India: Clouds of Injustice, new Amnesty report on the continuing human rights disaster in Bhopal

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'It is astonishing that no one has been properly held to account for the Bhopal disaster, which is continuing to destroy the lives of the local community, despite UCC’s appalling negligence in ever having allowed it to happen.

'This disaster, and the subsequent lack of accountability and justice for survivors, shows the need for rigorous and enforceable human rights standards for companies. It is time for governments to act to ensure that this lack of corporate accountability is ended.'

Clouds of Injustice: The Bhopal Disaster 20 Years On examines multiple human rights violations which are still taking place following the leak of toxic chemicals from the UCC pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India twenty years ago (3 December 1984). New 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 suffering from chronic or debilitating illnesses.

Hasina Bi lives near Bhopal near the plant, has been drinking the water from the hand-pump near her house for 18 years:

'When you look at the water, you can see a thin layer of oil on it. All the pots in my house have become discoloured... green-yellow. We have to travel at least two kilometres to get clean water, to Chola Nakka, but my health is so bad that it prevents me from carrying the water I need from there.'

UCC 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, victims have not received justice in either the Indian or the US courts. UCC 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 against UCC.

Clouds of Injustice also criticises the Indian government for its failure to assess adequately the risk from the Bhopal plant, and for allowing a settlement to be made with UCC by the Indian Supreme Court in 1989 which was derisory, made without consultation with survivors, and arbitrarily included the ending of all UCC’s liability.

Kate Allen continued:

'UCC and Dow have jumped through many hoops avoiding their responsibility for this disaster. They have withheld crucial information about the toxicology of the products that leaked, lent weight to efforts to discredit complainants, delayed at every opportunity, and tried to shift responsibility between their different operations.

'Bhopal raises fundamental questions about companies’ responsibility for industrial accidents. UCC’s clear failure both to prevent this leak, and subsequently to clean up the site and ensure that adequate compensation was provided to victims, show that a voluntary approach to human rights protection by business is not working.

'We must develop a rigorous and enforceable international human rights framework for business, such as the UN Human Rights Norms for Business, to ensure that companies are not able to evade their human rights responsibilities in the future.'

Amnesty International is urging its members and supporters around the world to write to Dow demanding it cleans up the site, provide adequate compensation and face justice for what happened.

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