In early December protesters in India marked the 30th anniversary of the Bhopal gas tragedy, calling on President Obama to hold American officials, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, accountable.
On December 2, 1984 methyl isocyanate, a lethal ingredient in insecticides, leaked from a tank at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. The area surrounding the plant was tightly packed with a large population. Residents exposed to the gas had their eyes and throats burned. The immediate deaths resulting range in estimates from 3,787 to 8,000.
In the last three decades those numbers have climbed to 25,000 deaths. Residents of the area are dying from diseases caused by water and soil contamination. An estimated 150,o00 people are fighting chronic illnesses including cancer. Children in the region are often born sick and disabled. 50,000 people are said to still be living among the poison. Only 8 convictions have come since the event happened, all former plant employees, who were convicted of “death by negligence”.
Thirty years later the death toll keeps climbing and survivors continue to demand justice. Five organizations representing victims of the gas disaster sent a letter to President Obama asking him to ““acknowledge the central role played by the United States government in the creation of the disaster in Bhopal and in the denial of justice to the victims”.
The groups called on supporters to force Union Carbide and its current own Dow Chemical to take responsibility for human suffering in Bhopal. The groups said despite a 1991 ruling from the Indian Supreme Court ordering the Indian government to provide medical insurance coverage to 100,000 children affected by the disaster, not a single child has received medical help.
The organizations were calling for the United States to extradite Union Carbide Secretary John McDonald under charges of manslaughter and grievous assault in the Bhopal district court. In addition they are demanding that the US government “acknowledge and express regret” for not extraditing Warren Anderson, former CEO of Union Carbide, before his death earlier this year.
Rashida Bee President of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh also called out former Secretary of State for his responsibility in the disaster. Bee points to documents released by Wikileaks which show Kissinger facilitating a loan from the Export-Import Bank of the United States to Union Carbide for the creation of the Methyl Isocyanate plant responsible for the deaths. In 1975 and 1976 Kissinger assisted in the creation of the pesticide plant by assuring the loan from the EXIM bank was successful. With his help Union Carbide was able to secure a loan of $1.3 million to cover half of the cost of building the plant.
Bee and other critics of Kissinger say that a recently released letter obtained under the Right to Information Act also shows the diplomat attempting to wield his influence to help Union Carbide settle out of court after the disaster. The letter was from May 31, 1988 written by former Tata Sons Chairperson JRD Tata to then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Tata delivers a message from Kissinger to Gandhi, stating that Union Carbide would be willing to be higher settlements then those ordered by Indian courts but only if the deal could be reached out-of-court.
Tata tells the Prime Minister that Kissinger is a “consultant and adviser to many Government and large corporations , including Union Carbide in America.” Kissinger, Tata said, had concerns about the delay in reaching a settlement. Rajiv Gandhi responds to the letter, stating that “The suggestions will be given consideration.” Less than a year later a settlement would be reached in the Supreme Court. This decision would force Union Carbide to pay $470 million USD and absolve them of paying any future settlements.
The Bhopal Disaster is not the first time Henry Kissinger has come under fire for his actions as a government official and adviser. Although he is known by some as the greatest diplomat the United States has ever had for his work opening relations between the Soviet and Chinese governments, Kissinger is also known as a war criminal to a large portion of the world.
Kissinger has evaded questions and legal summons by investigators in France, Spain, Chile and Argentina. They seek answers about his involvement in disappearances of citizens in the US and other countries in regard to Operation Condor. Condor was a campaign of political repression and terror involving assassination and intelligence operations implemented in 1975 by the dictatorships of South America. The former Secretary of State was heavily involved in Operation Condor.
On September 10, 2001, the family of General Schneider initiated a civil action in federal court in DC, claiming that Kissinger gave the agreement to murder the general because he had refused to endorse plans for a military coup in Chile.
November 13, 2002, 11 individuals brought suit against Kissinger for human rights violations following the coup. They accused him of forced disappearance, torture, arbitrary detention, and wrongful death. The suit claims that Kissinger provided practical assistance and encouragement to the Chilean regime with reckless disregard for the lives and well-being of the victims and their families.
Both cases were dismissed based on sovereign and diplomatic immunity.
For more on the controversial career of Henry Kissinger check the following report.