Reps insist the DoJ must honor Bilateral Treaty obligations by acting on India’s request, for the 7th time, that it serve summons on the US chemical giant
WASHINGTON – Today, twelve members of Congress led by Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib wrote to the United States Department of Justice to insist that it finally fulfil a repeated request from Treaty partner India that it serve summons on US multinational Dow Inc. to attend criminal proceedings arising from the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster.
In 1984 without warning a poorly designed and recklessly maintained Union Carbide pesticides factory leaked 27 tons of poison gas into the Indian city of Bhopal. In a few hours thousands were dead, and tens of thousands maimed. Deaths continue, and it’s estimated today that over 100,000 people still suffer chronic illnesses.
Almost forty years later, criminal proceedings arising from Indian bureau investigations into the events of December 3rd, 1984 remain completely unresolved. Not a single criminal fine or penalty has been paid for Bhopal, known as the world’s worst industrial disaster, and those charged with culpable homicide – the equivalent in US law of criminally negligent manslaughter – are yet to spend a single day in custody.
Prime accused Union Carbide, a former Fortune 100 US corporation, was declared by Indian courts in 1992 to be an ‘absconder’ – or fugitive from justice – alongside former CEO Warren Anderson. An extradition request to US authorities was still pending when Warren Anderson passed away. Following a 2001 merger, Union Carbide became a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical (now Dow Inc.).
Union Carbide has stated on record that it does not accept Indian jurisdiction and so will not attend trial. Since 2004 Dow has, in turn, been summoned to attend ongoing criminal proceedings on seven occasions but is yet to comply.
Following issuance of a ‘show cause notice’ in March this year by an Indian judge, Dow’s attendance in court has been set for October 3rd 2023. Under the terms of a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty on Criminal Matters, signed by the United States and India in 2001, India must request US authorities to serve the summons on its behalf. The present request is the seventh time India has asked the DoJ to intervene, so far without success.
“It is shocking that those charged with criminal responsibility for the Bhopal tragedy have never been held accountable,” wrote the members. The DoJ’s failure to act in support of India’s efforts to prosecute the chief accused in the Bhopal criminal proceedings, the members continue, “is creating an indelible stain upon our nation’s reputation for upholding international legal and moral standards that must be corrected.”
The letter was signed by Rashida Tlaib, Raúl Grijalva, Pramila Jayapal, Barbara Lee, James McGovern, Eleanor Norton, Frank Pallone, Jamie Raskin, Linda Sánchez, Greg Casar, Cori Bush and David Trone.
For further information, a full list of members who have signed, and a copy of the letter sent by the Congressmembers to the US DoJ contact:
Andrew Myslik, Policy Advisor, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (MI-12)
(o): (202) 225-5126
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. The medical impacts of the 1984 gas disaster in Bhopal continue to unfold. Over the first ten years Bhopal suffered on average three gas-related deaths every day. Today an estimated 120,000 people remain chronically ill from the long-term effects of the gas disaster. A recent study found survivors’ mortality rate to be 28% higher than average, and that they are twice as likely to die of cancers, diseases of the lungs and tuberculosis, and three times as likely to die from kidney diseases. They continue to suffer breathlessness, body pains, liver disease, ruined eyes and menstrual chaos. Impacts on the next generations are profound, and children are born in high numbers with physical and mental impairments. (British Medical Journal, 2023)
2. Police in Bhopal named Union Carbide – now a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical – among the key accused within hours of the disaster. A subsequent three-year investigation by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation found that the company was responsible for inadequate technology, double standards in safety and emergency-preparedness, and reckless cost-cutting of security systems within the pesticides plant from which the poison gas leaked.
Dow’s (since 2019 Dow Inc) wholly owned subsidiary Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) has been an absconder from Indian justice since 1992, resulting in an attempt to force its appearance in court through a judicially ordered seizure of its assets in India. It is wanted on CRIMINAL charges of ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’. 100% shareholder Dow has perpetuated UCC’s non-compliance with Indian law by failing to ensure the appearance of the company in the criminal hearings.
3. Dow was issued a ‘show cause notice’ requiring its appearance in an Indian court August 2013. The notice, relevant documentation, and case files were then delivered through diplomatic channels to the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, Office of International Affairs, in August 2014. Four subsequent requests have been sent to the Department after the initial outreach. The most recent was received by trial attorney Linda McKinney in July 2019, and the Department has not taken action since. Campaigners accuse Dow of the separate Indian penal code offence of “Harbouring a Fugitive From Justice”.
4. Dow settles Union Carbide cases in the US. Dow has accepted liability for claims against UCC pre-dating the merger in the United States, related to asbestos exposure. When Dow settled a suit on behalf of UCC on Jan 9, 2002, it wiped $7.16 billion from Dow’s share price. Nonetheless Dow claims that it is not responsible for any UCC liabilities.
5. Via a 1989 civil settlement struck between India and Carbide that consulted not one victim. 93% of survivors – who officially number over 570,000 – were paid $500 in compensation. The ensuing claims process falsely designated 97% of all claimants to have suffered only ‘minor’ or ‘temporary’ injuries.
6. Carbide abandoned its pesticides factory without cleaning up thousands of tons of toxic wastes routinely dumped in and around the grounds. Drinking wells of communities housing 200,000 people are contaminated with pesticides, heavy metals and dangerously poisonous chemicals. Cancer-causing and mutagenic chemicals have been found in the breast milk of nursing mothers.