A French woman of Vietnamese origin, Tran To Nga, has stood as the sole plaintiff in the Agent Orange/Dioxin lawsuit against 35 chemical companies based in the U.S. for producing the toxic substances sprayed in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s.
Her 31-page complaint was sent to the Superior Court (tribunal de grande instance) based in Evry in the southern suburb of Paris, France. In May, the court sent notifications to the 35 defendants in the U.S. about the case.
The companies produced different kinds of toxic chemicals, including Agent Orange/Dioxin, which are herbicides and defoliants sprayed by the U.S. military to destroy crops and trees in Vietnam during wartime.
Besides causing ecological effects, the concentration of the toxin in soil and water are hundreds of times greater than the levels considered safe and can also create multiple health problems such as deformities, cancer, mental disabilities, serious skin diseases, cleft palates, and many genetic diseases.
The most recent case
Actually, Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin had already filed different cases against the U.S. chemical companies and the lawsuit lodged by Nga is the latest but the only case filed by an individual.
Nga was introduced in the case as the former war correspondent of the Vietnam News Agency, a unit of the revolutionary force to fight for the liberation of Vietnam. She lived in the most affected areas of the toxic spray including Cu Chi, Binh Long, and Ho Chi Minh Trail during the peak time from 1966-70.
Declarations and analysis of physical problems that Nga, her daughters and her nephews and nieces have suffered for being exposed to or inherited with the toxin are also included in the appendix of the lawsuit.
Famous people such as Doctor Duong Quang Trung, journalist Dinh Phong, Vietnamese heroic mother Bui Thi Me, and former State President Nguyen Minh Triet stand as her witnesses.
Since 1978, 2.5 million U.S. veterans who served in Vietnam during the U.S. war have filed hundreds of lawsuits against the chemical companies.
Though the cases did not end with a victory announced by the courts, the defendants accepted to spend a total of US$180 million for reconciliation in 1984.
Ten years later, in 1994, all lawsuits filed were rejected because the ‘fund of compensation’ ran out of money.
In 2004, the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) began sending their legal proceedings to sue the companies but was rejected by different courts, with the last one turned down in 2009 by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Not to be discouraged, supporters of the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin around the world summoned the Court of Public Opinion in Paris with the participation of prestigious judges.
There, scientists, lawyers, experts, and victims denounced the production and spraying of the chemicals that destroy the environment and human beings.
Nga and French lawyer William Bourdon participated in the court. She described her story of how she was exposed to the substance and how her daughters died because of it.
“But my sufferings are much smaller than what my comrades and other people have suffered,” Nga told the court.
She called the production and spraying of dioxin ‘the killing of [her] families’.
She even laid down a challenge, “I invite representatives of the companies to visit Vietnam and you will see and feel what you need to do.”
‘For the interests of thousands of victims in Vietnam’
French lawyer Bourdon felt deeply moved after the court hearings and is willing to help Nga in her lawsuit.
However, his offer could only work when the jurisdiction of French courts and lawyers in international courts was restored by French lawmakers in 2013, as French law had earlier banned judges and lawyers from engaging in international rulings.
A laboratory in Germany was selected to analyze the concentration of dioxin in Nga’s blood.
The waiting period for the results felt very strange and scary because Nga did not expect a ‘clean’ result at all, she recalled.
From her blood sample, the test results showed that the dioxin content in her body was 16.7pg/g in 2013, much higher than the safe level.
With an 80 percent rate of decrease over 20 years widely acknowledged by scientists, the content of dioxin in her blood was identified at 84 pg/g in 1990 and 151.2pg/g in 1970.
The scientific evidence is enough for Nga to start her legal proceedings, at her age of 72. She is determined that the case is not for her interests.
“I am not discouraged. Me and my family have fought all our lives. I am the individual plaintiff in this case, but this case will be for a precedence to fight for the interests of thousands of victims in Vietnam. So I won’t give up,” Nga confirmed.
(To be continued)