|Agent Orange victims' suffering
By Tran Dinh Thanh
HO CHI MINH CITY - Vietnamese victims
of the notorious Agent Orange have condemned a US
court's decision to dismiss their legal action
against manufacturers of the highly toxic
defoliant used to deprive communist forces of
forest cover during the Vietnam War.
On March 7, a federal court in New York
dismissed a legal action brought by Vietnamese
plaintiffs over the use of the defoliant by US forces from
1961-71, when large quantities of Agent Orange were
sprayed across parts of Vietnam.
plaintiffs had sought compensation from the firms
that manufactured the chemical, which allegedly
caused birth defects, miscarriages and cancer.
They said use of the defoliant - to strip away
forest cover during the conflict - was a war crime
But Judge Jack
Weinstein ruled there was no legal basis for their
claims. Delivering a 233-page ruling, Weinstein
said "there is no basis for any of the claims of
plaintiffs under the domestic law of any nation or
state or under any form of international law".
The vice president of Vietnam's
Association of Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA),
Nguyen Trong Nhan, responded by saying, "We are
disappointed ... Weinstein has turned a blind eye
before the obvious truth. It's a shame for him to
put out that decision. It's wrong, unfair and
VAVA general secretary
Tran Xuan Thu exclaimed, "It's totally ridiculous.
The Agent Orange laden with the highly toxic
chemical dioxin was a poison barred by
international laws of war."
Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange filed their suit in
January 2004 in a New York federal court, accusing 37
US chemical firms including Monsanto, Dow
Chemical, Hercules, Occidental Chemical, Ultramar
Diamond Shamrock, Maxus Energy, Uniroyal Inc and
Wyeth, of producing and supplying toxic defoliants
used by the US Army in Vietnam.
lawsuit won mass support in Vietnam, where 11.5
million people signed a petition.
the first time Vietnamese citizens have ever
sought legal compensation for the effects of Agent
Orange, which contains the toxic chemical dioxin -
linked to cancer, diabetes and birth defects among
Vietnamese soldiers and civilians and US veterans.
Exposure to Agent Orange can result in
chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), the US
National Institute of Medicine said in a 2003
report. The report, based on a reassessment of six
studies of herbicide exposure, concluded there were
"enough data to support an association of exposure
to these chemicals and the development of CLL", a
form of cancer of the blood.
Professor Phan Thi Phi Phi, one of the
first three Vietnamese Agent Orange victims to
petition for compensation in a US court, said there
was ample proof in Vietnam of the horrible effects
of the defoliant on humans. He said the US
Army sprayed more than 72 million liters of herbicide
over the jungles of Vietnam from 1961-71.
About 44 million liters of these
defoliants were Agent Orange, with close to 170
kilograms of dioxins, affecting as many as 2
Ngo Thanh Nhan, a
US linguist who participated in the lawsuit
campaign, told the Tuoi Tre newspaper, "if the medical
files [of Vietnamese victims] are not convincing
enough, we will use the ones of the American
soldiers ... There's no reason why those who
sprayed chemical products got compensation for
their contamination ... and the direct victims'
suit is rejected by the US court."
class-action settlement in 1984, chemical
manufacturers agreed to pay US$180 million to US
war veterans who died or became ill after exposure
to defoliants. Ironically, the judge who decided on
this matter was Weinstein.
Nhan said there
were some contradictions in Weinstein's arguments.
one part he wants to defend the principle of
judicial independence and in the other part he
wants to accept the US president's powers to
direct US armed forces in wartime," Nhan told the
Tuoi Tre newspaper. "Weinstein did not want to see
more 'victims of war' coming to ask for US
international observers feel similarly, and point
out that the case is a test of the reach of the US
courts as it considers the power of the US
president to authorize the use of hazardous
materials during a time of war.
only a legal matter. The two aspects, legal and
moral, have to be examined," said Nguyen Van Tuan,
an Australian scientist of Vietnamese origin.
But as John McAutiff, executive director
of the New York-based Fund for Reconciliation and
Development (FRD), remarked in a statement, "Judge
Weinstein has made it easier for our country to
continue to evade moral responsibility for the
consequences of its action.
how much chemical companies and the US government
knew about the poisonous dioxin, they should not
hide behind legal and scientific technicalities to
avoid facing their obligation," said McAutiff,
referring to the defendants' argument that neither
the US government nor chemical firms knew about
Agent Orange's toxic properties.
representative Andrews Wells-Dang also said the US
should practice what it preaches in accepting
"We think the US has a
moral obligation to assist people who are affected
in the US as well as Vietnam, and regardless of
whether the US intended or foresaw those
consequences - that's still a responsibility that
we have," said Wells-Dang. "We are very quick to
call on others to accept responsibility for their
past actions; we should be willing to accept that
ourselves as a country."
Weinstein's March 7 decision can be appealed and
then taken to the US Supreme Court.
asked about her impression about the ongoing
lawsuit, Nguyen Thi Oanh, a mother of a boy and a
girl deformed by dioxin, told Inter Press Service:
"I hope it would come to something. Someone should
be responsible [for] the toxic chemical that ruins
my children's lives."
This hope was also
voiced by VAVA vice president Nguyen Trong Nhan
when he met other VAVA members over the weekend in
Hanoi to discuss further steps to take in their
quest for justice.
will be time-consuming, just similar to the lawsuit filed
by US veterans. But we believe that we will win,"
he said. "We will pursue with the lawsuit until
justice is done."
(Inter Press Service)
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