US Cong file amicus brief to support Bhopal victims
Washington, Apr 5: Eleven members of US Congress today filed an amicus brief with the country's Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on behalf of more than 20,000 victims of the 1984 Union Carbide chemical disaster in Bhopal.
The 29-page brief, which was initiated by leading Congressman Rep Frank Pallone, Jr (D-NJ), founder of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, comes in response to a decision by a US District Court in New York that disregards India's submission of a formal statement requesting relief.
In the brief, the 11 lawmakers argue that the District Court was wrong in refusing to consider India's statement requesting cleanup of the Bhopal plant. They also state that the disregard of India's submission is improper and interferes with US public policy and foreign relations with India.
''The Bhopal victims have repeatedly tried their cases in the US court system but have been subjected to unfair treatment and corporate favouritism,'' Mr Pallone said. ''As elected officials we have a responsibility to call on the courts to recognize the rights of India and the residents of Bhopal,'' he added.
The lawmakers also addressed the environmental ramifications of the trial, stating in the amicus brief, ''It is...a mandate of the US Congress to ensure that US corporations and companies investing abroad or undertaking activities overseas comply with local, national and international laws regarding the environment and do not engage in environmental abuses. (The Members of Congress) request that this Court...accord due consideration to the strong legal and public policy interests of the United States in affording redress to victims of environmental pollution and harm caused by American corporations''.
On December 2, 1984 a Union Carbide plant leaked 40 tons of lethal gas in Bhopal killing 4,000 people within hours and injuring more than 20,000. Since then, the death count has risen to well over 14,000 as a result of exposure to the gas.
According to victims rights groups, over 1,50,000 are suffering from the after effects, such as reproductive complications, loss of ability to perform physical labour, rare cancers and severe respiratory problems. Residents of Bhopal still face polluted groundwater, toxic waste and contaminated soil and their concerns are yet to be addressed.
Dow Chemical acquired Union Carbide Corporation in February 2001 and has yet to accept responsibility or to address the liabilities it inherited from the 1984 Bhopal disaster. Over the last 19 years, victims have filed numerous lawsuits against the company in an attempt to address health concerns and the tremendous environmental injustices that resulted from the disaster, but to date their claims have remained unanswered.
In 1999, survivors of the Bhopal disaster filed a class action lawsuit against Union Carbide and its officials in the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York. The lawsuit sought environmental damages on the basis that the company employed ''double-standards in the design and maintenance of the factory thus showing depraved indifference to human life.'' The lawsuit was dismissed and later reinstated by the New York Federal Appeals court in November 2001 and dismissed again in March 2003.
Due in part to a prior amicus brief filed by Mr Pallone and eight of his congressional colleagues in 2003, an appeal to this decision was upheld and the case will now be heard by a superior court. In the decision, the appeals court held that the district court should revisit the prior dismissal of claims for cleanup of the Bhopal plant site if the Indian government submitted a formal request asking for such relief.
''It is unacceptable to allow an American company not only to exploit international borders and legal jurisdictions but also to evade civil and criminal liability for environmental pollution and abuses committed overseas,'' Mr Pallone said.
Recently, Mr Pallone wrote to the Prime Minister of India, urging him to meet with Bhopal residents participating in the New Delhi Padyatra, a march on foot by victims of the disaster. The march, which began on February 20, 2006 and went from Bhopal to New Delhi, was the largest action ever organized by the Bhopal campaign.
The ten members joining Mr Pallone on the amicus brief were: Raul M Grijalva, Maurice Hinchey, Sherrod Brown, Joseph Crowley, Janice Schakowsky, Donald Payne, Major Owens, Jim McDermott, Dennis Kucinich, and Edward Markey.