|Agent Orange victims still fighting for justice (27/8/2006)|
EXCERPTS: It is impossible to ignore Agent Orange in Vietnam. Its casualties are everywhere... In January, a South Korean court ordered Monsanto and Dow Chemicals to pay US$62 million... in compensation to about 6800 people. Yet nothing has been given to the people most exposed and whose lives continue to be affected by the toxic chemical.
Agent Orange victims still fighting for justice
NGUYEN THI KIM VANG had never seen a child with a birth deformity before the Vietnam War. Thirty years later she lives with a constant screaming reminder.
Of her children, three died in the first few months, two are normal and the sixth still cannot recognise her although Mrs Vang has nursed, changed her nappies and fed her every day for 25 years.
Her husband spent years in the jungle fighting for the Viet Cong and was exposed to defoliation chemicals sprayed by US forces.
Her daughter, Duong Thi Thu Huong, now 25, was born apparently normal but one week later developed marks on her skin. Today she is a twisted shell, with the body weight of a 10-year-old, twitching in her dilapidated wheelchair in the simple family home in Vung Tau, a small coastal resort town two hours south of Ho Chi Minh City.
"She doesn't know anything," said her mother, "but I have not had one full night's sleep since she was born. She screams every night."
It is impossible to ignore Agent Orange in Vietnam. Its casualties are everywhere.
An estimated 4 million Vietnamese were exposed to Agent Orange, a chemical mixture of two synthetic herbicides, 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, which was used to strip foliage from the jungle, depriving the Viet Cong guerillas of shelter and food. It contains dioxin, which does not dissolve in water, and is thought to have contaminated the water supply and entered the food chain through the soil. Between 1961 and 1971 the US sprayed 95 million litres of herbicides over southern Vietnam.
In America, the Government has found ways to look after its own casualties without admitting guilt, but the Vietnamese get very little airplay and have received no compensation. The Vietnamese Government wants to change that. In March 2005, it lost a lawsuit against 37 chemical companies that provided the US government with Agent Orange. The judge ruled that it had not been proved that the chemical caused birth defects and illness.
Vietnam has filed an appeal, expected to go before the US Court of Appeals in November, promising new research on genetic deformity and 26 new plaintiffs to add to the original three.
The clinching evidence will be the latest research from the Military Medical Institute on 50,000 people, said Professor Nguyen Trong Nhan, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin. He told the state-owned newspaper Family and Society that "it shows people who live in AO/dioxin-affected areas will have up to 2.95 per cent and 2.69 per cent of their children and grandchildren respectively deformed".
In Vung Tau, the provincial chapter of the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin says they have 3390 registered cases ranging from severe to mild, affecting first generation to third.
War veterans from the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand have won compensation in out-of-court settlements. In January, a South Korean court ordered Monsanto and Dow Chemicals to pay US$62 million ($82 million) in compensation to about 6800 people. Yet nothing has been given to the people most exposed and whose lives continue to be affected by the toxic chemical.