Compensation for the affected!

The human rights organisation Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos Chile-Suecia, (National Commission for human rights Chile-Sweden), together with several organizations in Sweden and Europe, is now demanding that the authorities in Chile and Sweden take responsibility for the toxic waste that Boliden sent to Chile causing damage to people and the environment in Arica. 

They refer to the accusations made by a group of UN experts towards the governments of Sweden and Chile and towards the Swedish mining company Boliden and demand, among other things, that those affected should be compensated.

This is what they write:

“We want to make visible our demands for measures to be taken jointly by the State of Chile and the Swedish State:

We wish to express our concern and interest in a situation that affects us in two ways, first because we are citizens of Chilean origin living in Europe and particularly in Sweden, and second because we have Chilean nationality, namely the serious health situation that has occurred in Chile as a result of a Swedish company, Boliden, exposing the health of thousands of people, many of them children, and creating major and irreparable environmental damage.

An act that violates environmental legislation and causes serious damage to or threatens the environment or human health is considered an environmental crime by the European Commission. The most common environmental offences according to the European Commission are:

– illegal discharges into air, water or soil

– illegal trade in wild fauna and flora

– illegal trade in ozone-depleting substances

– illegal transport and dumping of waste

In the mid-1980s, the Swedish company Boliden sent 20 000 tonnes of toxic waste to the Chilean company Promel in the city of Arica. 

The waste was never processed but left in a pile, exposed to the vagaries of the weather and forgotten in an area later used for the development of basic housing. Thus, the Swedish company Boliden committed crimes in at least three of the four areas mentioned above, and the Chilean government allowed this to happen by signing a contract that violated the right of the population to live and grow in a healthy environment.

We believe, on the basis of environmental ethics, the morality that democratic governments should possess and respect for human rights, that the environmental problems that have arisen are to be regarded as worldwide and are therefore common. These problems must be solved through international cooperation in which the countries involved take joint responsibility for the needs of both the victims and the survivors in the poisoned areas.

As a result of Boliden’s dealings with the Chilean state, the waste, which include large quantities of arsenic, was left in Arica for about 15 years and is still remaining there.

In the meantime, the toxic waste has spread over a large residential area, exposing men and women of all ages and several thousand children to the waste. 

It is estimated that 12,000 residents of Arica have been affected by the toxic environment. Many of them have contracted or even died from cancer and other diseases related to the toxic waste and the negligence of Boliden and the Chilean state.

It should be pointed out that the Swedish government has not fulfilled its responsibility to ensure that bilateral trade relations do not lead to human rights violations. 

It should be made clear that the toxic waste remains on the outskirts of Arica, just a few hundred meters from residential areas, unprotected, just below ground level – despite the previously observed damage to the population, and despite the obvious risks of future damage to people and the environment. Many of the old inhabitants have moved out but there is no ban on settling in the area, which is now being populated by migrants from other Latin American countries and who are now beginning to show illnesses related to poisoning by the toxic waste.

The UN Human Rights Council has now strongly criticized Sweden and Boliden for the environmentally toxic waste that the company shipped to Chile. The UN rapporteurs criticize the fact that instead of trying Boliden’s liability, Sweden considered that the claims were time-barred. 

Like environmental law professor Jonas Ebbesson, who has been one of the legal representatives of some 800 people in Arica in the legal proceedings against Boliden, the UN rapporteurs say that Sweden has a duty to compensate the affected people and take back the toxic waste dumped in Arica or at least ensure that it is handled responsibly through the application of environmentally safe methods.

As states, Sweden and Chile share responsibility and international law requires these states to contribute to a sustainable solution that removes the toxic waste from Arica. In addition, they must jointly repair the damage to human health and the environment caused by the dumped toxic waste. It is reasonable for both states to establish cooperation in order to find a solution to what happened in Arica. 

Both Chile and Sweden should ensure that the rights of the Arica people (and especially all the children) affected are protected.

In the light of the environmental catastrophe in Arica, we Chileans living abroad and especially in Sweden (the country where we pay our taxes) believe that we have a moral obligation to address the Chilean and Swedish authorities with three proposals for action which we consider to be of the utmost importance:

1. A concrete plan to compensate those affected in Arica, both the relatives of those who died and those who themselves suffered from illnesses related to poisoning by the toxic waste.

2. Adequate housing must be provided elsewhere in the city for those currently living in the area. At the same time, it is necessary to immediately prohibit the establishment of new settlements in the area. 

3. Establishment of a project plan that includes

– removal of the toxic waste to Sweden, or its disposal in Chile, 

– extensive reconstruction and clean-up of the site using state-of-the-art technology to ensure that no risk to people and the environment remains.

The following organizations support this proposal:

Nationella Kommissionen för Mänskliga rättigheter Chile – Sverige – Sweden

Chile Despertó – Södertälje

Solidaritet med Chile – Gothenburg

Victor Jara Riksförbundet, Sweden

Kollektivet Chile Despertó, Netherlands

Kollektivet Asamblea Constituyente Chile, Belgium

European network of Chileans for civil and political rights.”