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Amnesty Int'l:  Bhopal Gas Leak Victims Still Suffer 20 Years Later

Amnesty International says tens of thousands people still suffer appalling illnesses from one of the world's worst industrial disasters that struck the central Indian city of Bhopal 20 years ago. Amnesty calls the victims' long wait for justice a major breach of human rights.

The toxic cloud of gas that leaked from the U.S.-owned Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal city on December 3, 1984, continues to claim new victims. This is according to Amnesty International in a damning report released Monday on the disaster, which touched a half million people.

Seven thousand people died within days of the leak. Amnesty says another 15,000 have died since and as many as 100,000 people are suffering chronic illnesses.

In New Delhi, Amnesty International's Manu Gopalan told reporters the effects of the gas leak are now showing up in the young children of Bhopal. "The alarming fact here is that a lot of the problems are occurring in the third generation as well," he said. "It is not that only people who were exposed to the initial gas episode are now suffering. It is also the children and their children's children."

The report says inadequate clean-up efforts at the site continue to pose a hazard, as toxic waste from the plant pollutes the environment and contaminates the water.

Mr. Gopalan says many of the deaths and illnesses in recent years could have been avoided if Union Carbide had provided better information about the gas that leaked from its plant. "The company in fact misled the people of India to believe that [the gas] was only affecting the lungs, while medically now we know that it was a systemic poison, and the company knew that," he said. "If antidotes were administered in the first three days, then the casualties of 15,000 in the last 20 years could have been reduced."

Amnesty says the companies involved - Union Carbide and Dow Chemicals, which took over Union Carbide in 2001 - have stated they have no responsibility for the leak and its consequences.

Amnesty says the $470 million settlement received by the Indian government from Union Carbide has still not been paid in full to the victims. As a result, many survivors are living in poverty. The report calls for better compensation and medical assistance to those affected and blames both U.S. and Indian courts for not giving justice to the victims.

Amnesty International is drawing attention to people like Champa Devi Shukla, 52, whose husband died from the effects of the gas leak 12 years after the disaster.

Champa Devi Shukla said many members of her family have been affected by the gas leak. Her son suffers from chest illnesses, and his daughter was born deformed. She said whatever sum they received as compensation was spent in trying to treat her husband. She is now leading a campaign to secure justice for the women of Bhopal.