Human Rights Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill

May 24, 2010

We are deeply concerned about the impacts of the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill on the human rights of affected people in the region. Beyond the immediate impacts of the explosion that resulted in a tragic loss of life, the spill also poses a threat to human rights particularly in those communities of the Gulf region that are still struggling to recover from severe hurricane damage and who rely, for example, on fisheries or tourism for their livelihoods.

As evidenced in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups and poor communities are often disproportionally impacted by crises, facing obstacles at every stage and lacking access to the resources and institutions that should protect them and aid in their recovery.

Among the human rights at stake are the rights to an adequate standard of living and to gain a living through work, which are threatened by potential damage to the environment, including on marine life, waterways and coastlines that are a source of livelihood for many in the affected Gulf areas. The rights of residents in affected areas to health and a healthy environment are also potentially at risk as a result of direct and indirect impacts of the spill on the environment, including possible impacts on air quality and the human food-chain.

Under international law, the U.S. government has a duty to protect human rights against abuse by business and should ensure that corporations and other business enterprises respect human rights. To that end, Amnesty International welcomes the investigations into the spill that have commenced.  We urge the U.S. government to be vigilant in ensuring that those affected by the oil spill are provided timely assistance, and to give particular attention to both the immediate impacts and the potential longer-term impacts of the oil drilling disaster on already vulnerable coastal communities.

In particular, the U.S. government should:

  • Ensure that those responsible for the disaster provide a fair and expedited claims process for those affected by the economic impact of the disaster, including the cost of clean-up and any damage suffered by affected communities;
  • Provide the resources necessary for state and federal environmental agencies to monitor air quality and the impacts of the spill and the efforts to contain the spill on marine and coastal wildlife, including the potential impact on the human food-chain;
  • Ensure that ongoing monitoring is maintained and assistance provided in respect of any public health impacts of the spill and the efforts to contain the spill;
  • Make information and data collected from the environmental and health monitoring available to the public; and
  • Review the adequacy of the regulatory system to prevent similar offshore drilling incidents occurring in future.