Hurricane Katrina, Rita and the BP Oil Spill
Today, residents of the Gulf Coast still face violations of their human rights to housing, health care, justice, and to return home brought about by the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
These violations are now being compounded by violations of the right to livelihood and to a healthy environment caused by the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Amnesty International's report, Un-Natural Disaster: Human Rights in the Gulf Coast (PDF) documents how these obstacles prevented the return of people displaced by the storms, and constitute violations of the rights of those who returned – rights guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and other documents. Low-income residents and communities of color were especially hard hit.
These abuses were compounded by the oil spill, which has had severe consequences for human rights, particularly on the right to an adequate standard of living and to gain work, which are threatened by the spill's impact on marine wildlife on waterways and coastlines - a source of livelihood for many Gulf residents.
The right to health and a healthy environment are also potentially at risk from the impact on air quality and on the food chain from the spill itself and from efforts to contain the spill. As evidenced in the aftermath of the storms, disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups and poor communities are disproportionately impacted by these crises, facing obstacles at every stage and lacking access to the resources and institutions that should protect them and aid in their recovery.
Under international law, the US government has a duty to protect human rights against abuse by business and should ensure that corporations and other business enterprises respect human rights. The US government should be vigilant in ensuring that those affected by the oil spill are provided timely assistance and that special attention is given to both the immediate and potential longer-term impacts of the oil drilling disaster on already vulnerable coastal communities.