Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with US President Donald Trump in the United States of America, Amnesty International India wrote to PM Modi urging him to raise human rights concerns regarding the United States. The letter, which was sent on June 23, carried a brief prepared by Amnesty International India highlighting the human rights concerns that we hope he raises during his discussions. Read the letter here.
Amnesty International India urges the Prime Minister to raise these concerns in discussions with representatives of the Government of the United States.
1. Corporate accountability of US-based Dow for Bhopal gas leak disaster
It is nearly 33 years since thousands of lives were destroyed by one of the world’s worst industrial disasters in Bhopal. Over 22,000 people are estimated to have died following the gas leak at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) factory on the night of 2-3 December 1984.
In 1987, the Government of India brought criminal charges of “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” against UCIL, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), and individuals from the US and India. In 1992, the Bhopal court declared UCC an “absconder from justice”. India-based UCIL and seven Indian nationals were convicted in June 2010 of causing death by negligence.
However, the case against US-based UCC continues to this day because the company has never faced the charges against it, despite various summons from a Bhopal criminal court.
The Dow Chemical Company (Dow) has owned UCC since 2001 but has consistently denied that it has any responsibility to ensure that UCC faces the outstanding criminal charges, and repeatedly ignored calls by survivors and human rights groups to address the ongoing environmental contamination and health impacts of the disaster.
The Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court in Bhopal has issued four notices, communicated to the US Department of Justice (DOJ), summoning Dow to explain to the Court why UCC has never appeared before it. The notices were served under the mutual legal assistance treaty between India and the US concerning criminal matters.
Dow has not attended any of these hearings. The DOJ wrote to the Ministry of Home Affairs in September 2015, saying that it needs more information before it could determine if the summons on Dow could be served. It also questioned the basis for serving notice on Dow on the grounds that Dow acquired UCC 15 years after the disaster, and that UCC and Dow remained separate corporate entities. It is deeply troubling that the DOJ has used this basis to question a legitimate request from an Indian criminal court under an international treaty between India and the US.
On 13 January 2017, the Bhopal court issued a notice through email directly to the Corporate Secretary of Dow. However Dow does not appear to have responded to this notice either.
Regardless of whether or not Dow has inherited UCC’s liabilities for Bhopal, it is undeniable that Dow now exercises effective control over UCC. As a consequence, Dow bears responsibility for UCC’s current conduct regarding Bhopal and the ongoing environmental and human rights disaster.
Amnesty International India urges Prime Minister Narendra Modi to raise with President Donald Trump the responsibility of Dow and UCC towards the victims and survivors of Bhopal, and call on the US government to ensure that Dow and UCC comply with Indian court orders.
2. Muslim Travel Ban
In January 2017, US President Donald Trump issued an executive order barring the entry of people from seven Muslim-majority countries and suspending the country’s refugee programme. Together with the promised wall along the US/Mexico border, the “Muslim ban” was one of his campaign’s signature issues. The executive order was issued with no meaningful notice or advance warning, leading to chaos at US airports as immigrants and visitors, including US permanent residents, were detained, questioned, and in some cases forced to return to their countries of origin.
The order, which purported to justify the restrictive measures by the need to prevent “terrorist or criminal infiltration by foreign nationals” disregarded the fact that the empirical evidence shows no causal link in the US between the targeted groups and terrorist activity. In a recent report, Amnesty International documented how, during the brief period that the first travel ban order was implemented, it played havoc with people’s lives.
When US courts halted the first executive order, the Trump administration pushed out a second order in March 2017 with largely the same provisions, which, in turn, was promptly blocked by litigation.
Motivated by anti-Muslim animus, and disproportionately impacting Muslims, both executive orders violate the principle of non-discrimination, codified in treaties binding upon the US. They evince a view of immigrants and other non-US citizens that is intolerant, bigoted, and offensive.
This policy is discriminatory and cruel at its core. Rather than keeping anyone safe, the ban demonizes millions of innocent people and creates anxiety and instability for people who want to visit a relative, work, study, return to the US, or just travel without fear. An executive order that is intended to discriminate against Muslims, and that has the effect of disadvantaging Muslims, is unjustifiable under international human rights law.
Amnesty International India urges Prime Minister Narendra Modi to call on the Trump Administration to immediately revoke the executive order banning refugees and visa holders from Syria and five other Muslim-majority countries.
3. Mexico border crackdown
Since January 2017, the Trump administration has adopted several measures aimed at ‘tackling immigration’ which allow for the forcible return of people to life-threatening situations, and increase the unlawful mandatory detention of asylum-seekers and families for months on end.
In a recent report, Amnesty International documented how the Trump administration’s executive order on border security and other measures have led to violations of the rights of asylum-seekers at the US-Mexico border.
Thousands of asylum-seekers are fleeing extreme violence from Central America’s Northern Triangle, an area which comprises the countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Many of them are eligible to receive refugee status either in Mexico or the US. However many asylum-seekers who had made perilous journeys through Mexico to seek safety in the US have been detained in harsh conditions, killed, abducted or facing extortion by criminal gangs. Large numbers of unaccompanied children and adolescents have been particularly affected, and women and girls remain at serious risk of sexual violence and human trafficking.
Despite overwhelming evidence that many asylum-seekers face extreme violence and potentially death if not granted asylum, an increase in deportations from the US has continued. Many people have been forcibly returned back to the life-threatening situations they were desperately fleeing in the first place.
In the US, tens of thousands of unaccompanied children and tens of thousands of people travelling as families have been apprehended crossing the southern border irregularly during the year. Families have been detained for months, some for more than a year, many without proper access to medical care and legal counsel. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has called the detention conditions a humanitarian and protection crisis.
Amnesty International India urges Prime Minister Narendra Modi to call on the Trump administration to revoke the Border Security Executive Order, curtail the use of immigration detention of migrants and asylum-seekers, and ensure that all laws related to immigration are in accordance with the United States’ obligations under international law.
4. Police use of force
Hundreds of men and women are killed by police every year across the US, with African American men being disproportionately impacted. The US authorities have failed to track the exact number of people killed by law enforcement officials; media reports put the numbers at almost 1,000, and at least 44 people died after police used electric shock weapons on them in 2016. There was also a heavy police response to largely peaceful protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline to transport crude oil in and around Standing Rock in North Dakota.
In a 2015 report, Amnesty International documented how all 50 states in the US had failed to comply with international law and standards on the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers.
Amnesty International India urges Prime Minister Narendra Modi to call on the Trump administration to review and evaluate the use of lethal force by law enforcement officers, and require all state statutes, local law enforcement policies and trainings on the use of lethal force to be brought in line with relevant international human rights law and standards.
5. Dakota Access Pipeline
In January 2017, President Trump issued an executive order advancing the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline project, which would drill under the Missouri River north of Standing Rock, threatening the water source and ancestral lands of the Standing Rock Sioux and other indigenous tribes. The free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples, which is recognized under international human rights law and standards, has not been obtained for the project.
By choosing to advance the Dakota Access Pipeline, President Trump is putting Indigenous peoples’ access to clean water at risk and seems to be sending a signal to the American people that he will prioritize the interests of the extractive industries over people’s human rights.
Amnesty International India urges Prime Minister Narendra Modi to call on the Trump administration to ensure that the free, prior and informed consent of all affected Indigenous tribes is obtained, and that the environmental and human rights impacts of the pipeline are assessed.
6. Counter-Terror and Security
Over two years after a Senate committee report, there has been a complete failure in the US to bring anyone to justice for crimes under international law committed during the secret detention and interrogation programme operated by the Central Intelligence Agency after the 11 September 2001 attacks.
More detainees have been transferred out of the US detention centre at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, but others remain in indefinite detention there, most without charge or trial. Pre-trial military commission proceedings have continued in a few cases, under a system falling short of international fair trial standards.
Amnesty International India urges Prime Minister Narendra Modi to call on President Donald Trump to close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, and ensure that every detainee is charged and faces trial in federal court, or is released to a country that will respect their human rights.
7. Death Penalty
The United States remains one of the world’s top ten executioners. 20 people were executed in 2016, making the US the only country in the Americas that carried out executions for the 8th consecutive year. Thirty-one US states still retain the death penalty. People suffering from mental or intellectual disabilities continue to be sentenced to death and executed, in violation of international human rights law and standards on the death penalty. The use of this cruel and inhuman punishment in the US has also been marked by racial and economic inequity.
Amnesty International India urges Prime Minister Narendra Modi to call on the Trump administration to impose a moratorium on executions and ensure that people with mental or intellectual disabilities are not subjected to the death penalty, pending its full abolition.
Finally, Amnesty International India also urges Prime Minister Modi to call on President Trump to condemn and work to curb the hate crimes increasingly being committed in the US against members of minority groups, including racial and religious minorities.