Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
Fifteen years after thousands of people were killed in a poison gas leak at a Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, lawyers have filed a class action lawsuit in New York charging the corporation with violating the fundamental human rights of the victims and survivors of the disaster. The toxic gas killed at least 16,000 according to local estimates; tens of thousands continue to suffer. The suit has been filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act that provides for civil remedies for criminal violation of international law by U.S.-based corporations.
The lawsuit alleges that Union Carbide "demonstrated a reckless and depraved indifference to human life in the design, operation and maintenance" of the Union Carbide facility in Bhopal. The complaint also charges "that the defendants are liable for fraud and civil contempt for their total failure to comply with the lawful orders of the courts of both the United States and India." The plaintiffs in the case include individual survivors as well as the victims' organizations in Bhopal that have been representing survivors and next-of-kin of victims for the past 15 years.
According to news reports, Union Carbide stated that it had not reviewed the suit but that "all personal injury and related claims ... were settled in 1989." At that time, the company paid US$470 million as part of an out-of-court settlement that granted company officials immunity from prosecution. India's supreme court later struck down the immunity clause, but let the settlement stand. The claimants who have received payments have been paid only US$600 for injuries or less than US$3,000 in case of death. Many others have received no compensation.
December 2, 1999, marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Bhopal gas disaster. Late that night in 1984, an explosion at the Union Carbide plant released a deadly cocktail of poison gas made up of methyl isocyanante, hydrogen cyanide, monomethyl amine, carbon monoxide and up to 20 other chemicals. The incident occurred during routine maintenance operations at the factory when a large quantity of water entered one of the storage tanks through leaking valves and corroded pipes, triggering a runaway reaction. The wind carried the clouds of gas out over the surrounding community, exposing more than 500,000 people to the poisons.
The Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA) and other groups representing the victims say that over 120,000 survivors are still in need of medical attention. Ten to 15 people die each month due to injuries and illness caused by the disaster. Representatives of the groups charge that Union Carbide continues to withhold information on the composition of the leaked gases and their effects on humans. Although such information is needed for proper diagnosis and care, Union Carbide maintains that these facts are trade secrets.
Sources: Indian Express News Service, November 16, 1999; Goodkind, Labaton, Rudoff & Sucharow press release, November 15, 1999; Environment News Service, November 16, 1999.
Contact: Friends of Bhopal, 44, Sant Kanwar Ram nagar, Berassia Road, Bhopal 462001, India; email firstname.lastname@example.org.
No More Bhopals!
The Environmental Health Fund, Earth Rights International, the Pesticide Action Network North America and other environmental and human rights organizations, are releasing a report charging the chemical industry with numerous human rights atrocities in connection with 20th Century environmental disasters. "Beyond the Chemical Century: Restoring Human Rights and Preserving the Fabric of Life in the New Millennium" will be released in 15 countries on the fifteenth anniversary of Bhopal. It shows how the largest chemical corporations have not only degraded the world's ecosystems, but also violated basic human rights: the right to life, health and a livable environment.
"The Bhopal disaster is just one example of a much larger pattern of ongoing human rights abuses committed by the chemical industry throughout this century," said attorney Sanford Lewis, the report's primary author. The chemical industry, through cost-cutting, concealment and delay, have damaged millions of lives in the 20th Century. Examples in the report include:
** Union Carbide turned off critical safety mechanisms in the Bhopal plant to save money. Over 16,000 people have died as a result.
** Japan's Chisso Corporation knew for a decade that its mercury-containing waste discharge caused Minamata Disease, which attacks the human nervous system. At least 3,000 died, and over 10,000 survivors continue to live with deteriorated nervous systems. Chisso denied responsibility for victim's suffering.
Full text of the report can be accessed at http://home.earthlink.net/~gnproject/chemcentury.htm.
Source: Environmental Health press release, November 30, 1999.
Contact: Sanford Lewis, Strategic Counsel on Corporate Accountability, P.O. Box 79225, Waverly, MA 02479; phone (617) 489-3686; fax (781) 891-6889; email email@example.com