President, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers Co-Coordinator of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign
As a Co-Coordinator of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign, I am honored to join my sisters and brothers from Vietnam and around the world in this historic conference. We come together to declare that the time for justice for Agent Orange victims is now! Fifty years is too long to wait for those who bear the scars of Agent Orange on their body and for the land laid waste by ecocide to be healed!
We come together as a powerful and growing international movement of solidarity of Agent Orange victims in Vietnam and the world over. Our solidarity encompasses all victims of chemical weapons of mass destruction - weapons which are still being used by the u.s. government today.
In the u.s. there is growing understanding of the need for justice for Agent Orange victims. Millions of people are calling for the u.s. government, which is responsible for the spraying of Agent Orange in Vietnam, to meet its responsibility to clean up the places where Agent Orange is still in the soil and to care for the victims who live with the health consequences. Those who made such obscene profits from the manufacture of Agent Orange - particularly the chemical company giants, Dow and Monsanto - will not escape public censure and protest until they use some of that blood money to compensate their victims.
Mr. Grant Townsend Coates presented the American Veterans Association Commemorative Medal to President Nguyen Van Rinh
Responding to the pressure of international and u.s. public opinion, the u.s. government has taken initial steps toward cleaning up one of the hot spots in Vietnam and has appropriated a small amount of money for the victims in one city. Much, much more is required, however. Vietnam has 28 hot spots that must be cleaned up. Even more urgent is the attention required by three generations of human victims in nearly every province in Vietnam. These victims live with an almost unimaginable variety of illnesses and disabilities. Many families now contain elderly grandparents, parents and children who are all victims of Agent Orange. The human suffering is immense and must be met with empathy and assistance.
We believe that the u.s. must shoulder its responsibility to heal the wounds of war by allocating much more substantial assistance to the victims in Vietnam. And to assure that the aid reaches those who need it most, the u.s. should channel this assistance through Vietnamese NGOs, particularly the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/dioxin, which so ably represents and serves all Vietnamese Agent Orange victims.
The United States has its own Agent Orange victims in the veterans who were so callously exposed by their own government during the war. They too have children and now grandchildren who are seriously affected by dioxin and who receive no help from the u.s. government. The Vietnamese American veterans - who fought side by side with u.s. troops - have been denied veterans benefits by the government they served and are the forgotten Agent Orange victims in the u.s.
The Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign is responding to the call for justice for Agent Orange victims by building a national campaign to urge our Congress to fund a comprehensive public health and rehabilitation program for Vietnamese Agent Orange victims and to clean up all of the toxic hot spots. We are asking our Congress to provide health care for the offspring of u.s. veterans and for Vietnamese American veterans and their families affected by Agent Orange. In pursuing these goals, we are also building solidarity between Agent Orange victims in the u.s. and Vietnam.
Through our educational work we have been joined by many, many u.s. veterans, Vietnamese Americans, students, religious people and community and labor activists. Together we will achieve the justice and compensation that Agent Orange victims need and deserve. We will continue to support the struggle of Agent Orange victims in Vietnam, along with Canada, Puerto Rico, Korea, Laos, Cambodia, Australia and New Zealand, for justice. And we continue to demand an end to the use of chemical weapons as a violation of international law and human rights!
As part of an international effort, our Campaign has launched a 50th anniversary appeal to raise funds for our sister organization, the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/dioxin. We look forward to working with all those present at this conference on this appeal and to finally achieving full justice for those afflicted by Agent Orange. This is a struggle we must win! Thank you.