International Human Rights Commission Takes Jurisdiction Over Louisiana Environmental Racism Case Residents of Mossville, LA Celebrate Landmark Decision

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (“OAS”) ruled in favor of admitting a human rights complaint filed by Advocates for Environmental Human Rights (“AEHR”) on behalf of people living in Mossville, Louisiana. The decision marks the first time that the Commission has taken jurisdiction over an environmental racism case in the United States. The Commission’s review will focus on whether the US Government has violated the human rights of Mossville residents to racial equality and privacy. As a judicial arm of the OAS, the Commission reviews and renders decisions on petitions alleging human rights violations in the United States and 34 other OAS member countries.

“Our government is a member of the OAS and has also ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which create clear obligations to protect our human right to freedom from racial discrimination whether it is intentional or the result of a policy or action. However, these obligations are rarely acknowledged by our government much less upheld,” said Nathalie Walker, co-director and attorney with AEHR.

“I am grateful that the Commission decided to take our human rights case,” said Dorothy Felix, a petitioner in the case who also volunteers as the Vice-President of Mossville Environmental Action Now (“MEAN”). “We believe that environmental protection should not be based on the color of our skin. Our government can and must do better to protect our human rights,” she said.

Mossville is an historic African American community in southwest Louisiana that is surrounded by 14 industrial facilities that annually release millions of pounds of toxic chemicals. According to the Mossville human rights petition, several studies by governmental agencies and nongovernmental groups link the pollution from these facilities to residents’ exposure to dioxins, noxious odors, and unhealthy air and water quality in the community. The petition alleges that the US Government and local political subdivisions ignored their obligation to protect human rights when they permitted and provided other authorizations for polluting industries to build and operate near Mossville.

“Mossville is one of several communities of color across the United States disproportionately burdened with toxic pollution as a result of governmental decisions that are tipped in favor of polluters,” said Monique Harden, Co-Director & Attorney with AEHR. “The good news is that a judicial review by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights can open the door to ending the pattern of environmental racism by introducing a human rights framework for environmental protection,” she said.