Activists Hold Little Hope for Legal Justice on Agent Orange

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Thahn Nien News (Vietnam)

Activists Hold Little Hope for Legal Justice on Agent Orange

A legal victory for Vietnamese Agent Orange victims is highly unlikely as the US government and chemical companies work only to protect themselves, several international activists have said.

An Dien & Jon Dillingham

An Agent Orange victim at the Thi Nghe Orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City’s Binh Thanh District. (Thanh Nien News)

For Günter Giesenfeld, president of the
Germany -Vietnam Friendship Association, the legal battle was exhausted
as the US government would never officially implicate itself in so
grave a crime.

“A decision in favor
of these victims would have been a decision declaring the US Army to
have committed war crimes and the US government to be war criminals – a
decision no US court never would dare to take,” said Giesenfeld.

Al Burke, a peace
activist who organized the 2002 Stockholm Conference, a gathering on
the effects of Agent Orange in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, said the
court system in the US would not allow justice to be done.

“The courts of the
United States and most or all other countries do not deal in justice,
but in law, which is something quite different,” he said.

Few believe the
Vietnamese victims have much chance of winning compensation from the
major US chemical companies they have filed lawsuits against, such as
Dow Chemical and Monsanto, even though the same companies have settled
out of court with US veterans exposed to the same poison.

“It may be assumed
that the companies did not agree to the settlements from a sense of
moral obligation, but rather as a business decision based on a
calculation of risks,” Burke said.



Orange, named after the color of the stripe on the barrels in which the
defoliant sprayed by American forces during the Vietnam War was stored,
contained tetrachlorodibenzop dioxin (known as TCDD), one of the most
poisonous chemicals ever made by man.

Orange has caused reproductive problems, birth defects, cancer and
other diseases in affected people on both sides of the war.

1961 and 1971, the US Army sprayed some 80 million liters of the
defoliant, containing 366 kilograms of the highly toxic dioxin, over
30,000 square miles of southern Vietnam.

the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, nearly 4.8 million Vietnamese
people had been exposed to Agent Orange, causing 400,000 deaths.

Millions more have suffered devastating long-term health effects, including cancer and genetic defects.

Anjuska Weil,
president of the Switzerland-Vietnam Friendship Association, also said
the chemical companies had paid the US victims for practical, not moral
or compassionate reasons.

“Their payment was
simply a calculated one: they paid to avoid sentencing. Obviously they
did not expect to be sentenced concerning the Vietnamese victims, so
they did not pay,” she said.

“Given the moral
standards of corporations and the United States, it is a simple matter
to ignore the victims of such crimes, as long as they are citizens of
other countries and especially if they have brown or yellow skins,”
said Burke.

Different kind of justice

Despite the bleak
forecast for the legal outcomes of the battle, the activists said it
has made significant headway in other areas.

“The lawsuit has
deeply impressed the minds of people in the whole world, recalled the
issue to mankind’s conscience and put the issue into the thought of -
before all - younger people who didn’t experience it themselves,”
Giesenfeld said.

Though Burke admitted
there was “probably not enough money in all the world to compensate the
people of Vietnam for the horrors to which they and their environment
have been subjected,” he said different kinds of limited justice had
been served on different fronts through solidarity action and
people-to-people contacts.

“But justice at the political level, and even more so at the judicial level,” he said, “is far more elusive.”

But no matter how elusive, Weil sees no reason to give up.

“We should join the
efforts with activists asking justice for the victims of other wars and
also with people watching critically the behavior of multinational
companies like Monsanto, Dow Chemical and other big players making
their profits at the expense of the peoples around the world.”

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