23 years waiting for justice in Bhopal

This week I joined a delegation of MSPs and organisations on a march from the Scottish Parliament to the Indian Consulate in Edinburgh. At only two miles it was a small gesture of solidarity with survivors of the 1984 Bhopal tragedy who hope to meet the Indian Prime Minister today after marching 800 km from Bhopal to Delhi.

I vaguely remember the tragedy happening (I was very young then, you understand), but hadn’t heard of Bhopal for some time. As is the way of such things you make the unconscious assumption that something happened, things have been cleared up and the world has moved on.  

So it was distressing to realilse that after 23 years so little has been done to support the victims of this tragedy, and to hold those responsible to account.

Research by Amnesty International reveals that more than 7,000 people died in the immediate aftermath of the leak, and a further 15,000 people have died as a result of related diseases since 1984. More than 100,000 people are still suffering from chronic or debilitating illnesses.  

Chemical company Union Carbide – see here for their website on the disaster – decided to store MIC, a highly toxic chemical, in large quantities at its Bhopal plant, which did not have the safety capacity for such storage. The company had no emergency plan to warn local residents of any accident, and ignored warnings that a serious leak could happen.

Despite this negligence, and the scale of the disaster which ensued, victims have not received justice in either the Indian or the US courts. Union Carbide and Dow (which bought UCC in 2001), both deny any responsibility and are refusing to appear before Bhopal District Court where criminal charges are pending.  

The Bhopal disaster, and the subsequent lack of accountability and justice for survivors, shows the need for enforceable human rights standards for companies. It is time for the Indian government to act to ensure that this lack of corporate accountability is ended.

The Indian Consul was as charming and welcoming as could be asked of any diplomat. I hope that the concerns we raised will be passed on to his Government, and wish the marchers all the best as they meet their Prime Minister.  

Meanwhile, this campaign action is from 2004, but sadly is just as relevant now. You might like to use it to let the Chief Exective of Dow Chemicals know how you feel.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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