Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Double standards of chemical companies,
US slammed at AO trial

In this second part of a three-part series, Thanh Nien Daily follows the ongoing battle for justice waged by Agent Orange victims undaunted by setbacks.

An international panel of judges listen to testimonies presented at the

International Peoples’ Tribunal of Conscience

in support of the Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange

which opened in Paris on Friday

United by outrage over the US Supreme Court’s ruling as well as the determination to demand justice for Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange, they converged in Paris from all over the world.

The trial was international in every aspect: the judges, the witnesses, the experts, and the audience came from several different countries, some travelling long distances.

The judges spanned four continents: Jitendra Sharma (India), Adda Bekhouche (Algeria), Juan Guzman (Chile), Shoji Umeida (Japan), Gavril Iosif Chiuzbaian (Romania), and Marjorie Cohn and Claudia Morcom (United States of America).

Justice Sharma, president of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, presided over the proceedings.

The advocates for the plaintiffs were Roland Weyl (France) and Jeanne Mirer (United States).

The defendants were glaringly conspicuous by their absence.

In the audience, together with more than 100 people from France, Vietnam and the US, were dignitaries like Madame Nguyen Thi Binh, former Vice-President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam; Nguyen Van Rinh, president of Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA); H.E. Trinh Ngoc Thai, former ambassador to France; and honorary Senator Mrs Helene Luc, President of France-Vietnam Friendship Association (AAFV).

In his opening address, Judge Sharma underlined that the war waged by the United States against Vietnam was illegal under International Law as defined by the Nuremberg Tribunal; as was its use of forbidden chemical weapons.

Mai Giang Vu (R), one of the victims at the hearing in Paris. He had two sons, born 1974 and 1976, whose limbs began to get paralysed and twisted in 1980 till they could no longer stand and had to crawl. They died at 23 and 25.

The summons sent to the US administration and the chemical companies which provided Agent Orange and other defoliants have been received but not answered.

Speaking for VAVA and three million Vietnamese victims, Rinh said the human disaster and the ecological catastrophe have no equivalent in any part of the world.

They affect not only present times but the future too, and deprive the Vietnamese people of their right to life, liberty and happiness, he said.

From the Brooklyn verdict to the Supreme Court ruling, the Vietnamese victims have been denied the right to sue the chemical companies and to ask for compensation, while the same companies agreed in 1984 to compensate the American veterans; and the US government is spending billions of dollars on their war veterans, Rinh said.

The first witnesses to testify were direct victims of the spraying.

Mai Giang Vu fought for the US-backed army of former President of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem. He had two sons, born 1974 and 1976 apparently in good health, but whose limbs began to get paralyzed and twisted in 1980 till they could no longer stand and had to crawl.

They died at 23 and 25.

Pham The Minh’s parents worked as auxiliaries for the American army during the Vietnam War. He was born handicapped; his back bone is getting worse steadily. He can hardly walk and suffers a great deal, also from stomach pains, headaches and others. He teaches English and informatics privately and gets an allowance from the Vietnamese government.

Ho Ngoc Chu and his wife were both in the army of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, or northern Vietnam. Their daughter was born normal but their only son is severely handicapped. Since he was diagnosed as an AO victim, they also receive an allowance from the Vietnamese government.

Tran To Nga, a Franco-Vietnamese who was awarded the French Légion d’honneur for helping French prisoners, was a journalist for the FNL, a French channel, and lived in the Cu Chi tunnels. She was hit by the spraying when she peeped outside. Her first daughter could not gain weight and died at the age of 17 months. Her second daughter suffers from a blood disease.

All the victims expressed the wish that those who turned their lives into a living hell would acknowledge their responsibility.

Then came other witnesses from different countries, who spoke about what they saw in Vietnam, which still gives them nightmares.

They and the victims expressed bafflement that the US and the chemical companies refuse to compensate them, while doing so for American victims.

Friday’s session ended with general testimonies on the situation of victims in Vietnam and the urgent need for compensation which exceeds local means.

Many different languages could be heard while people bid farewell after the trial, but the emotions and the indignation were universal.

The ruling is to be disclosed publicly today at 11 a.m. (local French time) at a press conference.

By Marie Hélène Lavallard (from Paris)

* The writer is a contributing writer for Thanh Nien Daily in Paris.


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