COURT ORDERS COMPENSATION FOR IVORIAN VICTIMS OF ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION

 The ECOWAS Court of justice on 30th of November, 2023, declared the State of Côte d’Ivoire liable for violation of rights of Adou Kouamé and nine other Ivorians, and ordered the Ivorian government to pay 50 million CFA Francs to each of them as compensation.

 In its judgement delivered by Hon Justice Ricardo Claúdio Monteiro Gonçalves, Judge Rapporteur, the Court declared that the Respondent – State of Côte d’Ivoire violated the right to healthy.

 environment and health, right to private and family life, right to adequate standard of living and food, right to freedom of religion and right of minorities to have their own culture.

However, the Court dismissed the Applicants – Adou Kouame and Others’ claim that their right to property was violated, for lack of sufficient evidence of ownership. The Court also declared the second, thirteenth and fourteenth Applicants in the suit as improper parties before the Court, stating that they did not present evidence showing their relationship with the parents they claimed to be representing respectively. The Applicants request for collective compensation was dismissed by the Court too. 

In the case with suit number ECW/CCJ/APP/08/21, the Applicants – Adou Kouame, village head of Similimi and 14 other residents, claimed that the State of Côte d’Ivoire’s failure to protect them from the negative effects of the mining activities in their community violated their right to healthy and sustainable environment, and health, right to religious and cultural freedom, right to private and family life, right to adequate standard of living and food, and right to property guaranteed under international laws cited in the application.

The Applicants’ lead counsels, Mr Rashidi Ibitowa, Ms Geneviève Aïssata Diallo and Mr Jonathan Kaufman argued that the Ivorian government did not “take measures to give effect to human rights protected by international law,” adding that the mining operations have had adverse effects on plantations, forests, rivers and places of worship causing them health hazards from polluted water, polluted air, explosions, noise pollution and ground tremors. And that their ancestral places of worship were destroyed by the mining activities including altars for sacrifices and they are of the opinion their ancestors are angry with them because their prayers and invocations were no longer answered.

They also asked the Court to hold the State liable for failure to validate the impact assessment results of 2010 that would have resettled them, adding that the Ministry of Mining and Geology renewed the mining licence of the company in 2018 despite the fact that the environmental damage persisted, and the company had not fulfilled its obligations.

They demanded 12 billion CFA francs as compensation for the estimated 600 residents of Similimi, and another 3 billion CFA francs for the Applicants for the prejudice suffered, and an order for their resettlement, among other reliefs.

The Respondent – State of Côte d’Ivoire said that following the exploitation of the mines, and the residents’ demand for compensation from the mining company as well as complaint of adverse effect on water and human health, the Minister of Environment engaged its agencies – Ivorian Anti-Pollution Centre (CIAPOL) and the National Environment Agency (ANDE) and that their reports led to the suspension of the activities of the mining company by an Order of 11 November 2015.

However, the company was allowed to resume activities in 2016 while implementing corrective measures, adding that periodic meetings between all parties continued until 2020 and that a general meeting was also held in 2021.

The Respondent asked the Court to declare the case inadmissible arguing that the matter was within the jurisdiction of national courts and that the claims of the Applicants were ill-founded and should be dismissed.

In the judgment, the Court which held that the matter was within its jurisdiction, also asked the State of Côte d’Ivoire to ensure the residents of Similimi community located in Bondoukou district in Côte d’Ivoire were resettled in compliance with relevant laws, ensure a healthy environment is restored rapidly, end the ongoing environmental degradation, and hold the perpetrators responsible for the environmental degradation. 

The State of Côte d’Ivoire was ordered to bear the cost of litigation, and submit to the Court within three months, measures taken to implement this judgment.                                                                              

Also on the bench were Justices Edward Amoako Asante (presiding) and Dupe Atoki (Member).