Vietnam War vet appeals French court's Agent Orange ruling

By Minh Nga   May 11, 2021 | 09:00 pm GMT+7
Vietnam War vet appeals French court's Agent Orange ruling
Tran To Nga talks to the press outside the court in the Paris suburb of Evry in January, 2021. Photo by Collectif Vietnam-Dioxine.
A Vietnamese-French woman is appealing a French court's decision to dismiss her lawsuit against firms that manufactured the toxic Agent Orange defoliant used in the Vietnam War.

Tran To Nga, 79, lost no time in instructing her lawyers to appeal a decision made Monday by the court in the Paris suburb of Evry, dismissing a lawsuit against several agrochemical companies.

The court ruled that it did not have the jurisdiction to judge a case involving wartime actions of the U.S. government, the AFP reported.

On January 25, Nga, an Agent Orange victim herself, sued 14 firms that made or sold the highly toxic chemical, including Monsanto, now owned by German giant Bayer, and Dow Chemical.

Backed by several NGOs, she accused the companies of being responsible for injuries sustained by her, her children, and countless others, as well as for damage done to the environment.

If the French court had ruled in her favor, it would have been the first time ever that a Vietnamese victim of Agent Orange had won compensation for the horrific after-effects caused by the dioxin contained in the defoliant. So far, only military veterans from the U.S., Australia, and South Korea have been compensated.

The multinationals have argued that they could not be held responsible for the use the American military made of their product.

In dismissing the case, the court said that the companies were acting "on the orders" of the U.S. government, which was engaged in a "sovereign act."

"I am disappointed but I am not sad. Getting to the May 10 decision is already a victory. I want to thank everyone who supports me.

"We will continue the fight," Nga said.

On Monday, her lawyers William Bourdon, Amélie Lefebvre, and Bertrand Repolt released a joint statement on appealing the court’s decision that picked several holes in it.

"One can only be surprised that the court recognizes that the companies concerned would have acted under the constraint of the American government whereas they answered a call for tenders, which they were free to do or not.

"Even more serious, the recommendations made by the American administration did not require the manufacture of a product containing a level of dioxin as high as that of Agent Orange. This only resulted from a sovereign and free initiative of the companies concerned," read the statement, originally written in French.

Several NGOs estimate that four million people in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were exposed to the 76 million liters (20 million gallons) of Agent Orange sprayed by U.S. forces to destroy ground cover and food sources as it fought North Vietnamese troops between 1962 and 1971.

Nga suffers from typical Agent Orange effects, including type 2 diabetes and an extremely rare insulin allergy. One of her daughters died of a malformation of the heart.

Lawyer Repolt had told VnExpress International in February that he and the other two lawyers "had to demonstrate that when the chemical companies supplied Agent Orange, they were aware of the dangerousness of the product.

"This required producing, before the French judge, exchanges of internal correspondences from the 1960s, demonstrating this perfect knowledge of dangerousness. Given the age of the facts, this was not easy, but I think we produced sufficiently convincing documents in court to win our case," he said.

It is expected that on May 15, Nga and volunteers from different NGOs will organize a rally in Paris to protest the decision of the court.

On January 31, a rally held by NGO Collectif Vietnam Dioxine had gathered nearly 300 people in Trocadero Square, expressing support for Nga and other victims of Agent Orange in their fight for justice.

 
 
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