Multinational Monitor

DEC 1999
VOL 20 No. 12


The Ten Worst Corporations of 1999
by Russell Mokhiber

Democracy is in the Streets: Protesters and Police Clash, As WTO Negotiations Collapse
by Robert Weissman


Native Struggles for Land and Life
an interview with
Winona LaDuke


Behind the Lines

The Meaning of Seattle

The Front
A Policy of Conviction - Clinton’s Lack of Conviction

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News


Behind the Lines

Carbide's Toxic Evasion

Nearly 15 years and 6,000 fatalities later, survivors and relatives of victims of the poison gas which leaked out of Union Carbide Corporation's pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, have filed suit in Manhattan federal court, charging the company with "depraved indifference to human life," and naming former Carbide Chair Warren Anderson, now retired and living in Florida, as a defendant.

The petition filed this November asks the federal court to revisit the case against Carbide. The case was moved from New York to India in 1986 for jurisdictional reasons. The Indian government's civil case against Carbide was settled in 1989 for $470 million.

The new suit seeks to have the defendants held liable for violations of international law, as well as civil contempt and fraud for failing to comply with orders from courts in both countries. Union Carbide and Anderson allegedly violated an agreement to submit to the jurisdiction of Indian courts by failing to appear in Indian court on criminal matters.

Union Carbide said in a statement that "all personal injury and related claims were settled in 1989" when the company and its Indian subsidiary settled the civil case.

A coalition of environmental, health and human rights groups released "Beyond the Chemical Century: Restoring Human Rights and Preserving the Fabric of Life" in early December to mark the fifteenth anniversary of what they describe as "the worst industrial chemical disaster in history."

"The Bhopal disaster is just part of a much larger pattern of ongoing human rights abuses committed by the chemical industry," says attorney Sanford Lewis, the report's primary author.

Uganda: Powering Ahead

After repeatedly criticizing the Bujagali dam project, the Ugandan parliament in November approved the construction of the $430 million hydropower project, which is to be built on the River Nile by AES, a U.S. company [See "Falling for AES's Plan?," Multinational Monitor, June 1999].

Nearby residents and environmentalists have opposed construction of the dam at the scenic Bujagali Falls on the grounds that the project would displace families and ruin the falls, which are a traditional religious site and a source of white water rafting tourism.

Critics of the project, including the Berkeley, California-based International Rivers Network, suggest that the certificate of approval issued by the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) fails to adequately address these concerns.

A petition for a court order to prevent construction was dismissed in August. The dam is expected to begin producing electricity in 2004.

The World Bank, a key funder of the $430 million project, has defended the project as a means to secure a steady flow of electricity for Ugandan businesses. World Bank studies show some Ugandan firms operating without power nearly a quarter of the year, while 42 percent of the firms surveyed had backup diesel generators.

A dam proposed for Northern Uganda by NORPAK, a Norwegian power company, and once viewed as an alternative to the Bujagali Falls project, is still endorsed by the Minister of Energy.

Skeptics urge that Uganda should invest in alternatives, including solar and wind, both of which pose great potential for the country. Lori Pottinger, director of the International Rivers Network's Southern Africa Program, also points out that there are 30 to 40 percent efficiency losses in existing infrastructure, arguing these should be eliminated before investments are made in new generating capacity.

Patent Justice

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has rejected a patent application for the "Ayahuasca" vine (Banisteriopsis caapi), an Amazonian plant used by thousands of indigenous people in sacred religious and healing ceremonies [See "An Enemy of Indigenous People," Multinational Monitor, June 1998].

"Our shamans and elders were greatly troubled by this patent. Now they are celebrating. This is an historic day for indigenous peoples everywhere," says Antonio Jacanamijoy, general coordinator of the Coordinating Body for the Indigenous People's Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA).

The PTO based its rejection of the patent on the fact that publications describing the plant were "known and available" prior to the filing of the patent application. According to U.S. patent law, no invention can be patented if described in printed publications more than one year prior to the date of the patent application.

David Downes, an attorney who worked on the case with the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), says that "while we are pleased that the PTO has canceled this flawed patent, we believe that the PTO has to change the policies that made it possible for someone to patent this plant in the first place."

CIEL, COICA and the Amazon Alliance for Indigenous and Traditional Peoples have jointly called for a change in patenting rules, arguing that the PTO should require patent applicants to identify all biological resources and traditional knowledge used in developing the claimed invention, as well as the geographical origin. The groups also say that applicants should be required to provide evidence that the source country and indigenous community consented to its use.

— Charlie Cray



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