Ivory Coast: Victory at the African Court for victims of the TRAFIGURA toxic waste dump

Raigo Pajula / AFP

In a decision handed down on 5 September 2023, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACtHPR) has found the Ivorian State at fault for failing to protect human rights in the TRAFIGURA toxic waste dump case.

Abidjan, Paris, 12 October 2023. The decision, rendered on 5 September 2023, was long-awaited and welcome news for those seeking justice in this case of egregious corporate abuse by the company TRAFIGURA, more than 17 years after the events. The Ivorian Human Rights League (LIDHO), the Ivorian Human Rights Movement (MIDH), and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) documented the case in 2011 and brought the Ivorian State to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2016.

"This is a landmark decision of the African Court which clearly establishes the responsibility of the state for its failure to provide adequate compensation to individuals whose rights have been infringed by the wrongful acts of companies," said Alice Mogwe, President of FIDH. "We hope that such a decision will help to prevent future disasters similar to that of PROBO KOALA, and ensure that companies and governments do not sign agreements which deprive victims of legal recourse."

A decision centred around reparations

The African Court declared admissible the action initiated by FIDH, LIDHO and MIDH in 2016, on behalf of the “Union des Victimes des Déchets Toxiques du district d’Abidjan et Banlieues (UVDTAB)” and of all the victims of the 19 August 2006 toxic dump waste in the district of Abidjan. The Court found that the Ivorian State violated several human rights protected by the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights - such as the right to life, health, and a satisfactory environment - by not preventing the waste dumping in the first place and not offering adequate remedy, information and compensation at a later stage.

"After all these years of mobilisation alongside the victims to obtain effective justice, we will continue our efforts to ensure that the Ivorian state complies with the decision handed down by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and gives full satisfaction to the victims. The withdrawal of the declaration under article 34(6) of the Protocol to the African Charter, establishing the African Court and allowing individuals and NGOs to bring cases before the African Court, decided by the Ivorian State in 2020, should in no way compromise the execution of this ruling" declared Drissa Traoré, Lawyer and Secretary General of FIDH.

The Court obliged the State to set up, in consultation with the victims and within one year, a compensation fund drawing on the sums paid by TRAFIGURA under its settlement. The Court also considered that the protocol signed between the State and the company contributed to impunity through immunity from prosecution, therefore affecting the availability of some domestic remedies for those affected by the illegal disposal of waste.

"This decision is a reminder of the role and importance of regional justice in ensuring that States respect their human rights obligations. In the light of the serious human rights violations perpetrated against African populations, it is essential that the African human rights protection system be strengthened to provide an effective remedy for the too many victims who are still awaiting justice. " said Drissa Bamba, President of MIDH.

Ivory Coast is also mandated to open an independent and impartial investigation to establish the criminal and individual responsibility of all persons and entities involved, and prosecute them. It will additionally have to implement legislative and regulatory reforms to prohibit the import and dumping of hazardous waste on its territory, as well as legislation to guarantee the liability of legal entities for waste dumping and other actions affecting the environment.


On 19 August 2006, PROBO KOALA receives authorisation to sail into Abidjan’s port. The vessel, chartered by TRAFIGURA, a multinational oil trading company, carries 528 m3 of toxic waste originating from the refining of dirty petroleum. The company PUMA then commissioned local company TOMMY to dispose of the slops for just 17,000 USD. 

Later that day, lorry drivers dumped the toxic waste in the open air at the Akouédo landfill site and at around ten other densely populated sites. This marked the beginning of a major health crisis: 17 people died from inhaling toxic gases, hundreds of thousands suffered breathing and skin problems, and the groundwater was contaminated.

Adding to these grave violations, in 2007, the Ivorian State signed a settlement agreement with TRAFIGURA and its subsidiaries to receive 95 billion CFA francs for damages and clean-up operations. In exchange for that, the State renounced definitively any future lawsuit, claim, action of proceeding against the company. Parallel to this agreement, the government had reportedly put in place a compensation programme for victims and the families of the deceased, but a large number of victims were left out and did not receive any money.

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