After J. Weinstein, the jury of the Brooklyn Instance Court refused the lawsuit of Vietnamese AO victims, the lawsuit went on with appeal and supreme courts. On 2nd February 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court also denied the case with two main reasons: (1) the chemicals that the U.S. military used in Vietnam War were just “herbicides” and harmless to people’s health; (2) the chemical companies that produced and provided the herbicides for the U.S. military just obeyed the order of the U.S. Government, and the U.S. court can’t judge the diplomatic and military decisions of the Government.
For social equality, the struggle for justice of the victims has been continued and now enter the 15th year (2004 – 2018) and seen ups and downs in different economic, political, social and external contexts. However, it is clear that both domestic and international opinions, even the U.S. Government have admitted that the Agent Orange used in Vietnam War by the U.S. is detrimental to the environment, ecosystem and people’s health in Vietnam.
The assistance of hundreds of millions of USD for decontaminating AO in the ‘hot spots” and supporting the disable regardless of their causes in Vietnam is an example of the U.S. Government, companies and organizations’ acceptance of responsibility. Their action have been hailed by progressive opinions as well as acknowledged in the summits between the two countries.
The justice for social equality and progress is increasingly affirmed. Those who caused the damages must be responsible for their actions and those who suffered must be compensated. The lawsuit has awakened the conscience of human being in preventing the use of toxic chemicals, weapons of mass destruction and overcoming war legacies as said by Senator Patrick Leahy, President of the U.S. Senate: “AO matter divided the two countries in the past, now it is bringing us closer to each other”.
The trend of human right protection and environmental protection is favoring the struggle for justice of Vietnamese AO victims.
Determination for justice for the victims
After more than 7 years of preparation since the inception of the idea for the lawsuit in July 1996, VAVA had conducted all-round, scientific and dialectical assessment of the feasibility of the case with questions such as: To sue or not to sue? Sue whom? Who and Where to sue on what grounds? Where to get budget for it?
VAVA has decided that justice is the goal of struggle or social quality and the common wish of progressive human kind. The road to justice requires our persistence because it won’t be attained easily. This may take all-life long effort or even several generations. Some lawsuits in the world history have shown this. Believing that justice will come to the victims, in any circumstances, VAVA will be determined and persistent to the goal of justice for Vietnamese AO victims.
However, challenges and hardships remain beyond which need the joint effort of the whole community. In particular, the changing from awareness to concrete actions is decisive to the success of the lawsuit.
Hardships and Challenges
There are many challenges to different extent to VAVA in the coming time, including the following aspects:
- Financial matter: Conducting an international lawsuit in general one in the U.S. is very costly. Whereas, the plaintiffs (the victims) have limitations in finance, moving and relationship. The defendants (U.S. chemical companies), in contrast, are rich in money, relations and experience in dealing with such cases.
Proofs and evidences: The documents recording the spray of toxic chemical in the war are kept secret. For military and political reasons, the released evidences have been distorted. There hasn’t been unanimity in the studies of cause – result relations.
- Time and legal procedures: It is difficult to recall the events happening nearly 60 years ago while the witnesses are decreasing in quantity and capability. The collection and storage of documents relating to the field are limited and interrupted.
On viewpoint: in the market economy, some pragmatic, rightist, negative and suspicious views as well as the evolutions of social ethics have bad effect on the belief and the determination to struggle for social equality.
The right evaluation and analysis, and the scientific and dialectical settlement of the documents and events will be a major momentum helping the victims overcoming hardships and challenges in their struggle for justice in the future.
The results of the events and lawsuits which prove the legitimacy of Vietnamese AO victims:
1. The International People’s Tribunal of Conscience, Paris:
Right in the time of Vietnam War, international opinion has voiced their protest against the U.S. use of toxic chemicals produced by U.S. companies. One of the notable cases was the Russell Tribunal, named after the famous British social activist Bertrand Russell, also known as the International War Crime Tribunal which took place in Stockholm and Copenhagen. The tribunal ruled that U.S. Government has committed acts of aggression against Vietnam and was guilty of genocide against Vietnamese people, including the use of chemical weapon and environmental depletion.
Although the lawsuit filed by Vietnamese AO victims in 2004 didn’t bring expected results, it has formally exposed the devastating effect of the toxic chemicals used by the U.S. in Vietnam War, and drawn the attention of both domestic and international opinions. Several organizations and individuals have voiced their support for Vietnamese AO/Dioxin victims. Mr. Len Aldis, General Secretary of the Britain – Vietnam Friendship Society has founded a website calling for people’s signature “For justice”.
On 15th and 16th of May, 2009, in Paris, the International Democratic Lawyers Association convened the International People’s Conscience Tribunal judging 37 chemical companies of the U.S. for Vietnamese AO victims. With the participation of 250 people of over 10 countries, the tribunal found that that the United States Government and the Chemical companies which manufactured and supplied Agent Orange must fully compensate the victims of Agent Orange and their families. The U.S. Government and the Chemical companies must also repair the environment to remove the contamination of Dioxin from the soil and the waters, and especially from the “Hot Spots” around former U.S. military bases.
On 24th October 2009 in Syria, the World Peace Council issued a resolution in which August 10th was decided as the International Solidarity Day for Vietnamese AO/Dioxin victims…
2. The lawsuit filed by Ms. Tran To Nga in France
Realizing that Agent Orange is the cause to the diseases of her family, in May 2009, Ms. Tran To Nga acted as witness in the Paris International People’s Conscience Tribunal judging 37 US chemical companies which provided toxic chemicals for the U.S. military in Vietnam War. At the tribunal, she met Mr. William Bourdon, a famous lawyer of the Paris Lawyers Federation who has, for many times, succeeded in protecting for people in their lawsuits against multinationals and in the lawsuits against crimes against humanity. There, he agreed to support her in suing the U.S. chemical companies for causing her diseases and accepted to co-sign the file.
Ms. Tran To Nga was born in 1942 in the South of Vietnam. In 1954 she evacuated to the North with her family. In 1966, after graduating the Hanoi College of Natural Sciences – Vietnam National University, she returned to the South and worked as a war correspondent for the Liberation News Agency in the provinces of Tay Ninh, Binh Duong, etc. During this time, she was exposed to Agent Orange sprayed by the U.S. military. Because of this, she has developed several diseases, including her breast cancer recently. Her first daughter died at the age of 17 because of in born heart defect. Her second daughter suffers from Alpha Thalassemia.
After two years of preparation, on 14th May 2014, her file, co-signed by William Bourdon, was sent to the Crown Court of Evry (in the suburb of Paris, France) and 26 chemical companies of the U.S. On 16th April 2015, the Crown Court of Evry convened the first session. 19 out of the 26 sued companies had lawyers. Up to now, the court has convened 9 sessions. However, all the 9 sessions were just to handle the procedure because the lawyers deliberately delayed the case. However, the Crown Court of Evry has urged the involving parties to complete procedure so that it can start the trial.
Different from the collective complaint of the Vietnamese AO victims in the Court of Brooklyn, New York, Nga’s case is a personal one from a French citizen exposing to AO during the time working in Vietnam. It was sent to a French court to be judged by French law and not dependent on U.S. law. U.S. lawyers were not permit to protect the chemical companies during the procedure sessions.
Nga’s case has a precedent in France. That was the case of Paul Francois, a 51-year-old famer living in Lyon. In 2004, while using Lasso herbicide produced by Monsanto, Francois accidentally inhaled the toxic gas emitted from the container and was immediately unconscious. Later he often suffered from cough, trauma, and went to hospital 5 times and stayed off work 9 months. His working ability decreased by 40%. In 2007, he filed a lawsuit against Monsanto. 5 years later, on 13 February 2012, the Lower Court of Lyon concluded that Monsanto was accountable for Francois’ toxicity and had to compensate for his loss. Monsanto brought the case to the court of appeal and on 10 September 2015, the appeal court preserved the judgment of the lower court.
On 13th June 2014, VAVA stated to support the case. Subsequently, on 9th April 2015, VAVA sent its open letter to the Crown Court of Evry to demand for a serious trial of the suit.
3. The International Court of Justice, La Haye, Netherlands
On 18th April 2017, at the International Court of Justice in La Haye, 5 international judges headed by Ms. Francoise Tulkens – presiding the International Monsanto Tribunal – announced that Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide containing Glyphosate and the Dioxin-contained 2,4,5T Agent Orange used in Vietnam War have caused thousands of people to death.
The tribunal reviewed 6 related matters comprising 6 crimes in which 4 crimes related to human rights, namely: the right to live in clean environment, the right to food, the right to health, the right to do scientific research and the right to access to information. It concluded that Monsanto had depleted the environment, inflicted serious damages on Vietnamese people as well as U.S. soldiers and their allies who participated in Vietnam War and exposed to the herbicide produced by Monsanto.
Although this is just a justice tribunal and not legally binding, it has given out consultative and warning conclusions which can be used as evidence for Monsanto’s violations of human rights and environmental depletion. Its legal arguments can be used for Vietnamese AO victims’ lawsuit. The recommendations of the tribunal have also been sent to the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, the UN Human Rights Committee and Monsanto.
On 20th April 2017, in its periodical press briefing, the Spokesperson of the Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs appreciated the judgment of the court and considered it an objective reality; demanded that Monsanto pay respect to the consultation of the court and have realistic actions contributing to mitigating the consequences of AO/Dioxin.
With Vietnam’s open policies, in 1995 Monsanto’s products began to enter Vietnam market. In August 2010, Monsanto officially opened its branch in Vietnam with the name of Dekalb Limited Liability Company and began to market its genetic-transformed and pesticide products. However, with contrasting ideas, the world has yet to agree on the benefit and effect of the genetic-transformed food and plants.
On 21st April 2017, two members of the Social Party, and members of the EU Agricultural Committee, namely Eric Andrieu and Marc Tarabella proposed to establish an Investigating Committee on Monsanto’s environmental depletion in order to found a “Monsanto File”.
The lawsuit of Vietnamese AO/Dioxin victims in the U.S. court just demands for the legitimate interests and justice which match the common wish of progressive human beings in a civilized and equal world.
Vietnamese AO/Dioxin victims are not alone in this struggle. The conclusion of the court and its subsequent opinion have further consolidated and stated that the struggle is just and for the fundamental rights of human.
4. The lawsuit against Monsanto at the San Francisco Court, USA
In reality, prior to the lawsuit against Monsanto at the San Francisco Court, there had been around 5,000 other ones of US citizens suing the company similar to the case of Dewayne Johnson but this is the first time the U.S. court stated a fine and compensation for the victim. The plaintiffs held that the herbicides produced by Monsanto can cause blood cancer (similar to the Dioxin in the Agent Orange that the U.S used in Vietnam War).
The decision of the San Francisco Court on 10th August 2018 (coinciding with the Day for Vietnamese AO/Dioxin victims) has directly affirmed that “herbicide” can cause cancer and Monsanto has to accept liability for its products. The verdict drew special attention of international opinion and served as a case law for thousands of other cases, including the one of Vietnamese AO victims. This is a case law, a sharp tool for the victims struggling for justice and social equality.
The verdict has refuted the argument of the U.S. Supreme Court that the “herbicides” produced by Monsanto and other chemical companies are harmless to people. Therefore, Monsanto and other chemical companies producing herbicides for the U.S. military in Vietnam War must be responsible for the disaster caused to the environment and people in Vietnam.
After its case in 2004, VAVA still continued to collect evidence of the harmful effect of herbicide for the struggle for justice of the victims. Since then, there have been several scientific projects both at home and abroad about the harmful effect caused by the herbicides sprayed by the U.S. military in Vietnam War. Right in the U.S., congressmen proposed 4 bills demanding the Government to help Vietnam mitigating the consequences of Agent Orange mostly provided by Monsanto.
The verdict made by the Superior Court of California County of San Francisco, USA that Monsanto is liable and subject to a fine of USD 289 million for not having due warning about the risk of cancer that its Roundup/Glyphosate herbicide can cause to people was given out after many years of careful consideration with several objective and serious hearings with the scientific proofs and the conclusion of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Speaking after the court, Mr. Dewayne Johnson, the plaintiff and victim of cancer after two years using Monsanto’s herbicides expressed that his lawsuit won thanks to the supports and prayers of many people, even the ones whom he didn’t know. He felt pleased with that unexpected support and hoped the verdict of the court would be an advantage for other victims.
In short, this is the first verdict on the harmful effect of the herbicide which announced an amount of compensation for the victim. The success of the case gives hope for thousands of other cases, especially the struggle for justice of Vietnamese AO victims which has drawn much attention from the public, including the progressive opinion in the U.S.
Continue to struggle for justice for Vietnamese AO/Dioxin victims
With strong belief in justice, VAVA appreciates the victories of the lawsuits against the herbicides with harmful agents to the environment, ecosystem and people. This encourages and stimulates the case of Vietnamese AO victims against the U.S. chemical companies that provided the herbicides used in Vietnam War, including Monsanto. This is also an experience and a lesson for VAVA in its struggle for justice for the victims in the coming time.
VAVA hopes that lawyers, scientists, social activists and progressive organizations and opinion both at home and abroad will pay attention to and support the victims in their struggle for justice and social equality.
Tran Ngoc Tam, Head of the Scientific Board, VAVA