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French-Vietnamese woman's Agent Orange lawsuit wins activists' support

Hannah Nguyen Hannah Nguyen

ngminhphuong26@gmail.com

February 01, 2021 | 07:50

Hundreds of activists gathered in Paris on January 30 to show their support for Vietnamese Agent Orange (AO)/dioxine victims after a litigation session of the Crown Court of Evry city for the case filled by Vietnamese-French woman Tran To Nga against 14 companies for producing and selling chemical toxins sprayed by US forces in the war in Vietnam.

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French Vietnamese woman's Agent Orange lawsuit wins activists' support
Activists gathered on January 30 in Paris to support people exposed to Agent Orange during the American war in Vietnam. Source: Collectif Vietnam Dioxine

Tran To Nga, a 78-year-old former journalist, filed the lawsuit in May 2014. Among the companies named in her suit, there are such names as Monsanto (now under the German group Bayer) and Dow Chemical.

With the support of several non-governmental organisations, Nga accused the companies of causing lasting harm to the health of her, her children and countless others, as well as destroying the environment.

Nga graduated from a Hanoi university in 1966 and became a war correspondent of the Liberation News Agency, now the Vietnam News Agency. She worked in some of the most heavily AO/Dioxin affected areas in southern Vietnam such as Cu Chi, Ben Cat and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, ultimately experiencing contamination effects herself.

In 2009, Nga, who contracted a number of acute diseases, appeared as a witness at the Court of Public Opinion in Paris against the US chemical companies.

French Vietnamese woman's Agent Orange lawsuit wins activists' support
Vietnamese-French Tran To Nga speaks at the event. Source: Collectif Vietnam Dioxine

Nga has cancer, Type 2 diabetes, high iodine levels in the blood, hypertension, tuberculosis, genetic abnormalities, and had children born with heart problems, spine issues, severe asthma, and other genetic defects. Among her three children, the first child died of heart defects and the second suffers from a blood disease.

"Because of that, I lost one child due to heart defects. I have two other daughters who were born with malformations. And my grandchildren, too," she told The Associated Press.

The US army sprayed some 80 million litres of toxic chemicals, 61 percent of which was Agent Orange and contained 366 kilos of dioxin, over nearly a quarter of southern Vietnam’s total area from 1961 to 1971, VNA reported.

Figures show that 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to AO/dioxin and about 3 million people became victims. Tens of thousands have died while millions of others have suffered from cancer and other incurable diseases as a consequence of exposure. Many of their offspring suffered birth deformities.

"That's where lies the crime, the tragedy because with Agent Orange, it doesn't stop. It is passed on from one generation to the next," Nga said.

Nga’s lawsuit alleges that the manufacturers of Agent Orange misled US officials about its true toxicity — leading to more widespread and sustained use than might have otherwise been approved if the true risks were fully known by US military brass.

“My objective in this fight, is to demand justice for me and my family, and after, to have legal precedent so that all victims of Agent Orange — not only in Vietnam, in other countries too — have a path in front of them to get justice for themselves,” Nga said in the FranceInfo interview.

French Vietnamese woman's Agent Orange lawsuit wins activists' support
People have taken part in a “virtual protest”, calling for justice for Tran To Nga and AO/dioxin victims.

Agent Orange contains the dioxin TCDD, which medical researchers have linked to cancer, birth defects, and other serious ailments. The US Environmental Protection Agency labels TCDD as a carcinogen. US officials have reportedly linked Agent Orange to elevated rates of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia among American veterans of the Vietnam War. In a 1984 court case, seven chemical companies behind the manufacturing of Agent Orange agreed to a USD 180 million settlement with US veterans who were exposed to the chemical.

Bayer argues any legal responsibility for Trans's claims should belong to the United States, saying in a statement that the Agent Orange was made "under the sole management of the U.S. government for exclusively military purposes."

Tran's lawyers argued that the US government had not requisitioned the chemical but secured it from the companies through a bidding process.

The court's ruling is scheduled on May 10. If the court decides in her favour, Nga would be the first Vietnamese AO/dioxin victim to be compensated.

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Hannah Nguyen