Ivorian court orders payment to toxic waste victims

A child victim of the toxic waste

An Ivorian court ordered on Friday that nearly $50 million in compensation awarded to victims of a toxic waste dumping should be paid to a group claiming to represent them.

Oil trader Trafigura offered compensation to 31,000 Ivorians in September in an out-of-court settlement after the company’s toxic waste was dumped in the country in 2006.

Lawyers representing the victims said 16 were killed and thousands fell sick because of the waste.

Trafigura, one of the world’s biggest commodities traders, denies any wrongdoing over the waste, which was dumped around the Ivorian economic capital Abidjan after being unloaded from a ship, the Probo Koala, chartered by the company.

A group calling itself the National Coordination of Toxic Waste Victims of Ivory Coast (CNVDT-CI) appealed to have the compensation money funnelled through its own bank account, rather than paid to claimants directly.

Judge Antoine Ble, president of the Abidjan’s main court, confirmed that magistrates at the court had ordered 22 billion Cfa francs to be paid into the group’s bank account.

“The court of appeal ruled in favour of (the group). They can now disburse the funds and distribute them to their members,” he told Reuters.

Martyn Day, the lawyer who brought a civil case against Trafigura that was dropped when the company settled out of court, was quoted in an Amnesty International press release as saying he feared some victims would be defrauded by the group.

“In 30 years of practice I cannot remember a more depressing Court decision. 30,000 Ivorians have been looking to get the compensation due to them. Now there is a very real chance they will not see a penny,” he was quoted as saying.

Amnesty condemned the decision.

“Today’s verdict is a devastating blow for the victims of this toxic waste disaster,” said Widney Brown, Senior Director, International Law and Policy at Amnesty International.

“We call for an immediate stay on the court’s decision so that this money does not disappear.”

But Claude Gohourou, head of CNVDT-CI, said the money would go straight to the victims. “Our rights have been upheld,” he said.

The oil waste, described by Trafigura as residues from gasoline mixed with caustic washings, was left on open sites.

Trafigura agreed to a $198 million out-of-court settlement with the Ivory Coast government in 2007 which exempts it from any legal proceedings in the West African country.

Source: Reuters

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