Why Bhopal still matters, 30 years on

Today marks 30 years since the worst case of corporate negligence in living memory. It’s a day to commemorate, but more fundamentally to draw attention to the need for justice in what is a continuing present day human rights travesty.

More than 7,000 people died within a matter of days when toxic gases leaked from a chemical plant in Bhopal, India on the night of 2 December 1984. Since then, exposure to the toxins has resulted in the deaths of a further 15,000 people as well as chronic illnesses for thousands of others.

Even today the plant site has not been cleaned up; toxic wastes continue to pollute the environment and groundwater. Astonishingly, no one has been held responsible for the leak and its devastating consequences.

The ongoing campaign for justice

A special tribute is owed to survivors’ groups and to The Bhopal Medical Appeal for keeping this issue alive and reminding so many people that this is a human rights issue.

It’s a reflection of institutional failure in India and the United States that 30 years after the catastrophic events of 1984, the affected families are still demanding justice.

10 years ago, we set out the sequence of occurrences leading up to and following the disaster in our report Clouds of injustice, the Bhopal disaster 20 years on. We highlighted  the responsibilities of the Indian Government, the US Government, Union Carbide Corporation, and subsequently Dow Chemicals in addressing the human rights violations incurred by the Bhopal disaster.

We called for an immediate clean-up of the site as a well as a full remedy for the victims, which should include acknowledgement of the harm suffered, compensation, rehabilitation and for those responsible to be held to account. Unfortunately, a decade on, we are repeating many of these calls.

The long road to redress

While the wheels of justice move slowly in India, there was a significant campaign victory just weeks ago when the Indian Government agreed to increase its claim against Union Carbide Corporation, a subsidiary of Dow Chemicals since 2001.

However, in the topsy-turvy world in which we live BP can quite rightly be forced to pay over $20b in compensation to those affected by its oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, but Dow Chemicals can’t be forced to pay anything to the many more people affected in Bhopal by the company that it took over.

Amnesty International’s ongoing interest in this case is rooted in our belief that if those responsible for human rights violations are not held to account, then such abuses will be repeated. That is why we were so appalled when, three years ago, Lord Coe as head of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games was declaring that it was fine to enter into a partnership with Dow Chemicals because the company bore no responsibility for the consequences of the events of 1984.

Amnesty will continue to promote shareholder resolutions at Dow’s AGMs. You can join us in putting pressure on the Indian Government to ensure a proper remedy for the survivors and decontamination of the site - write to Prime Minister Modi and post on his social media accounts.

Nothing is more likely to deter companies from committing such abuses in the first place than the prospect of being held accountable. And that is why Bhopal still matters today.

Join our calls for justice

Tweet India's Prime Minister Modi to ask for justice

Ask India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi to order a full clean-up of the Bhopal factory site and compensation for people affected by the Bhopal disaster. Modi has two Twitter accounts: please click both buttons!

Tweet to @narendramodi

Tweet to @PMOIndia

Post a comment on the Prime MInister's Facebook pages

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Suggested comment:

I am calling for justice for the victims of the Bhopal distaster. 30 years without justice is too long. Please clean the site and fully compensate the victims of this tragedy.

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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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