Delegation of Human and Civil Rights, Disaster Recovery, and Community-Building Experts Examine Human Rights Impact of BP Drilling Disaster in Gulf Coast
New Orleans, Washington DC, and Rome, June 7 2010 - The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights (RFK Center) led a delegation of human rights experts to the Gulf Coast from June 4th – 6th to assess the impact on human rights following the BP oil rig explosion on April 20, 2010 that killed 11 workers and caused a still unabated disaster, threatening to impact the livelihoods of communities across the United States. Representatives from the RFK Center, RFK Europe and the Alliance Institute went to the region to witness and document the human impact of the oil that continues to flow into the most productive regions of the Gulf Coast, now estimated at almost one million gallons a day, for nearly fifty days.
The delegation was led by Kerry Kennedy, President of the RFK Center, and Stephen Bradberry, recipient of the 2005 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and Executive Director of New Orleans-based Alliance Institute and Advisory member of the Gulf Coast Fund. The RFK Center and Alliance Institute specifically focused on the impact on communities still recovering from the failure of state and federal entities to provide rights-respecting recovery assistance following the Gulf Coast hurricanes of 2005 and 2008.
Kerry Kennedy, President, RFK Center for Justice & Human Rights: “Media images of slime-soaked seabirds belie the human tragedy suffocating the region. More concerned about its image than the human beings impacted, BP has spent $50 million on an oil slick ad campaign, while strangling the livelihoods of the people of the Gulf Coast just as surely as its oil is destroying the wealth of ecosystems.”
Stephen Bradberry, Executive Director, Alliance Institute: “The Federal Government, through executive order, should implement a federal partnership with local communities, as called for in the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act (HR 2269), to implement coastal restoration strategies and ensure people’s rights are respected along the Gulf Coast, an initiative supported by local governments and community organizations throughout the region.”
Monika Kalra Varma, Director, Center for Human Rights: “We need to be prepared for the possibility of evacuations of coastal communities that are already being exposed to both oil and chemical dispersants. Should this happen, evacuations must be carried out in accordance with UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which call for evacuations to respect people’s rights and dignity. Gulf Coast residents should not be separated from their families, forced to jeopardize their voting rights, or undergo the disregard of basic dignity that plagued the post Katrina evacuations.”
Hosted by the Alliance Institute and the Gulf Coast Fund, the team was welcomed by local community leaders from the Vietnamese-American fishing community, legal advocates, bayou-keepers, fishermen, scientists, environmental advocates, and grassroots organizers across three gulf states – Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. The delegation visited a spill affected area in Barataria Bay, LA, traveling approximately 8 miles from the coast to witness first hand the presence of oil in the water, in the air, and on wild life.
As the off-limits fishing area continues to expand and fishing ships remain docked now for weeks, the generations-old fishing communities face growing uncertainty and anxiety about how they will survive in the wake of this man-made disaster, especially as it coincides with the beginning of what was to be one of the most profitable shrimping seasons in years. Affected groups reported on the physical and mental health impacts on clean-up workers and communities along the Gulf Coast, caused by oil contamination and the use of chemical dispersants in the clean-up efforts. Fishermen and their families, now doing clean-up work, explained that individuals received as few as 4 hours of training before starting work, instead of the standard 40 hour training. BP also discouraged them from wearing protective gear, including respirators, while working to clean up the oil, leading many to have respiratory problems.
The human rights team also heard from Gulf Coast organizations on the need for federal policies, such as the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act (HR 2269), that would create 100,000 green and living wage jobs that could target public infrastructure and coastal restoration. RFK Center has been vigorously advocating for the Act since 2008.
The delegation noted a lack of transparency as well as inaccurate and inconsistent statements by BP and the U.S. government about the extent of the gushing oil, attempts to stop or contain the oil. Information on the chemical make up of the dispersants being used, the claims process run by BP, and hiring within the BP-run Vessels of Opportunity program remains unavailable or inconsistent. This lack of information prevents meaningful public participation and increases the level of anxiety within the affected communities. The RFK Center and Alliance Institute will continue to advocate for rights-respecting responses from both BP and the U.S. government as the disaster rages unchecked.