INDIA: Bhopal Disaster and Aftermath Violation of Human Rights

Publisher Name: 
Agence France Presse

Tens of thousands of
Indian people still suffer appalling effects from the Bhopal gas leak
20 years ago and over 20,000 have died from the disaster, Amnesty
International says, labelling the victims' long wait for justice a
major breach of human rights.

The aftermath of the leak showed how "an industrial disaster can
involve a complexity of violations of civil, political, economic and
social rights for generation after generation", the London-based group
said in a major report.

Amnesty said it believed that at least 15,000 people died between
1985 and 2003 because of disaster, which saw tonnes of deadly methyl
isocyanate seep into the atmosphere on the night of December 2-3, 1984
from a pesticide plant owned by US firm Union Carbide in Bhopal.

"This is in addition to the 7,000 to 10,000 people who died in the
immediate aftermath, taking the total death toll to well over 20,000,"
the report said.

Around 100,000 people are still suffering "chronic and debilitating
illnesses" Amnesty said, noting that even 20 years later, many have yet
to receive adequate compensation or medical treatment.

"Today, 20 years after the disastrous gas leak at Bhopal, tens of
thousands of people are still suffering the after-effects," Amnesty
said in an 82-page report titled "Clouds of injustice".

"Despite the determined efforts of survivors to secure justice, the
large numbers affected have received inadequate compensation and
medical assistance," the organisation said.

"People already living in poverty face health problems that are shortening their lives and affecting their ability to work.

"The site has not been cleaned up so toxic wastes continue to
pollute the water which the surrounding communities rely on," it said.

After a protracted legal battle, Union Carbide, now a subsidiary of
Dow Chemical, paid 470 million dollars (355 million euros at current
exchange rates) to the Indian government in a settlement reached in
1989.

India's Supreme Court directed the government to pay out part of the
money, with the rest kept by the Reserve Bank of India, some of which
was ordered to be handed over in July following a legal petition from
victims.

Overall, efforts by survivors to get proper justice through both US
and Indian courts "have so far been unsuccessful", Amnesty said.

"The transnational corporations involved ... have publicly stated
that they have no responsibility for the leak and its consequences or
for the pollution from the plant.

"Union Carbide Corporation refuses to appear before the court in
Bhopal to face trial and the Indian government agreed to a final
settlement which has left survivors living in penury."

Amnesty said it had identified "a pattern of serious failures" over
safety by Union Carbide ahead of the leak, as well as subsequent
attempts to frustrate survivors before courts in both the United States
and India.

The Indian government was also culpable in that it failed to tackle
safety problems with the plant, and subsequently negotiated a
settlement "without the participation of the victims".

The report ends with a list of demands, such as better compensation
and treatment for victims, and decontamination of the Bhopal site.

It was undeniable that the disaster was a human rights issue, Amnesty said.

"Thousands of people in Bhopal were denied their right to life, and
tens of thousands of people have had their right to health undermined,"
it said.

"Thousands of poor families have suffered illness and bereavement,
further impairing their ability to realize their right to a decent
standard of living."

AMP Section Name:Food and Agriculture