The lawsuit of Ms. Tran To Nga against US chemical companies – A belief in victory
Ms. Tran To Nga was born in 1942 in Soc Trang province. In 1954 she was taken to the North together with her family. In 1965, after graduating from university, she returned to the South and worked as a reporter for the Liberation News Agency. During her time as a war correspondent, she was exposed to Agent Orange/Dioxin sprayed by the US Military. Since then her health was severely reduced. Her first child died at the age of 17 months while her second child also suffered from thalassemia. In 1993, she moved to live in France, became a French citizen, but still held Vietnamese nationality. In May 2009, Ms. Tran To Nga acted as witness at the International Peoples’ Tribunal of Conscience in Support of the Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange in Paris. With the help of lawyer William Bourdon, his associates and writer André Bouny - President of the International Committee of Support (CIS) for Victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam, she decided to sue the companies producing and supplying chemicals for the US Military to use during the war in Vietnam and began to take steps to prepare for the lawsuit, such as: medical examination, translation of documents from French into English, etc. Nga's lawsuit is a civil case. She filed the lawsuit as a French citizen, based on the French law. This is the first time, a plaintiff of an Agent Orange victim has sued companies that manufactured and supplied chemical toxins to the US Military for use in the war in Vietnam and be tried in court - The war of a small Vietnamese woman against America's chemical giants. The lawsuit faced countless difficulties and hardships due to the fact that American chemical corporations did not easily admit the consequences caused after nearly 50 years after the war; financial matters to pursue the lawsuit; and another big challenge is to prove the link between the herbicides used by the US Military during the war in Vietnam and the related diseases.
In May 2013, the Crown Court in Evry (France) approved the Nga’s lawsuit suing 26 US chemical companies (12 of which were merged or stopped operating later). In April 2014, the Court opened the first trial. In 6 years (from 2014 to 2020), there have been 19 procedural trials. Nga faced many difficulties and obstacles caused by the defendant's side, as well as her old age and weakness due to dangerous diseases, but she did not feel discouraged and desperate. She said: "How can I be discouraged when my mind is always imbued with images of Agent Orange victims full of hope and expectation". On June 29, 2020, the Evry Court issued a notice of Nga's case and requested that proceedings be closed on September 28, 2020, to conduct the hearing on October 12, 2020. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the trial was postponed to January 25, 2021. Accordingly, from 09:00 to 17:00, on January 25, 2021, the Evry Court held a hearing between the Nga’s lawyers and the lawyers of 14 US chemical companies. At the trial, there were about 20 lawyers of 14 chemical companies, such as: Dow Chemical, Bayer-Monsanto, Harcros Chemical, Uniroyal Chemical, Thompson Hayward Chemical etc., They had 4 hours to debate and argue for their clients’ interest. Nga’s 3 lawyers, including: William Bourdon, Amélie Lefebvre and Bertrand Repolt, had only 1 hour and 30 minutes (these three lawyers have volunteered to help Nga for six years). According to a notice from the Court, on May 10, 2021, the Court would respond to the parties.
It can be said that this is a rare lawsuit in the judicial history of France in particular and internationally in general because the plaintiff is an individual, fighting against multinational corporations. The fact that Evry court held trial of Nga's lawsuit is the right thing, meeting the expectation of the Agent Orange victims and all those who respect and protect justice. Therefore, behind her stand hundreds of thousands of victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam, millions of Vietnamese people and people of the world. In particular, the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) supported her case with many practical and specific actions. Immediately after she filed the lawsuit, on June 13, 2014, the Association issued a statement supporting the lawsuit. On April 9, 2015, VAVA president sent an open letter to the Evry Court proposing a strict trial of the case. VAVA also called its member organizations and the entire society to actively take actions to support Nga. Accordingly, the Association's member organizations have launched a campaign and asked for more than 400,000 signatures to support the case, and raised hundreds of millions of VND donating for the case.
The lawsuit has created a wide resonance and drawn the attention of and supported by the world people. In France, a Committee on support for the case has been established. Before the trial, nearly 200 French mayors, parliamentarians and famous people signed to support Ms. Tran To Nga. On December 12, 2016, at the meeting with Nga, President of Luxembourg’s Chamber of Deputies, Mars Di Bartolomeo, hailed her struggle as "a just and brave fight". An American lawyer sent 6,000 pages of documents related to the lawsuit to support Nga. French media rated the trial held on January 25, 2021 at the Great Court of Evry as "historical", promoting international recognition of an "ecocide" crime. Several newspapers in Germany recalled the Agent Orange disaster in Vietnam nearly 50 years ago and demanded that the US chemical companies being sued in the lawsuit hold accountable for their actions. Along with that, many major newspapers in other countries, such as Japan, Korea, Singapore, etc., posted news in support for Nga in this lawsuit.
In fact, Nga's struggle for justice was not alone. Up to now, hundreds of thousands of people from many countries around the world have accompanied and supported her mentally and physically. The fact that the Evry Court decided to hold the trial was the first victory, and the US chemical producers and suppliers accepted to go to court was the next one. More than ever, each of us needs to join hands and support her in the fight for justice for the Agent Orange victims in Vietnam.
(to be continued)
By Tran Dinh – Manh Dung – Chu Ut