Ignored in US, Agent Orange Trial Makes Headlines in France
Linh Pham / The Hanoi Times
(January 28, 2021) — The case was brought to justice after a decade, receiving support by legal experts and international communities.
A court case brought by French-Vietnamese woman Tran To Nga against 14 chemical firms over Agent Orange use in the American War in Vietnam has made headlines in France over the past few days.
Opened in Évry, Essonne, the trial has grabbed the attention of local media due to its meaning and legal proceeding time of a lawsuit lodged since 2014 by a 79-year-old woman against multinational chemical giants for their involvement in the use of Agent Orange defoliant by the US government.
The 79-year-old woman who was poisoned by the herbicide Agent Orange during the American War in Vietnam has fought for “justice” for thousands of alleged victims over the past decade.
Mrs. Nga hoped that it will be a historic case, setting a precedent for other victims.
Among the companies sued in the case are Bayer-Monsanto and Dow Chemicals.
The companies have attempted to delay the date of the trial several times, and have offered Mrs. Nga compensation for the damages, but she refused, The Connexion reported.
After six years and 19 hearings, the trial official began with lawyers of all the sued companies required to be present.
Between 1961 and 1971, US troops sprayed more than 80 million liters of herbicides with half of them were Agent Orange (AO), containing nearly 370 kilograms of dioxin, over the south of Vietnam and Laos.
A US Air Force plane drops Agent Orange on jungle during the Vietnam War.
After gaining a degree in chemistry from university in Hanoi in 1966, Ms. Nga, at the age of 22, became a war correspondent.
During a mission in 1966 in the south, she was directly exposed to the herbicide sprayed from planes that were flying overhead.
After being poisoned, Ms. Nga and her family have suffered a catalogue of lifelong health problems. A test conducted in 2011 showed that their health problems were directly linked with the chemicals.
Ms. Nga has got cancer, Type 2 diabetes, high iodine levels in the blood, hypertension, tuberculosis and genetic abnormalities. Her children were born with heart and spine problems, severe asthma, and other genetic defects. One of her daughters died few months after the birth.
“She had four heart malformations that she could not survive,” Ms Nga said.
Her grandchildren have also been born with abnormalities that have been allegedly linked to the chemicals.
The same herbicides and pesticides have been shown elsewhere to cause serious health concerns such as cancer, fetal deformities, blindness, endocrine conditions, and more.
The number of miscarriages across Vietnam has soared since the 1970s.
The Connexion quoted international human rights lawyer Valérie Cabanes as saying that “The absolutely phenomenal strength [of the herbicide] is 13 times’ stronger than that of [other controversial herbicide] glyphosate. Around 6,000 children in Vietnam are born each year with congenital deformities.”
Legal Proceeding Journey
Mrs. Nga began the justice process in 2009 as a witness at the Court of Public Opinion in Paris, France against the US chemical companies after realizing the scale of the situation in Vietnam.
She said: “I asked myself, who is going to look after these disabled children once the first generation — of which I am part — has died?”
The case made no progress until 2013 when the French parliament restored the right for a French national to take a case to court in France, for a crime committed in a third party foreign country.
Mrs. Nga told news source FranceInfo that the story of Agent Orange must be known worldwide. “Compensating me, for these multinationals, is nothing. But behind me, there are thousands of victims. I am fighting for my family, of course, but I am also fighting for [those victims], to create a legal precedent”.
The plaintiff emphasized that her objective in this fight is to demand justice for her and her family and more than that for all AO victims, not only in Vietnam but other countries as well.
On the opening of the court on January 25, 2021, Mrs. Nga said the battle is just beginning, adding that she felt calm, hopeful, and full of conviction and ready to give the last years of her life to the lawsuit.
In the 1980s, the US and chemical companies including Monsanto paid more than US$250 million in compensation to US veterans who were poisoned by the careless use of pesticides during the war.
In 2013, a South Korean court ordered Monsanto and Dow Chemicals to pay compensation to 39 war veterans who had been poisoned by pesticides. But the Vietnamese civilian victims have yet to receive anything.
International rights lawyer Marie Toussaint said that “In these cases of attacks on the environment and on the health of human beings, it always takes an extremely long time, because the multinationals are very afraid.”
L’Humanité front-paged an article “A story of an American war crime tried 55 years later in France,” reflecting on the lives of Nga and millions of other AO/dioxin victims as well as her enduring fight for justice over the last six years.
Nouvel Observateur said in its article “Agent Orange: Tran To Nga’s historic trial against the agrochemical industry” that if Nga wins, the case would indeed recognize the responsibility of these major firms in harming human life and the environment.
FranceInfo called Nga “an old lady” who moves slowly, but behind the fragile appearance is a grandmother who has shown all her life that she has “the soul of a fighter”.
Le Monde said there is no other lawsuit against these agro-chemical firms who were aware of the toxicity of their products sold to US armed forces.
A gathering in support of Mrs. Nga and the victims of Agent Orange is planned to take place in Paris on January 30.
Some hashtags on Twitter calling justice for the plaintiff become viral. The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) has supported Mrs. Nga over the past decade.
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