PORT LAVACA, TX - January 26 - Local fisherwoman and environmental campaigner Diane Wilson appears in court today for a jury trial relating to a protest action at The Dow Chemical Company's Seadrift plant.
On 26th August, 2002, Ms Wilson scaled a 90ft tower and unfurled a 12 ft banner that read 'Dow - Responsible For Bhopal', referring to the world's worst industrial disaster, caused when 27 tons of poison gases escaped from a Union Carbide pesticide factory, killing thousands within hours and injuring more than 500,000 other people in the sleeping city.
As a result of the action Ms Wilson faces charges of criminal trespass and resisting arrest that could lead to six months in jail.
Ms Wilson, who had ended a 30-day hunger-strike outside the Seadrift plant before scaling the ethylene oxide tower, was yesterday unrepentant.
"I was protesting that for 12 years Dow's subsidiary Union Carbide has been refusing to attend a court in India where it stands charged with culpable homicide for the deaths of more than 20,000 people. Carbide killed thousands then jumped bail, I never harmed a soul but it's me in the dock facing criminal charges. Truly, companies like Dow make a mockery of justice. They invoke the law when it suits them and ignore it when it doesn't."
The criminal case against Union Carbide and its former CEO Warren Anderson has been ongoing since October 1991. In 1992, an Indian court published notices in the Washington Post declaring both parties "fugitives from justice" after they avoided service of arrest warrants delivered by Interpol. Dow became the 100% owner of Union Carbide in February 2001, despite widespread warnings about the criminal charges outstanding against the company. Carbide also faces a Class Action in New York regarding massive environmental contamination left at its former factory in Bhopal.
On May 26th 2003, following widespread protests in India and elsewhere, the Indian government asked the US authorities for Warren Anderson's extradition to face trial in India. Anderson remains at large and Dow refuses to pay for cleaning up the toxic wastes left by Union Carbide at the factory site.
Last year, Congressman Frank Pallone and a dozen of his colleagues in the House wrote a letter to Dow and filed an amicus in the New York action.
"It's outrageous that we will soon mark the 20th Anniversary of this tragic event and Dow Chemical has still not stepped forward to take full responsibility for the actions of Union Carbide," Pallone said recently. "It is unacceptable to allow an American company not only the opportunity to exploit international borders and legal jurisdictions but also the ability to evade civil and criminal liability for environmental pollution and abuses committed overseas."
Health workers in Bhopal say that chemicals leaking from Union Carbide's abandoned and derelict factory have poisoned local drinking wells with carcinogens that can cause liver damage, cancers and birth defects, creating another health epidemic among communities already exposed to the original disaster. Dow does not dispute that the chemicals come from the factory but has suggested that the clean-up should be paid for by the victims of the disaster out of the fund established for their relief.
Nearly 20 years after the catastrophe that local people still simply call "that night", Bhopal's doctors have no proper medical protocols for treating the city's 150,000 chronically ill. Crucial medical data from more than 15 studies into the long term effects of the poisons, which could save lives, is still being withheld by Union Carbide on the grounds that it is a "trade secret".
"In such cases," Ms Wilson said, "good citizens have not just the right but also the duty to protest. We cannot stand by and watch Dow and Union Carbide thumbing their noses at the law while their victims die -- it's a measure of how far they can pervert justice that protesting against their law-breaking is portrayed as a criminal act."
Ms. Wilson added that, if imprisoned, she would continue her protest and begin an indefinite hungerstrike in jail.
For a detailed history of Ms Wilson's case please visit www.bhopal.net