The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) is putting the finishing touches to new documents and will continue to sue a number of US chemical companies for compensation in another court outside New York.
In January 2004, VAVA filed a lawsuit against US chemical companies, including Dow Chemical and Monsanto, which supplied defoliants containing dioxin to the US army for spray in Vietnam, in the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn. In March 2005, Judge Jack Weinstein of the court dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that there was no legal basis for the plaintiffs’ claims.
In June 2007, VAVA lodged an appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals which upheld the previous court’s ruling, stating that the defoliants used during the war were not intended to be used to poison humans and therefore did not violate international law. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court refused to consider the case.
Now VAVA has decided to lodge the petition to another court outside New York to seek continued support and demand justice for the Vietnamese victims.
VAVA Secretary General and Vice President Tran Xuan Thu
VAVA Secretary General and Vice President Tran Xuan Thu gave an insight into its preparations for the lawsuit in an exclusive interview granted to VOVNews.
Reporter: Recently, the US House of Representatives opened a hearing on Agent Orange/Dioxin in Vietnam. How do you assess the results of the hearing?
Mr Thu: The hearing on July 15 was the third hearing that the US House of Representatives has conducted. Congressman Faleomaveaga put forward and has chaired all three hearings on AO/dioxin at the US Congress; the first was in May 2008 and the second in June 2009.
We think that the hearing has been rather successful and different from the previous ones. In the first hearing, there was no involvement of AO/dioxin victims only the participation of the US public. In the previous hearings, the US did not recognise the role of AO victims or the role of VAVA. The association’s Vice President Professor Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong also acted as a scientific expert at these hearings.
During the July 2010 hearing, the US recognised the presence of the VAVA representatives and Vietnamese AO/dioxin victims. A speech delivered by Professor Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong provided additional scientific information on AO related issues and laid a foundation for the US legislation to consider a financial settlement for AO/dioxin victims.
The presence of Tran Thi Hoan, a Vietnamese AO victim, was concrete evidence of the current lives of her compatriots, which made American politicians realize the devastating impact of AO/dioxin.
The hearing was very successful as it attracted many foreign news agencies.
Reporter: The lawsuit lodged by Vietnamese AO victims has been dismissed by the US. How does the VAVA plan to conduct future lawsuit?
Mr Thu: We conducted the previous lawsuits in a lower US court, the Court of Appeals, and the US Supreme Court which are all located in New York and some neighboring states. However, the ruling by the US Supreme of Court in New York is only effective in this state. But we now have the right to file lawsuit to the US Court in the future.
The VAVA is now preparing the necessary formalities to continue the lawsuit. With the support of US lawyers, we plan to file the lawsuit in another state in the US. We are striving to complete all the procedures and provide new evidence for a lawsuit in early 2011.
AO victim Nguyen Van Qui (first from left) could not wait until justice prevails. He died after returning to Vietnam from a US court hearing in 2007
Reporter: With the lawsuit lasting for six years, will the US lawyers pursue it until the end?
Mr Thu: As the lawsuit in New York was finished and some lawyers have refused to get involved in it. Anyway, they have agreed to take payment when the lawsuit is successful under a contract signed with VAVA before the lawsuit began. Therefore, now that the lawsuit in New York has ended, they bear no more responsibility for us.
There will be new lawyers for the next lawsuit who understand us and have helped AO victims in the past.
Reporter: The lawsuit in New York has ended. Will the plaintiffs be involved in the new lawsuit?
Mr Thu: At first, there were three plaintiffs. Two of them have since passed away and the remaining will continue with the lawsuit. There have been dozens of people involved in the lawsuit as plaintiffs. They will not participate in the new lawsuit and as requested by the lawyers, we are selecting several other people.
Reporter: So far, the lawsuit has lasted for nearly six years. What must VAVA do to ensure the lawsuit does not fade away?
Mr Thu: Over the past few years, many international friends have paid attention to our case as this is a global matter, not only of concern to Vietnam. Helping AO victims is charitable work and warns organizations to stop harming people with toxic chemicals. Thanks to the support of international friends, the US is under pressure to take responsibility for AO victims through strong movements and campaigns in Vietnam, the US and around the world.
The lawsuit filed by AO victims is part of the struggle for justice.
In the future, the VAVA will work with US friends in the US such as the War Veterans for Peace will carry out struggles for justice. Currently, these organizations are coordinating with the US Congress to help Vietnamese and American AO victims. Their deeds have received support from the US House of Representatives and congressmen will be responsible for considering the lawsuit.
In addition, we will ask the US legislature to consider the AO issue which has been put forth in the US Congressional meetings.
At a functional rehabilitation class for child victims
Reporter: The US has pledged to provide assistance for Vietnamese AO victims. Recently, while attending the 17th ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Hanoi, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also vowed to enhance cooperation with Vietnam in dealing with the AO issue. What do you think about this move?
Mr Thu: The move was made after the hearing, which has helped to change the attitude and behaviour of the US Administration.
Since 2007, the US Government has allocated US$3 million from its budget for the AO issue annually. The US will provide an additional US$12 million to bring the total sum to US$15 million in 2010. The important thing is the move was officially made by senior US officials, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Assistance Secretaries, congressmen and senators who all admitted the US’s responsibility to deal with the issue.
Previously, they had taken little responsibility for AO victims, only for environmental issues. Currently, they have begun to care about the victims and change their attitude towards AO victims, who had been named as disabled or become disabled due to the AO. In the past, AO victims only received US$1 million, and the figure then increased by US$2 million. This shows that the US’s attitude towards AO victims is improving.
Over the past few years, the US had committed to ensuring environmental sanitation, however, its action have not been transparent. Nowadays, the US has specific plans and new technologies.
Reporter: Most AO victims are living in difficult conditions. Apart from helping them in their struggle for justice, what has the VAVA done to help them gain better lives?
Mr Thu: Since its establishment in 2004, the Association has called on all kind-hearted people, including children, the elderly and international friends, to lend a helping hand to AO victims. So far, the VAVA has mobilised about VND150 billion in support of the victims.
Raising funds for AO victims
We also launched a five-year campaign in 2009 to raise VND64 billion to build houses, provide scholarships and generate jobs for them. We have since raised VND45 billion, and expect to reach our target of VND64 billion by the end of this year.
To respond to the “Day for Agent Orange/dioxin Victims in Vietnam” (August 10), the VAVA organised many activities, such as information campaigns to help Vietnamese people and international friends understand more about the consequences of the AO chemical, honouring those AO victims who overcome their difficulties to integrate into the community, launching a charity programme to raise fund for the victims, and organising cultural and art exchanges.
According to Tran Xuan Thu, the US will apply new technologies to help Vietnam deal with environmental pollution caused by AO. A pilot project will be carried out in central Da Nang city. The US has disbursed several million of US dollars, mostly spent in preparatory work by US companies. The VAVA proposed that Vietnam gets involved in the disbursement process so that both parties can draw up an effective plan. The Association also suggested allocating the amount of money necessary to help Vietnamese AO victims in their daily lives.