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Rights Groups, Victims Seek More Damages in Ivory Coast Toxic Dumping Case

Thousands, such as these victims, were displaced by the dumping of waste in Abidjan in August 2006
Thousands, such as these victims, were displaced by the dumping of waste in Abidjan in August 2006

Human rights groups and representatives of victims in Ivory Coast have welcomed a Dutch ruling fining an oil trading company over a 2006 dumping of toxic waste. But they want more legal action.

Several toxic waste victim groups in Ivory Coast said they were satisfied with the first criminal rulings against Swiss-based Trafigura, but that the focus of the Dutch court had been what happened in the Netherlands and not Ivory Coast.

The court Friday found Trafigura guilty of illegally exporting toxic waste from Amsterdam and concealing the nature of the cargo. It imposed a fine of $1.3 million.

The captain of the ship that transported the waste to Ivory Coast was given a five-year suspended prison sentence, and an employee was fined for being in charge of the delivery.

The environmental group Greenpeace said further legal action should be taken to address the deliberate dumping of waste.

London-based Amnesty International said there remained unanswered questions about the long-term impact the waste had on people living in neighborhoods of Abidjan where it was dumped in August 2006, and that some areas have yet to be fully decontaminated.

Benedetta Lacey, who has met victims of the dumping as part of her work with Amnesty International, called for tighter controls. "The lesson from this case is there is an urgent need for the international community to look at how states ensure that multinationals respect human rights, both at home and abroad. So today's verdict is one piece of that puzzle, but it is definitely not the end of the story, in this case certainly," she said.

Trafigura has paid several settlements out of court, including $50 million for tens of thousands of victims, who became sick after the dumping, and the families of at least 15 people whose deaths, officials say, have been linked to the waste.

But little, if any money, has yet to reach most victims.

Lacey would also like to see Trafigura show more concern. "I think there needs to be more information in the public domain coming from the company about what it knows about the impact of the waste," she said.

The waste, which Trafigura has called harmless slops, was re-routed to Ivory Coast where it was disposed of by a contracting company at a much cheaper rate than it would have been in the Netherlands.

Two people, one working for the contracting firm, the other a shipping agent, have been jailed in Ivory Coast.

Trafigura, which has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, expressed disappointment in Friday's ruling. Its lawyers indicated they were considering an appeal.