fresh voices from the front lines of change







Mossville, Louisiana is an historic African American community in the southwest part of the state. Like too many similar communities around the country, it is surrounded by 14 industrial facilities that release millions of pounds of toxic chemicals annually. Mossville residents point to studies by governmental and private sources linking the pollution from these facilities to their exposure to dioxins, noxious odors, and unhealthy air and water quality throughout the community. And they have documented how the burdens of toxic pollution and environmental hazards are disproportionately visited upon Louisiana communities that share their racial complexion.

A safe and healthy environment and freedom from discrimination are basic human rights that everyone should enjoy and that all governments should protect. Yet Mossville residents’ efforts to seek relief from their government—both state and federal—have yielded only excuses and inaction.

Last week, however, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights—a part of the Organization of American States—agreed to hear their case. The Commission will consider whether the United States government, which is a member of the OAS, has violated residents’ human rights to racial equality. The case marks the first time that the Commission will consider a U.S. environmental justice case.
It’s a shame that it takes an international body to hold our government accountable for protecting the rights of its own people. But that’s one of the reasons why America must be part of an international human rights system as well as our domestic systems of civil and constitutional rights. Human rights treaties provide tools to help ensure that the basic rights of all people are upheld.

Monique Harden, Co-Director of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, which represents the Mossville residents, explained why the case is so important: “The good news is that a judicial review by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights can open the door to ending the pattern of environmental racism by introducing a human rights framework for environmental protection.” Hopefully, this case will help to bring human rights home to a place that desperately needs them.

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