African Court/ Mali: Q&A on the ALS contaminated workers’ case

1. Who are the ALS Laboratory former workers?

Former workers in the ALS Laboratory are a group of 135 people who were contaminated with lead during their work between 2000 and 2013 for the Australian Laboratory Services (ALS) in Mali, an ore processing laboratory.

As early as 2009, workers expressed concrete demands to management to improve their working conditions, including the management of diseases developed due to their prolonged exposure to the chemicals used. These claims resulted in several waves of unfair dismissals between 2010 and 2012, including union workers’ representatives, but no improvement in the working conditions of employees.

In November 2013, a fact-finding mission requested by the Malian Ministry of Health also found serious breaches of hygiene and safety rules. These findings are all the more overwhelming because the management of the ALS Laboratory was not only informed about the excessive blood lead levels in some employees’ blood in 2008, but also voluntarily concealed this medical information.

To date, ALS has dismissed all its employees and has terminated its activities in Mali with the exception of a laboratory in Bamako. None of the solicitations or complaints by the Collective of Former Workers of the ALS Laboratory concerning lead poisonings has been followed by action by the judicial authorities nor by the governmental authorities or the National Institute of Social Welfare (INPS), a social protection organization to which the workers were affiliated.

It is in this context of widespread immobility of Malian public institutions that FIDH and AMDH decided to accompany and represent the Collective in its search for justice at the international level, through a complaint to the African Court Of Human and Peoples’ Rights.

2. What is the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, who can seize it and what decisions can it take?

Created under the aegis of the African Union (AU), the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights is the main judicial body on human rights on the continent. It was established by the Protocol to the African Charter adopted in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on 9 June 1998 and entered into force on 25 January 2004.

The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights is mandated to ensure the observance by its States Parties of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and of any other instrument relating to the protection of human rights ratified by these States. It acts in complementarity with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).

The Court may be seized by the ACHPR, a State Party or an African inter-governmental organization. Article 34(6) of the Protocol also provides for the possibility for States to file a declaration that also allows individuals and NGOs with observer status before the ACHPR to lodge a complaint directly with the Court after all internal remedies have been exhausted. To date, 8 States have filed such a declaration, including Mali, which filed its declaration of acceptance under Article 34 (6) on 21 October 2011.

The decisions of the Court are final and binding, in other words they are not subject to appeal and are binding on the States parties to the Protocol.

3. When, how and why did the former workers of the ALS Laboratory lodge a complaint with the African Court?

The Collective is represented by the FIDH and its member organization in Mali, the Malian Association of Human Rights (AMDH), who filed a complaint on its behalf before the Court on June 30, 2016.

In this complaint, the Collective invokes violations by the Malian State of Articles 16 and 24 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, as well as of Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for failing to fulfil its obligation to protect their right to the highest attainable standard of health.

In addition, the Collective invokes violations by the Malian State of articles 7.1. And 26 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, as well as Articles 2.3 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, for failing to investigate the allegations in question and where appropriate, to prosecute and convict those responsible more than 5 years after a complaint had been deposited by the Collective to the judicial authorities (violation of the right of victims to have their case tried by a court).

4.What do they expect from such a procedure?

Workers expect the African Court to order the Malian State:
 To acknowledge and publicly admit its responsibility for the violation of the mentionned rights, to the detriment of ALS former workers;
 To recognize, without further delay, the occupational disease which ALS former workers are suffering as a result of their broad and prolonged exposure to highly toxic products;
 To recognize, without further delay, their right to medical care which will allow them to live their illness in dignified conditions;
 To carry out investigations which will enable the necessary prosecution of private actors who have violated the regulations in force in Mali at the time of the facts and have been guilty of poisoning and non-assistance to persons in danger;
 To pay adequate compensation, including prompt and effective compensation, to victims, based on the jurisprudence of international human rights treaty bodies, including all physical, material, moral, loss of opportunity and other harm as the Court considers appropriate;
 To take any other action necessary to remedy the violations described and reported herein.

5. Why is this case so important?

This matter is important in several respects. First, it would enable justice and redress to be provided to the victims and set a precedent in Mali, where working conditions are regularly inconsistent with human rights obligations, particularly in the mining industry.

This case is also important because it would constitute the first case before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights concerning the responsibility of a State for human rights violations committed by companies and would send a strong signal to the states to combat impunity for such violations and to take all necessary measures to ensure the enforcement of labor law by companies.

6. Where is the procedure now?

The application was lodged with the Court on 30 June 2016.

On 27 September 2016, the Court notified the applicants of the registration of the case under number 042/2016. Three days later, the request was notified to the Malian State.

On 25 November 2016, the State submitted its statement of defence.

On January 27, 2017, FIDH and AMDH on behalf of the Collective of ALS Former Workers sent their reply to the Malian State’s reply.

On 15 June 2017, the Court informed the parties to the proceedings of the closure of the written proceedings.

The next step in this proceeding will therefore be the holding of hearings before the Court if it deems it necessary or the judgement in the case.

For more information

"Corporate Accountability for Human Rights Abuses: FIDH Launches Updated Guide for Victims and NGOs on Accountability and Redress Mechanisms"

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