On May 12, two women survivors and a long-time Bhopal activist today ended their 12-day hunger strike for justice in Bhopal at the Gandhi Statue in front of the Indian Embassy today in Washington, D.C. They called upon supporters worldwide to sign on to a worldwide relay hunger strike for justice in Bhopal and keep it alive until the 19th Bhopal anniversary on December 3, 2003. More than 40 people, including representatives from US non-government organization and India-associated non-profits attended the gathering, and issued statements in solidarity. More than 200 people from 19 countries have already joined the global fast.
Anil Chowdhry, Minister for Personal and Community Affairs, met the Bhopal delegation and assured them that he would communicate to the Government of India their demands -- namely extradition of Anderson and inclusion of Dow Chemical as an accused in the Bhopal criminal case.
The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, a global coalition led by survivors, declared December 3 as the Global Day of Action Against Corporate Crime and has appealed to the public to observe the day by organizing activities to fight for justice against corporate crimes in their localities. Justice delayed is justice denied. The Indian Government should expedite the extradition of Warren Anderson and move rapidly to include Dow in the criminal case against Union Carbide in Bhopal, said Rashida Bee, president of the Bhopal Gas-affected Women Stationery Workers Association, a trade union that is a member of the global coalition. Despite repeated orders by the Bhopal district court to expedite the trial, the Indian Government has been reluctant to bring UCC (Union Carbide) and Anderson to justice fueling speculation that it has succumbed to pressure from the US multinational.
Earlier, on May 8, after a long-awaited meeting with The Dow Chemical Chairman William Stavropoulos at Michigan, striking survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, said Dow not only came up with no offers for relief and rehabilitation, but also openly lied about its criminal liabilities in Bhopal. Speaking at the Annual shareholders meeting, Stavropoulos claimed that its subsidiary Union Carbide Corporation faces no criminal charges relating to the Bhopal disaster, and the only outstanding charges were against Carbides former chairman Warren Anderson.
In 1986, the Indian Governments Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) pressed charges against Union Carbide Corporation, its former CEO Warren Anderson, and ten others for manslaughter among other things. Neither Union Carbide nor Anderson have appeared in India to face trial. However, subsequent to Dows acquisition of Union Carbide in February 2001, the CBI has been directed by the Bhopal court to include Dow as an accused in the criminal case. At a hearing of the criminal case held last April, the CBI said it will submit its report on inclusion of Dow in the case by May 30, 2003. If found guilty, Dow could face penalties that have no upper limit. Such fines are decided based on the accused partys ability to pay and the magnitude of the crime.
A delegation from Bhopal demanded at the shareholders meeting that Dow face criminal charges in India; release medical information relating to the toxic gases, arrange for long-term medical monitoring and rehabilitation, clean up the contaminated factory site and provide economic and social support to the survivors of the disaster. On the issue of ongoing contamination due to the toxic wastes abandoned by Union Carbide in and around its factory premises, Stavropoulos maintained that the Government of India was responsible for cleaning up Carbides pollution. We are very concerned, but we have our responsibility to our shareholders, he said.
John Musser, the companys public relations advisor, said the company has not seen a copy of the lease agreement for the Bhopal factory site between the Madhya Pradesh State Government and Union Carbide that requires Carbide to return the grounds to the Government in its original condition.
At the question-answer session of the AGM, Bhopal survivor Mrs. Champa Devi raised the issue of double standards inherent in Dows acceptance of Carbides asbestos liabilities in the US while ignoring its responsibilities in Bhopal. Stavropoulos responded to the question saying that the two cases were different. Addressing his shareholders in Midland, Michigan, at a meeting that was webcast live, Stavropoulos said Dow had addressed the asbestos liabilities because it was the subject of an ongoing litigation, while no such litigation existed in the case of Bhopal.
Besides the criminal case pending in Bhopal, victims and survivors organizations have reopened a class action suit in New York on the issue of contamination by approaching the Appeals Court on April 25. The case appeals against a decision by Judge Keenan of the Southern District Court of New York dismissing claims filed asking Union Carbide to clean up the toxic wastes in Bhopal and compensate people affected by consumption of contaminated water.
We werent expecting Dow to live up to its rhetoric about responsible care and care for the environment and communities. But what shocked us was that the chairman of the worlds largest chemical corporation could lie about criminal liabilities faced by Carbide in Bhopal to its shareholders, said Mrs. Rasheeda Bee, a survivor and leader of the Bhopal Gas Affected Women Stationery Workers Association. The Bhopal legacy will be Dows next asbestos debacle, she said referring to the crisis Dow faced when unanticipated asbestos liabilities from Carbides past forced the company to set aside $2.2 billion to address future claims.
In merging with UCC, Dow has acquired the status of fugitive from justice. By failing to subject itself to the Indian legal system, Dow is trying to evade its responsibilities and has exposed its callous disregard for the law of the land, said Satinath Sarangi of the campaign at the 12-day fast in the US Capitol. Having handed over the hunger strike to supporters around the world, the Bhopal delegation plans to travel around the United States raising awareness about Dows crimes in Bhopal.
On December 3, 1984, a poisonous gas leaked from Carbides pesticide factory in Bhopal killing 8000 in its immediate aftermath. More than 500,000 were exposed, and at least 150,000 remain chronically ill. Union Carbide fled the country after paying $470 million in compensation, but leaving behind thousands of tons of toxic wastes that have since entered the groundwater and contaminated the breast milk of mothers living near the factory site. Survivors of the disaster received less than $500 in compensation for lifelong injury and upto a measly $2000 for loss of life.
The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) is a global coalition led by the survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide disaster. ICJB is asking Dow Chemicals, the new owners of Union Carbide, to face long-pending criminal charges against Carbide in India, release toxicological information regarding the poison gases, arrange for long-term medical rehabilitation and monitoring, provide economic rehabilitation and social support for survivors children, and clean up the toxic wastes and contaminated groundwater in and around Carbide's old factory site. The campaign is also demanding that Government of India is to ensure that Dow is held accountable.