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Bhopal City
US must stop shielding Dow Chemical, say Bhopal gas victims’ bodies

Samuel Mathai

International supporters of the survivors of the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster have launched a signature petition to make Dow Chemical, the present owner of the Union Carbide Corporation, appear the criminal proceedings on the disaster in the Bhopal District Court on July 13, 2016.

Leaders of the five organisations of the gas survivors - Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh, Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, Bhopal Group for Information and Action and Children Against Dow Carbide - said that the petition, moved by the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, North America, at the website of the White House [] urged the US Department of Justice to serve a notice issued by the Bhopal District Court on Dow Chemical to appear in the ongoing criminal proceedings in India.

According to the leaders, the petition would have to get 100,000 signatures before June 15, 2016 to make the US government formally respond to it. They said that already 3,500 persons have signed the petition. As a result of social media actions around the launch of the petition, Dow Chemical's CEO, Andrew Liveris has had to make his twitter account private, they added.

The first amendment of the United States' constitution guarantees the right to petition the government. In this context the Obama administration started the "We the People" petitions on the website of the Whitehouse five years back.  As per the current terms of this facility, if the petitioners are successful in collecting 100,000 signatures from people above 13 years in 30 days, the Obama administration will ensure that the petition gets in front of the appropriate policy experts and will do its best to issue an official response within 60 days.

The leaders asserted that the US Department of Justice has been breaching a fifteen-year-old Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the US and India by refusing to serve the four notices from the Bhopal District Court sent by the Indian Home Ministry. They said that their supporters in USA have garnered support for the petition from a number of US environmental and human rights organisations such as Greenpeace, Pesticides Action Network and Amnesty, and trade unions such as the AFL-CIO and other associations.

According to the Bhopal survivors' organisations, eminent US citizens including Gary Cohen, one of the ‘Champions of Change’ nominated by the US President in 2013, Martin Sheen, acclaimed Hollywood actor, and activist and Noam Chomsky, Professor at MIT and world renowned academic, have extended their support to the petition.

The organisations expressed hope that the pressure created by the petition would force the US Department of Justice to serve the notice on Dow Chemical which in turn will have to explain to the Bhopal court why it continues to shelter Union Carbide, a fugitive from justice.

In 2012, the US Department of Justice had made BP, one of the world's leading integrated oil and gas companies, pay $4 billion in criminal fines and penalties for the Deepwater Horizon disaster in which 11 people died. The US Government should play an equally active role in bringing Dow Chemical to justice in Bhopal.

On the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984 Union Carbide pesticide manufacturing factory had spewed poisonous Methyl Iso-Cyanate gas whereby 3,000 people had perished instantly and over the years more than 25,000 have kissed death and the sad saga is still continuing uninterruptedly. About half a million are suffering from the side effects of the poisonous gas and several thousand people have been maimed for life.

Gary Cohen, founder of Health Care Without Harm and one of the White House's Public Health and Climate 'Champions of Change', 2013, has said: “The US government could pressure Dow to do the right thing, but instead the Department of Justice has been shielding Dow and Union Carbide from responsibility for over two and a half decades. And now, a possible merger between Dow Chemical and DuPont is looming. Once again the baton of ownership will pass hands but the liabilities will be ignored – unless we speak up.”

Martin Sheen, Hollywood actor and activist who played Union Carbide’s former Chairman, Warren Anderson, in the 2014 feature film “Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain” has said: “So there are international rules of appropriate behaviour for multinational corporations. Of course, international law has no enforcement power - laws have to be enforced by somebody. Who’s going to enforce them? If the United States doesn't enforce the laws, then there’s no law.”

Noam Chomsky, Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Linguist has said: “It would have been impossible for Union Carbide and Dow Chemical to thumb their noses at India’s courts for three decades without the steadfast support of US officials. The US government is therefore directly responsible for the enormous quantity of avoidable suffering in Bhopal.”