Open Letter from the survivors of the Bhopal disaster and Amnesty International to Prime Minister Modi of India and President Obama of the USA
Over 30 years ago thousands of people died and hundreds of thousands were injured when toxic gas leaked from a Bhopal plant run by Union Carbide, a US-based company. It was India’s most notorious industrial disaster.
Those who survived that horrific night in December 1984 have faced a three decade long struggle for justice. They have had to fight hard even to get inadequate compensation, some clean water, very basic medical treatment. None of it has come close to being enough.
Even as the 30th anniversary of the Bhopal leak passed us by, some of those who have fought so long are aware they may die without seeing justice.
But the fight has already been picked up by new generations – people who have grown up with the injustice but also suffered direct harm. This disaster is inter-generational. Children born to gas-affected parents have suffered illness, but they also have been exposed to ongoing contamination because chemicals left at the site continue to poison Bhopal’s water supply.
Not only did Union Carbide fail on critical safety measures at the Bhopal plant, the company negotiated an out-of-court settlement to pay compensation that was just 14% of what the government of India had asked for, and then simply left without cleaning up its polluted factory site.
Bhopal was not a tragic accident – it was an avoidable disaster. Those who failed to prevent it should be held to account. Yet the central actor – the US-based corporation Union Carbide – has been an absconder from justice for more than  years.
Facing charges of culpable homicide in India, Union Carbide – now owned by The Dow Chemical Company – has found a safe haven in the US. It has arrogantly ignored court orders from India, along with demands to pay for the clean-up of its polluted factory site and to compensate the victims. This must end.
The Indian and US authorities have failed the people of Bhopal for too long.
Justice for Bhopal requires the government of India to demand proper restitution and pursue it vigorously.
Justice for Bhopal requires that US authorities ensure that a US company is no longer able to evade the Indian courts and enjoy impunity in the USA.
Justice is clear water, health care, and the truth.
30 years after the Bhopal disaster we call on you to show the leadership that has been lacking for so long.
As leaders who have jointly acknowledged that the ties between the United States and India are rooted in a shared desire for justice and equality, we are calling on you to act. It is not justice if a US company can evade justice in India and it is not equality when corporations enjoy protections and privileges that people do not have.
The US must ensure Dow and Union Carbide respect the Indian courts by appearing when summoned to do so.
Meanwhile, India must revise the number of deaths and injuries for which it is seeking compensation, initiate a comprehensive scientific assessment of the contamination in and around the disaster site and a full environmental clean-up, and provide medical assistance for those affected.
The two governments must work together to ensure that Dow pays adequate compensation for the survivors of the disaster, and pays for the clean-up of the factory site.
This week, President Obama will be the first US President to attend India’s Republic Day as chief guest. You have shown you want to work together. We are calling on you to do so for the people of Bhopal.
As a first step, we urge you to use the opportunity of President Obama’s visit to issue a joint statement outlining steps towards addressing the disaster.
Salil Shetty, Secretary General, Amnesty International
Amnesty International India
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha
Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pensionbhogi Sangharsh Morcha
Bhopal Group for Information and Action
Children Against Dow Carbide
Hollywood actor Martin Sheen