Intellectual property

The Legal Framework Concerning Environmental Racism

Environmental Racism, also known as Ecological Racism is unfair environmental practices against people of colour such as exploitative mining, testing of dangerous materials, and excessive disposal of hazardous waste in communities of colour esp. when these are done because of race.

Racial inequality in the world has led to some societies being wealthier than others. The economically powerful countries tend to produce more solid and hazardous waste due to higher levels of industrialization. They also manufacture and test more drugs, chemicals, and weapons.  The need to also get raw materials at cheap costs, little regulatory policies, and the cheapest labour has led to environmental racism.

Due to the higher levels of education and more access to information that citizens have in these global North countries, it has become an increasing challenge for the manufacturers to test dangerous materials or simply dispose of dangerous goods in their own backyards as the informed citizenry would revolt.

The solution to this problem was found: dump toxins in poorer countries with people who were too weak to resist the powerful bullies or even capable of managing the ailments caused by the toxins dumped in their environments.

Below are some of the activities that are related to Environmental racism:

TOXIC WASTE COLONIALISM

Toxic waste colonialism is the exportation of toxic waste from developed countries to underdeveloped countries for disposal. The disposal of hazardous waste has become a global concern as some countries produce never-ending heaps of solid waste as a result of industrialization. Due to the difference in the levels of economy and industrialization, more waste is produced in Western countries and disposed of in global southern countries, which are mostly countries in Africa and Asia.

These hazardous wastes which were not produced by the people in these poorer countries have led to illnesses and deaths of the inhabitants.

Peter Newell, Professor of Development Studies at the University of East Anglia argues that “environmental inequality reinforces and, at the same time reflects, other forms of hierarchy and exploitation along the lines of class, race, and gender. (Newell, “Race, Class, and the Global Politics Of Environmental Inequality”. Global Environmental Politics , 2005)[1]

The inhabitants of poorer countries who are unduly exposed to toxins exported by the West have been killed by these toxins. People who live near open refuse sites often suffer chronic diseases and die off since they are too poor to afford healthcare like those in developed countries. The exploitation of global capitalism has adversely and disproportionately affected non-whites as these toxic dumps produced in the West are disposed of in mostly African and Asian countries.

Dr. Bashir Mohamed Hussein shares spoke of the radioactive waste dumping in Somalia and its effects, “UNEP…reported that the people were complaining of unusual health problems including “acute respiratory infections, heavy dry coughing, mouth bleeding, abdominal hemorrhage and unusual chemical skin reaction…Likewise, both Somali and non-Somali medical

doctors working in Somalia have reported an excessive incidence of cancer, unknown diseases, spontaneous miscarriages of pregnant women, and child malformation.”[2]

EXTRACTIVISM

Extractivism is the exploitative mining of natural resources in poorer countries by foreign companies and governments. These raw materials are exported to be processed abroad, then refined and sold back to these poor countries at exorbitant prices. This act is to the advantage of the developed countries as it exploits the underdeveloped countries who give the natural resources yet enriches the economy of developed manufacturers.

The communities (sacrifice zones) where these large-scale, exploitative extractions take place suffer a loss of biodiversity, soil depletion, and severe pollution of freshwater bodies. In some instances, poisoning. Sacrifice zones in Nigeria are particularly found in the Niger Delta region with states like Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom being some of the worst hit. Most rivers in Bayelsa have been permanently impaired by chemical pollution, leading to loss of health, means of livelihood, and lives.

TEST OF DANGEROUS TECHNOLOGY AND CHEMICALS

Between 1960 and 1966, during an explosives test, France detonated 17 bombs in Algeria and the force of the bomb explosions blew the Sahara sand into the skies. This sand, which was contaminated with radioactive elements rained on people. Many people were struck with respiratory and acute eye diseases. Many became blind as a result. Hundreds of people developed strange kinds of cancer in the town of Fezzan in Algeria. Four of these bombs were not properly contained and villagers in Taureg village became contaminated with radioactivity. Sixty years later, the negative impact of those inhumane tests is still ongoing as acute birth defects and illnesses have been passed down through generations.[3] Some of the first deadly radiation purportedly landed in Nigeria, Ghana, and other countries in Africa but the French government never officially admitted to this.

SOME TREATIES REGULATING ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM

The Basel Convention of 1989

The Stockholm Declaration and Action Plan for the Human Environment of 1972

The Rotterdam Convention of 1998

PROPOSED BUT NOT EFFECTIVE

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1996

The CTBT seeks to ban nuclear weapon test explosions in all environments.  It was adopted by the United Nations but not in force as 8 countries has refused to ratify it. The countries are the United States, North Korea, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, and Pakistan.

CONCLUSION

There is a legal framework in place that guards against environmental racism but these regulations are not strictly binding on powerful countries that have chosen to not be bound by them. Laws are irrelevant if the countries who perpetrate the acts sought to be checked can decide to not be bound by these regulations and face little to no sanctions. Environmental racism thrives in poverty. Ecological racism further impoverishes the people from the affected nations. If poverty still ravages some countries, there is little that can be done to prevent powerful state and non-state actors from abusing the needy countries who rely on them for some sort of support. Where poverty is eliminated, the scale is no longer tipped lower on the side of the developing country suffering from environmental racism. The first sustainable Development Goal of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals is NO POVERTY, which seeks to eliminate extreme poverty in every country of the world. If this is achieved, environmental racism will greatly reduce as all will stand in partnership as equals to eradicate our environmental problems rather than simply dumping one country’s poison on another just because they are unable to resist this abuse.


[1] Peter Newell, “Race, Class, and the Global Politics Of Environmental Inequality”. Global Environmental Politics,  2005)

[2] Hussein Bashir (8 June 2010). “The Evidence of Toxic and Radioactive Wastes Dumping in Somalia and its Impact on The Enjoyment of Human Rights: A Case Study

[3] Middle East Eye. https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/france-libya-algeria-nuclear-tests-still-haunt-desert. 29 Jan. 2023

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About Toiyoabasi Ekong Esq

Toiyoabasi Ekong is an environmental Lawyer based in Abuja, Nigeria. She loves research, reading Law Reports and biographies. She is a writer with over a decade of experience under her belt, and some published works to her credit. An active member of International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Ms. Ekong particularly enjoys working with young women to advocate for socio-economic empowerment of women in the country. she is the host of “Today’s Woman” on 98.1 Amana FM., a show that promotes women’s rights and female education. You can reach her via email Toiyoabasiofficial@gmail.com or +2348088526243