The Guardian 14 December, 2005

The war continues on Agent Orange victims

Pepe Lozano

CHICAGO: Vietnamese survivors of Agent Orange, one of many poisonous chemical defoliants used by the United States during the Vietnam War, are still seeking justice, 30 years later.

While US veterans have won partial compensation for their exposure to the deadly toxin, Vietnamese victims have not received a single cent of compensation or humanitarian aid from the US Government or the chemical companies that produced the defoliant, despite their numerous requests for aid.

Taking a new tack, Vietnamese citizens decided to sue the chemical companies directly. Although they received a setback this year when a Federal Judge in New York dismissed their civil lawsuit against a group of companies, they now intend to sue them individually.

"The Vietnamese have received nothing, zero, nada", said Merle Ratner, national coordinator of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign. "Enough is enough, it's time for justice and people need to be held accountable."

Ratner was joined by three Vietnamese survivors of Agent Orange at a meeting at Roosevelt University on November 30.

The event was part of a 30-day national speaking tour sponsored by Ratner's group and supported by peace and justice groups. Chicago sponsors included Vietnam Veterans Against the War and the university's Mansfield Institute for Social Justice. "I come here to speak about my story, and many others who are living miserably", said Dang Thi Hong Nhut, 69, from Ho Chi Minh City. Dang suffered multiple miscarriages from exposure to Agent Orange during the war.

"As a woman and mother I share the pain to end wars that cause suffering. It is an honour to be here speaking to you about our experiences and stories, to help us for fairness and justice."

Today, an estimated three million Vietnamese suffer from the effects of Agent Orange. The use of the chemical, which contains dioxin, a human carcinogen, has caused birth defects in hundreds of thousands of children in Vietnam and the US who are second and third generation descendants of those who were exposed to it decades ago.

Agent Orange has also had deadly consequences for Vietnam's natural environment, with the long- term poisoning of soil and crops.

Dow, Monsanto, Diamond Shamrock, Hercules, Uniroyal, Thomson Chemicals and other companies produced the chemicals during the war. They disavow responsibility for the ensuing problems, arguing that the US and Vietnamese governments should resolve the matter. According to the Peace Accords signed in Paris in 1973, the administration of Richard Nixon promised to contribute $3 billion toward healing the wounds of war, and to post-war reconstruction of Vietnam. However, the US Government has done nothing to make good on this commitment.

Dr Nguyen Throng Nhan, 72, former president of the Vietnam Red Cross and a leader of the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin, said, "Vietnam is poor, the companies are rich, and the victims have no choice but to file a lawsuit against the manufacturers. Tens of thousands have already died."

Although it's been 30 years, he said, "The war continues in the bodies of Vietnamese victimised by Agent Orange."

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