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Tiếng Việt

Tran To Nga – A shining symbol of the struggle for justice for Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange

On May 7, 2024, the Paris Court of Appeals opened a hearing on Ms. Tran To Nga's lawsuit against 14 American chemical companies that produced and supplied toxic chemicals for the US military to use in the war in Vietnam. This is the result of Nga's persistent struggle over the years. Nga has become a shining symbol of the struggle for justice for Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange.

Part I:

A long journey

Mrs. Tran To Nga was born in 1942 in Soc Trang province. In 1954, she moved to the North together with her family. In 1965, after graduating from university, she returned to the South to work as a reporter for the Liberation News Agency. While working as a reporter at the front, she was exposed to Agent Orange/dioxin sprayed by the US military. As a result, her health was seriously deteriorated. The amount of dioxin in her body is much higher than that of normal people. Her first child died when he was 17 months old, and her second child suffered from hemolytic disease. In 1993, Nga went to live in France and became a French citizen, but still held Vietnamese nationality.

In May 2009, she testified at the International Court of Conscience for Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange in Paris. With the help of lawyer William Bourdon and his associates, and writer André Bouny - Chairman of the International Committee to support Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange, she decided to stand as a plaintiff to sue the companies that produced and supplied the toxic chemicals for the US military to use during the war in Vietnam and began taking preparation steps for the lawsuit, such as: health examination, document translation and international notarization, etc.

Nga is the only person who has all 3 conditions to represent for Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange to sue: 1) being a French citizen; 2) living in France, a country with laws allowing international lawsuits to protect its citizens; 3) being a victim of Agent Orange. Her lawsuit is historic and unique one. This is the first time that a plaintiff, a victim of Agent Orange, sued the companies that produced and supplied toxic chemicals to the US military for use in the war in Vietnam - A fight of a small Vietnamese woman against American chemical giants, such as: Dow Chemical, Monsanto Ltd, Pharmacia Corporation, Hercules Incorporated, etc.

Nga's lawsuit faces numerous difficulties, because American chemical corporations do not easily admit the consequences many years after the war in Vietnam ended. The court requires scientific evidence on the relevance between dioxin-contained herbicides used by the US military and the diseases discovered on the bodies of the victims of Agent Orange. On the other hand, American chemical corporations argue that they only produced the chemicals according to orders from the US Government, but the US Government and military are entitled to judicial immunity (according to the provisions of US law).

In fact, American chemical corporations did not comply with the US Government's orders (providing herbicides with dioxin concentrations below the allowable threshold), but they provided herbicides with concentrations of dioxin many times higher than the safe threshold. The chemical companies know that, but they did it intentionally for profit reasons. In an international conference held in 1965, representatives of chemical companies admitted that they knew that dioxin-contained herbicides (dioxin is the most toxic substance ever known to mankind. A dose of 1 pictogram (1 trillionth of a gram) can cause cancer and reproductive complications in humans. A few dozen nanograms can immediately kill people; especially dioxin can be transmitted across generations).

During the war waged by the US in Vietnam, from 1961 to 1971, the US military used about 80 million liters of toxic chemicals, 61% of which was Agent Orange, containing 366kg of dioxin. These toxic chemicals have caused terrible disasters to the environment and human health in Vietnam. According to statistics, one fourth of the area of ​​southern Vietnam was sprayed, in which 86% of the area was sprayed more than 2 times. 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to Agent Orange/dioxin, over 3 million of whom became victims of Agent Orange. Many victims' families are at risk of being unable to maintain their lineage. Tens of thousands of children suffer from deformities, birth defects, and live in a vegetative state. Many women do not enjoy the happiness of being wives and mothers. Many others are dying slowly, writhing and struggling every day and every hour  because of Agent Orange-related diseases.

In May 2013, the Criminal Court in Evry (France) approved Nga's petition to sue 26 American chemical companies that produced and supplied dioxin-containing herbicides for the US military to use during the war in Vietnam. In April 2014, Evry Court opened the first trial.

From 2014 to 2020, 19 court proceedings were made. On June 13, 2014, the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) issued a statement supporting the lawsuit. On April 9, 2015, the VAVA’s President sent an open letter to the Evry Court requesting to hear Nga's lawsuit. VAVA also calls on its member organizations and the entire society to actively launch activities to support Nga's lawsuit. Accordingly, the VAVA's member organizations launched and received over 400,000 signatures supporting the lawsuit. At the same time, hundreds of millions of dong were donated to support the lawsuit.

In the struggle for justice for the victims of Agent Orange, Nga faced many difficulties and obstacles as American chemical companies deliberately denied their responsibility, coupled with her old age and weakness due to diseases caused by Agent Orange/dioxin, etc. However, Nga is still determined and not dispirited. She confided: "Why am I dispirited when the images of AO victims always appear in my eyes full of hope and expectation."

On June 29, 2020, the Evry Crown Court issued a notice about Nga's lawsuit and requested to end the proceedings on September 28, 2020 to conduct the litigation session on October 12, 2020. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the trial was moved to January 25, 2021. In France, a Committee supporting the lawsuit has been established and there have been many practical activities to support her. Before the trial, as many as 200 French mayors, parliamentarians, and celebrities signed in support of Nga.

From 09:00 on January 25, 2021, the Evry Criminal Court began a litigation session between the lawyers representing Nga and the lawyers of 14 American chemical companies (14/26 companies remaining, as 12 companies have been dissolved or merged). At the trial, about 20 lawyers of 14 chemical companies, such as Dow Chemical, Bayer-Monsanto, Harcros Chemical, Uniroyal Chemical, Thompson Hayward Chemical,... had 4 hours to argue and protect the rights of their clients. The three lawyers protecting Nga’s rights, including: William Bourdon, Amélie Lefebvre and Bertrand Repolt, only had 1 hour and 30 minutes (these three lawyers have volunteered to help Nga pursue the lawsuit since 2015). According to the announcement, on May 10, 2021, the Court would answer results to the parties. The lawsuit has spread, created a wide resonance, and received the attention and support of the French and world people.

Tran To Nga and her lawyer answer the press

The Evry Court settling Nga's lawsuit is the right thing to do. Reality shows that Nga is not alone in her fight for justice. Millions of AO victims and Vietnamese people as well as people around the world support her lawsuit. French media evaluated the litigation session that took place on January 25, 2021 at the Evry City Court as "historic" as it promoted international recognition of a "crime of environmental destruction". Many newspapers in Germany have recalled the Agent Orange disaster in Vietnam and demanded that the American chemical companies in the lawsuit be responsible for their actions. Along with that, many big media agencies in countries such as Japan, Korea, Singapore, etc. also reported the case and supported Nga in this lawsuit. During the meeting with Nga, Mars Di Bartolomeo – President of the Chamber of Deputies of the Luxembourg House of Representatives - praised Nga's struggle as "a just and courageous fight".

The Evry Crown Court's hearing of Nga's case is a victory. Companies that produce and supply toxic chemicals for the US military to use during the war in Vietnam appearing in court is another victory. More than ever, each of us needs to join hands and support Nga in this fight for justice for Vietnamese AO victims.

Part II:

Continuing to fight for justice for Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange "Tran Path - The fire never goes out"

"Tran Path - The fire that never goes out" is the autobiography Nga wrote in 2017. As she said: "Tran Path is the path that Nga has been taking and will continue to do so in the future". For her, justice for millions of Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange is the driving force, the fire in her heart that gives her strength to overcome all difficulties and obstacles to continue the fight "till the end" - That fire will never stops.

On May 10, 2021, the Evry Crown Court announced the results of the hearing on January 25, 2021 between the lawyers representing Nga and the lawyers representing 14 American chemical corporations. The absurd thing was that the Évry Crown Court ruled: "The court has no jurisdiction regarding the actions of the US Government - due to the "law of judicial immunity"; "American chemical corporations only complied with the Government's decree". Disappointed, but not discouraged, Nga showed her determination through a statement at a press conference on May 11, 2021: "The legal struggle is not over yet. The road is still long and I will go to the end, until my last breath!" Justice for millions of Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange who are living in suffering and illness is a strong source of motivation for her to continue fighting till the end. And she continued to file a lawsuit against 14 American chemical corporations that produced and supplied toxic chemicals for the US military to use during the war in Vietnam.