The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission or ACHPR), through the Chairperson of its Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights in Africa - Commissioner Solomon Ayele Dersso, and the Commissioner responsible for the promotion and protection of human and peoples rights in the Republic of Mauritius – Commissioner Hatem Essaiem, expresses deep concern about the recent oil spill in the Indian Ocean, on the reef near Pointe d’Esny on the south east coast of the Mauritian island, which reportedly occurred when the Japanese bulk carrier, the MV Wakashio, which is believed to have been carrying about 4,000 tonnes of fuel oil, ran aground around July 25 and began to leak tonnes of diesel and oil into the ocean.
The Commission expresses its grave concern about the dire consequences of the oil spill to the environment including the thousands of species around the pristine lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d’Esny and Mahebourg that are reported to be at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution and to the food security and health of people in the affected areas and the Mauritian ecosystem and biodiversity, as well as for the economy.
The African Commission notes that the oil spill carries serious immediate and potential risks to various human and peoples’ rights, affecting in particularMauritian coastal communities. The rights that face such serious impact include the right to health, the right to life, the right to a general satisfactory environment favorable to development, the right to food, the right to livelihood and the right to economic development.
Welcoming the declaration of environmental state of emergency by the Government of Mauritius for containing the spill and its impacts, the African Commission recognizes the need for investigating on preventive measures that could have avoided or limited the risk of the oil spill considering thatthe carrier/ship, the MV Wakashio, struck the reef on the southeast coast of the Indian Ocean Island on July 25. The Commission recalls the obligation of State Parties to the African Charter, elaborated in the Commission’s State Reporting Guidelines and Principles on Articles 21 and 24 of the African Charter relating to Extractive Industries and the Environment (Guidelines and Principles), which,drawing on its decisionin the matter of Social and Economic Rights Action Centre and Centre for Economic and Social Rights v Nigeria, stipulates that states take steps to make sure that the enjoyment of the rights guaranteed by the Charter is not interfered with by any other private person including by protecting their citizens from damaging acts that may be perpetrated by private parties, and in particular, to take reasonable decisions and other measures to prevent pollution and ecological degradation.
The Commission further recalls that as per the Commission’s Guidelines and Principles, the obligation of States also entails, in case of despoliation of the environment resulting from the activities of extractive industries, that the people residing in the affected areas be entitled to a number of protection measures, including: that scientific inspection/assessment of the nature and scale of environmental, health and socio-economic impact of oil spillage, gas flare ups, leakage of dangerous chemicals into land, waterand air is promptly conducted; that they be provided with all information on the nature of the despoliation, on its actual and potential environmental and health impacts and on measures to be taken; that they receive full, adequate and effective compensation for the consequences of environmental damage arising from industrial activities; and they be provided corrective measures necessary for the cleaning up and restoration of the affected environment.
The Guidelines and Principles alsorecognize that corporations have obligations towards right holders, foremost of which is the negative obligation of due diligence and care, which entails ensuring that their actions or operations do not result in or trigger the occurrence of harm or the curtailment or deprivation of the rights guaranteed under the African Charter, and in the event of such curtailment or deprivation, they have the obligation to assume responsibility and initiate measures for redressing the harm caused.
In view of all of the above, the Commission:
- Welcomes the declaration by the Government of the Republic of Mauritius of environmental state of emergency and the measures taken, including through calling for international assistance, to contain the oil spill and undertake cleaning efforts;
- Calls on theGovernment of the Republic of Mauritiusto conduct systematic, detailed and proper scientific investigation into the oil spill, in order to ascertain its scope and the extent of its impact as well as to assess the risk of further oil spill;
- Further calls on the Government of the Republic of Mauritius to provide prompt and full information to the affected communities, including about the implications of the oil spill for their health and safety, and to provide them with appropriate and adequate support in coping with the effects of the oil spill including on their health, food and sources of livelihood, including the provision of full, prompt and effective compensation for the consequences of the environmental damage;
- Underscores the need for independent investigation with the full inclusion and participation of local communities for establishing accountability and for promptcorrective measures including cleaning of the despoiled sea and coastal territories, to ensure the restoration of the Ocean and the affected environment and communities, with full corporate accountability and appropriate responsibility being duly assumed by Mitsui OSK Lines- the operator of the ship;
- Urges the Government of Mauritius to institutionalize the lessons learned from this environmental disaster by putting in place measures for averting and responding to future threats of environmental disasters, including through establishing effective oil spill detection response agencies that are able to take prompt and effective actions; and
- Further urges Mauritius to ensure that its environmental protection framework, including its Environment Policy, Strategy and Action plan for the coming decade which is currently being formulated, sets out internationally acceptable standards on environmental protectionfrom oil spills and leakages, as well as detailed provisions for effective remediation in the event of such – including effective frameworks for ensuring requisite corporate accountability.
- While welcoming the international support that is being availed to the Republic of Mauritius, calls for a continental initiative, including within the framework of the African Union, for supporting the cleaning of the environment affected by the oil spill.
The Commission remains actively seized of this matter and will continue to monitor the situation and the human and peoples’ rights impact of the same on affected communities and populations.
Commissioner Solomon Ayele Dersso, PhD
Chairperson, ACHPR Working Group on Extractive Industries, Human Rights and Environment in Africa
Commissioner Hatem Essaiem
ACHPR Commissioner Rapporteur for the Republic of Mauritius
Banjul, 11 August 2020