Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
This summer the long struggle of Bhopal survivors for justice and compensation for the world's worst chemical disaster has made important headway. A court victory and worldwide protests over the failure of Dow Chemical to take full responsibility for the disaster after purchasing Union Carbide have built momentum that could ultimately bring some measure of justice to the people of Bhopal.
On the night of December 3, 1984, the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India exploded, killing 8,000 people within days, and many more in the following years. Total fatalities from the disaster have now exceeded 20,000, and as many as 30 people succumb each month to long-term effects of the poisoning. An additional 150,000 people suffer significant health impacts from their exposure.
On August 28, 2002, a Bhopal magistrate rejected an Indian government application to reduce criminal charges against former Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson. "There is no sense in reducing the charges, since Warren Anderson, who has been declared an absconder and against whom a permanent arrest warrant has been issued, has not appeared in any court," Rameshar Kotha the chief judicial magistrate, said in his order.
Instead, the court directed the prosecuting agency to expedite the extradition of Anderson from the United States to face trial. The charges against Anderson were based upon evidence that both Anderson and Union Carbide had willfully allowed the setting up of a pesticide plant with seriously flawed design and inadequate safety systems in an effort to save money.
A day later, Greenpeace called on the U.S. State Department to arrest and extradite Warren Anderson, whom they located "living a life of luxury in New York State." Greenpeace activists handed their own warrant to Anderson, who was charged with culpable homicide by the Indian government in an extradition order eleven years ago.
The court decision and the Greenpeace "warrant" came while the World Summit on Sustainable Development was underway in Johannesburg, where environmental, sustainability and human rights activists argued that the global forum should hold global corporations accountable. Activists criticized World Summit organizers for allowing corporations like Dow Chemical to participate under the guise of sustainability. Amit Srivastava of CorpWatch India said Dow was trying to "greenwash the worst corporate crime in history," pointing out that "William Stavropoulos, president of Dow Chemical, is participating here [at the Johannesburg Summit] as a member of the executive committee of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development." Rasheeda Bi, who lost six members of her family in the disaster, said Dow's participation in the U.N. summit turned it into a farce that has lent respectability to corporate perpetrators. She further accused that, "In the United States, Dow had accepted the liabilities of Union Carbide through the merger. But it has not done so in India. These are double standards."
These are just some of the recent wave of hunger strikes, demonstrations and other actions led by Bhopal survivors and supporters in India and around the world that began as the Indian Court prepared to make its decision. In June, survivors Tara Bai and Rashida Bee began a hunger strike at a sit in protest outside the Indian Parliament together with Satinath Sarangi, a founding member of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, and vowed to take no food until the Government reversed its plans to rollback charges against Anderson. By mid-July, solidarity protests, fasts and hunger strikes had taken place in many Indian cities and eight countries. As the three Bhopal hunger strikers stepped down from their fast later in July, their cause was taken up by Diane Wilson, a fisherwoman in Seadrift, Texas, and longtime critic of Dow Chemical's pollution of Gulf waters.
Ms. Wilson fasted for 30 days in her truck parked outside Dow's Seadrift plant, talking to supporters, plant workers, townspeople and the media. She was arrested on August 26th, a week after ending her fast, for climbing and chaining herself to the cooling tower at the Dow Seadrift plant, and hanging a 12 foot banner reading: "Dow is responsible for Bhopal." This non-violent protest at the Dow Seadrift plant coincided with a similar action during the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa spotlighting toxic discharges from a Dow chlorine plant 15 kilometers north of Johannesburg. In that action, forty activists from more than 15 countries hung a banner with the message, "Dow: Do Not Repeat Bhopal. Clean Up Africa Now!" Bhopal survivors and their supporters report further that more than 1,000 people have participated in the ongoing solidarity hunger strikes, and many more took part in large demonstrations around the world on August 9th and August 15th, which is Indian Independence Day.
Bhopal activists pledge to continue these activities, with the objectives of ensuring the speedy extradition of Anderson and Dow-Carbide representatives, holding Dow accountable for cleaning up the land and water around Bhopal, and preventing the Government of India from succumbing to American interests and pressure to release Dow Chemical from liability. In recent days, a demonstration was held in Chembur, India. Activists also have called the health care at the Dow-Carbide funded Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust hospital in Bhopal a public relations ploy because charges for treatment there are exorbitant.
Bhobal activists have succeeded in focusing world attention on the need for Dow Chemical and Warren Anderson to take full responsibly for a disaster that still claims victims daily. That is a victory in itself. Now, the question is whether Dow Chemical, and the governments of India and the U.S. will follow through?
The Guardian, August 29, 2002: http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,782028,00.html. Greenpeace Press Release, August 29, 2002: International fugitive and Bhopal corporate criminal tracked down in the United States: calls for his arrest. Toronto Star, Aug 25, 2002: Court seeks U.S. executive over Bhopal gas leak. http://lists.essential.org/mailman/listinfo/remember-bhopal. http://www.bhopal.net.
The National Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, B14, Second Floor, Gulmohar Park, New Delhi 110 049, India; Web site http://www.bhopal.net. Tim Edwards, UK Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (UK), phone (44-14) 3587 2188 or (44-12) 7371 1043, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Corp Watch India, http://www.corpwatchindia.org. Greenpeace, http://www.greenpeaceusa.org/bhopal.
PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don't always get coverage by the mainstream media. It's produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.