Trial of lawsuit against US AO/Dioxin producers grabs headlines

Several newspapers have been reporting on a lawsuit filed by Vietnamese-French national Tran Thi To Nga against 14 multinational companies for their role in producing and selling chemical toxins that were sprayed by the United States army in the war in Vietnam.
January 27, 2021 | 23:25
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Trial of lawsuit against US AO/Dioxin producers grabs headlines
A photo of Tran To Nga is posted along with an article by Le Monde on January 19, 2021.

According to VNA, the trial, opened in France on January 25, has grabbed the attention of local media, which has called it “historic”.

L'Humanité frontpaged an article headlined “A story of an American war crime tried 55 years later in France”, reflecting on the lives of Nga and millions of other victims of AO/Dioxin and her enduring fight for justice over the last six years. The article said the historic trial against 14 American companies, including Dow Chemical and Bayer-Monsanto, is now entering a new phase at the Crown Court of Evry.

The lawsuit has been called a David-and-Goliath struggle, as dozens of lawyers for the multinationals have deployed all possible strategies to slow down the progress of the trial, it said, adding that a few years ago the turnover of Dow Chemical alone exceeded Vietnam’s GDP.

It also said the challenge is to have a French court recognise the association between human exposure to the ultra-toxic pesticides used by the US in the Vietnam War and the health problems experienced by Vietnamese victims. If confirmed, millions of AO/Dioxin victims could demand compensation.

Le Monde, meanwhile, emphasised that Nga knew she would have to handle a prolonged legal battle and there would be appeals and all kinds of examinations to establish whether there is a link between her health conditions and the US use of herbicides in her homeland. It 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.

Supported by many associations, Nga hopes that the trial will set a precedent and foster international recognition of the crime of ecocide, Nouvel Observateur said in its article headlined “Agent Orange: Tran To Nga’s historic trial against the agrochemical industry”. In France, it could help victims of chlordecone in the West Indies and even glyphosate, it noted.

If Nga wins, the case would indeed recognise the responsibility of these major firms in harming human life and the environment, the newspaper added.

Trial of lawsuit against US AO/Dioxin producers grabs headlines
Tran To Nga (standing) at meeting between the Vietnamese Embassy in France and young Vietnamese expatriates on September 19, 2020. Source: Collectif Vietnam Dioxine

Liberation, meanwhile, quoted Dow Chemical’s own words as saying Agent Orange is extremely powerful with an “exceptional toxicity”. The defoliant was at the heart of the largest chemical warfare programme in the 20th century, conducted by the US not only in Vietnam but also in neighbouring Laos and Cambodia. Its lasting effects are still being felt today.

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”. Nga lost her first daughter, it said, while the second suffers from a malformation and her grandchildren have breathing problems. For years, diseases linked to AO/Dioxin have been hidden by families in Vietnam. One of the challenges for the case is “to make visible this part of history by recognising the nature and the extent of the damage”.

The effects of AO/Dioxin are seen even in the fourth generation, Reporterre said in its story, and at least 100,000 children are suffering from serious congenital anomalies. This civil trial is not only an individual fight but could also have a significant influence on all victims.

It added that whatever the outcome of the trial, there will be an appeal from the chemical giants who cannot afford to lose, or from Nga who has nothing more to lose, it added.

Trial of lawsuit against US AO/Dioxin producers grabs headlines
Vietnamese-French Tran Thi To Nga in Évry, Essonne. Source: Collectif Vietnam Dioxine

The historic trial also has received coverage in German media. Deutschlandfunk, a public-broadcasting radio station, on January 26 run an article on the trial, which opened in France on January 25, on Nga’s lawsuit against the US companies for producing and selling highly toxic chemicals used by US armed forces from 1961-1971 which caused severe health damage to Nga and millions of other victims

The companies must be held responsible, the radio quoted Nga as saying prior to the trial.

Running an article headlined “One for all against the chemical giants”, the Der Spiegel news website said the lawsuit could be a major result for AO victims.

The herbicide was used by US forces as part of Operation Ranch Hand from 1962. A total of around 80 million litres of defoliant are said to have been sprayed across 2 million ha, including at least 46 million litres of AO.

Following many class action lawsuits, affected US servicemen were compensated as part of an out-of-court settlement in the 1980s. Vietnamese victims, however, have received nothing.

No matter the verdict or how long the lawsuit takes, Nga does not want to give up, as she thinks of the victims who cannot come to court. She said she cannot disappoint them.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, meanwhile, described Nga as a strong and energetic woman who was exposed to toxic chemicals during the US War. She filed a lawsuit to seek justice for all victims of AO in Vietnam.

The article cited figures from the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin that said some 4.8 million Vietnamese were directly or indirectly exposed to AO and other chemicals that have been linked to cancers and miscarriages.

In May 2014, Nga, filed a lawsuit against 26 US chemical firms for producing chemical toxins sprayed by the US army in the war in Vietnam, causing serious consequences for the community, her and her children.

Between 1966 and 1970, she had to work and live 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 the effects of contamination herself. Among her three children, the first child died of heart defects and the second suffers from a blood disease.

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.

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. One daughter, who was born three years after Ms Nga’s poisoning, died after only a few months.

Ms Nga said: “She had four heart malformations, that she could not survive.”

Her grandchildren have also been born with abnormalities that have been allegedly linked to the chemicals.

She told news source FranceInfo: “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.

“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.”

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