'I still believe justice will come to Agent Orange victims in Vietnam'
Paul Fox and Merle Ratner (center) went to San Francisco airport to welcome Nguyen Thi Hong (right), Agent Orange victim, and members of the delegation.
- In 2007, you and the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/dioxin (VAVA) went to the United States attended the appellate court of the case against US chemical companies. Can you tell us a little bit about that trip?
At that time I was the Secretary General of the Vietnam-US Friendship Association, was sent to join the delegation coming to the USA to attend the appellate court to contribute to the fight for justice for the Vietnamese Agent Orange victims. The delegation consisted of 6 people, Tran Xuan Thu was the leader and I was the deputy. The remaining 4 members are all Agent Orange victims, including Nguyen Thi Hong in Dong Nai, Nguyen Van Quy in Hai Phong, Vo Thanh Hai, and Nguyen Muoi in Thua Thien-Hue, who are all affected by various diseases including terminal cancer.
Before leaving, we had the honor to visit General Vo Nguyen Giap at home. He graciously received the delegation and expressed sympathy for the physical and mental pain that Agent Orange victims have to bear over the years. He advised that the friendship between the Vietnamese people and the American people was a precious asset, therefore the delegation should take advantage of the friendship and support from American friends. The delegation went to fight for justice, so justice belongs to the delegation. He wished the delegation good health and success.
Hoang Cong Thuy gave an interview to the American press in New York.
- What impressed you most on this trip?
During our stay in the US, we went to San Francisco, New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Los Angeles to do interviews with many newspapers, radios, television stations, and non-governmental organizations, we met parliamentarians, public health experts, journalists, veterans, peace activists, intellectuals, students.
The delegation spoke of the serious, generations-long consequences that Agent Orange/dioxin victims in Vietnam in general and themselves in particular had to suffer and mobilized American public opinion to continue to support the lawsuit against American chemical companies producing Agent Orange/dioxin to supply the US military in the war that the Association and the victims were persuing. At many meetings, many Americans couldn't believe in their eyes when they learned that more than three million Vietnamese people who are Agent Orange/dioxin victims still suffer from painful illness in extremely difficult living circumstances.
Most of the people that the delegation contacted expressed sympathy, agreement, and support toward the lawsuit, demanding US companies to be morally responsible for what they cause to Vietnamese people, ecology, and environment. The most touching part was the meeting with American veterans who fought in Vietnam. Many of them are also Agent Orange/dioxin victims. Many of them also have children with birth defects like the victims in Vietnam. Many American veterans were moved and apologized for what they did in Vietnam. Those who used to confront each other on the battlefield, that day, had the opportunity to fight together for justice for both sides.
The delegation also visited two American chemical factories, namely Dow Chemical and Monsanto. When meeting local people living around these two factories, they all said that over the years they had continuously protested the waste and pollution caused by these two factories.
The whole delegation was present at the court hearing and the court and people attending the trial could witness the Agent Orange victims during the Vietnam War in person.
Although the US court rejected the appellate case, the delegation's trip at that time and later trips helped the American people understand more about the pain of the Vietnamese affected by Agent Orange. The trips take advantage of the broad consensus of the people and progressive American congressmen for the lawsuit and awakened their conscience and moral responsibility for the consequences of the war they had caused.
- After returning to Vietnam and became the Ambassador to Panama and Costa Rica, what did you continue to do in the fight for justice for Agent Orange victims?
I continued to call for support for the Vietnamese Agent Orange victims in Panama and in Costa Rica. I contacted Panamanian authorities and many local people, from the former president, politicians, NGOs, the young generation, and the overseas Vietnamese. I talked and shown them movies illustrating Agent Orange's effects in Vietnam at Ministries of Foreign Affairs and several universities in Panama and Costa Rica. Through advocacy, friends have mentally and physically supported Vietnam's Agent Orange victims.
I also led a delegation of the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/dioxin to visit and hold a campaign in Panama and Costa Rica, and at the same time awarded the medal "For Victims of Agent Orange" to those who actively participated.
Notably, for nearly ten years, Maggie Brooks (Costa Rica) and her friends have donated money to build houses of gratitude for Agent Orange victims in some localities. Her efforts have been highly appreciated by the Government and the Association.
For nearly ten years, Maggie Brooks (Costa Rica) and her friends have donated money to build houses of gratitude for Agent Orange victims in some localities
- Have you watched and do you have any thoughts on the lawsuit filed by Tran To Nga against US chemical companies?
I did watch Tran To Nga's lawsuit against US chemical companies. It is regrettable that the French court of Evry declared that it did not have sufficient jurisdiction to handle the case. Once again, justice has not been implemented for Agent Orange victims in Vietnam.
The court's judgment was not convincing considering the fact that US chemical companies had produced and supplied about 80 million liters of Agent Orange for the US military to spray on South Vietnam, causing serious consequences on Vietnam's environment, health, ecology, and people.
I still believe justice will come to Agent Orange victims in Vietnam
- In your opinion, what should be done in the future?
Vietnam and the United States have normalized their relations and are building a strategic partnership. This is the basis for the two to improve mutual understanding, continue to build a friendly relationship to solve the remaining war problems, including Agent Orange.
In addition to pursuing the lawsuit, it is necessary to further promote international public opinion's support for Vietnam. We need to propaganda the American people and the US government to raise awareness, moral responsibility, and justice for Agent Orange victims.