represented by law firm Leigh Day & Co, and under the terms of the UK settlement, endorsed by the UK High Court, only Leigh Day has the mandate to distribute the money to each and every one of the victims.
“Leigh Day & Co was ready to make payments to each of the victims in October last year,” said Benedetta Lacey.
“Then suddenly this group emerges demanding that all of the money be paid into its bank account. It is shocking that this false claim has been allowed to get so far.”
In August 2006, toxic waste was brought to Abidjan on board the ship Probo Koala, which had been chartered by oil-trading company, 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 $45 million settlement between nearly 30,000 victims of the toxic waste dumping and Trafigura.