Netherlands and Belgium Violate International Law by Allowing the Export of Dirty Petrol and Diesel

February 6, 2017

GENEVA – A new legal analysis by the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), commissioned by the Swiss Public Eye and Friends of the Earth Netherlands – Milieudefensie, finds that Netherlands and Belgium are in breach of the Basel Convention, international customary law, and human rights obligations by allowing the export of high-sulfur fuel to West African countries from their territories.

In September, a study conducted by Public Eye found that these polluted and toxic fuels were being produced at a large scale in the ports of Rotterdam and Amsterdam for export to African markets. As much as a quarter of the petrol and diesel on the market in West Africa comes from the ports of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Antwerp. These fuels contain up to 400 times the amount of sulfur and other pollutants such as cancer-causing benzene as is authorized in Europe.

The organizations call on parliament to quickly intervene and ensure that both countries uphold the law to protect millions of Africans from exposure to toxic fuels.

Conventions of Basel and Bamako

Two international treaties play a role in the protection of African countries against these dangerous practices: the Bamako Convention, which specifically bans the import of hazardous waste (defined broadly to include “all substances banned for health or environmental reasons in the country of manufacture”) into Africa and the Basel Convention, which prohibits the export of hazardous waste (as they are defined in the importing countries).

Most West African countries are parties to the Bamako Convention, and the Netherlands, Belgium, and West African countries are all parties to the Basel Convention.

The dirty fuels exported from Belgium and the Netherlands are banned within both countries for health and environmental reasons, and they are therefore considered hazardous waste by parties to the Bamako Convention, which makes their export strictly forbidden by the Basel Convention.

“Our legal analysis demonstrates without a doubt that in authorizing these exports from their territories, the Netherlands and Belgium are in breach of their international obligations under the Basel Convention, customary law, and human rights law,” says David Azoulay, Director of the Environmental Health Program at CIEL. “They have a legal obligation to completely and immediately ban all exports of these high-sulfur fuels and end this illegal and dangerous trade.”

Politics now turn

The companies producing these dirty fuels include Trafigura, known for the scandal around the dumping of waste by the Probo Koala toxic death ship, and Dutch-Swiss Vitol. Following the publicity around the study in September, the Amsterdam city council passed a motion to prohibit the export of dirty diesel from the port of Amsterdam. Minister Ploumen (Foreign Trade and Development) called these “Dirty Diesel” exports “a scandal;” however, she indicated that authorities lacked the legal arguments to ban such exports. CIEL, Friends of the Earth, and Public Eye now call on the Minister to take immediate action to prohibit these dirty exports using the legal arguments identified in CIEL’s legal opinion.