Justice for Vietnamese dioxin victims

(VOV) - Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) Vice President Tran Xuan Thu has confirmed his organisation is gathering more evidence to continue with their lawsuit against US chemical firms later this year.

VAVA opened civil proceedings against 37 US chemical firms, including Dow Chemical and Monsanto, in January 2004, accusing the companies of supplying the Agent Orange/dioxin-tainted defoliants the US military sprayed over Southern Vietnam during the war. Their lawsuit was rejected by the Brooklyn district and New York federal courts in 2004 and 2008 respectively due to insufficient evidence.

Plaintiffs including Nguyen Van Qui and Nguyen Thi Hong have already died from the toxic chemicals, never seeing justice prevail.

VAVA Vice President Tran Xuan Thu confirmed that his organisation will continue with the lawsuit this year

In an interview granted to VOV, Thu confirmed that Vietnamese dioxin victims’ struggle for justice will continue.

“Obviously this lawsuit is closely associated with fundamental human rights and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights,” said Thu.

He revealed that VAVA will lodge another appeal on an unspecified date and in an unspecified jurisdiction this year.

More assistance needed

Poison victims awaiting sufficient support for their campaign struggle with the everyday realities of their suffering.

The State’s preferential benefit policies for Vietnam’s 6.8 million identified victims (not the 4.8 million previously announced) have yet to reach all of their intended eligible recipients.

Many of the unlucky are aged between 60 and 70 and live without the assistance of State allowances. They battle against illnesses as serious as cancer and liver and kidney failure.

“I have travelled to many cities and provinces where victims want allowances for their descendants. Many dioxin families are left childless,” Thu said.

He cited US Congress representatives like Californian Ms Lee’s recent submission of the Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act 2013 as offering victims the relief of some hope.

The legislation demands justice for both American and Vietnamese AO victims, said Thu.

A functional rehabilitation class at Huu Nghi (Friendship) village in Hanoi

He also recalled Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang’s recent US visit and his calls for the US to devote more resources to healing war aftermath in Vietnam.

Vietnam welcomes the US’s current assistance programme for people with disabilities, but the US should also accept its responsibility for the burdens borne by Vietnamese AO victims.

VAVA contributions

Since its founding 10 years ago, VAVA has raised nearly VND630 billion used to build approximately 3,000 houses and nearly 30 functional rehabilitation centres for AO victims.

It has granted scholarships to thousands of children of AO victims and provided credits to AO households to encourage involvement in local economies. It also provides free medical check-ups and presents gifts to toxic chemical sufferers on major national anniversaries.

VAVA has collaborated with other Vietnamese friendship organisations as well as international non-governmental organisations and scientific experts and researchers to support the victims. It now has 58 chapters running in all of the country’s cities and provinces.

“Constructing more boarding and functional rehabilitation facilities for victims is one of our association’s main priorities,” said Thu. 

VAVA has plans for 55 new boarding centres, 30 of which have been completed so far. “We also envision building three model centres in Hanoi, Danang, and HCM City. The VND100 billion project will represent the three regions’ commitment to caring for dioxin victims and their often dependent descendants. These centres will supply functional rehabilitation services and vocational and physical training for the victims.”

The project has been submitted to the Ministry of Labour, Invalids, and Social Affairs for consideration.

Nguyen Van Qui (first left) could not wait until justice prevails

Big concerns

Concerns regarding contamination risks for contemporary residents of dioxin-poisoned areas are growing. Sixty-two citizens living in Danang City were found to have dioxin in their bloodstreams during routine tests.

Thu said areas with only trace amounts of detected dioxin, such as the Mekong Delta, are not quite so dangerous.

The US has identified 28 dioxin ‘hotspots’ in Vietnam, much lower than other reputable estimates as high as 50. The hotspots range from the US military’s old chemical storage sites, the areas sprayed with the largest amount of defoliants, and the sites where planes carrying the chemicals were shot down.

Vietnamese and international experts are in the process of reducing the concentration of soil dioxin contamination in Danang, Bien Hoa, and Phu Cat Airports in central Vietnam. In-pile Thermal Desorption (IPTD) treatment technology is considered the most effective and cost-efficient approach.

Work will soon begin on decontaminating a fourth hotspot at A Luoi Airport in Thua Thien-Hue province.