A French court this week started hearing the first civilian case against manufacturers of Agent Orange, a herbicide used by the United States against communist troops during the Vietnam War.
Tran To Nga, who worked as a journalist during the conflict, sued a total of 26 multinational companies in 2014 for subjecting her and her family to lifelong health issues, which earlier tests had linked to the defoliant.
Twelve of the chemical manufacturers have been sold or shut down over the years, leaving 14 defendants at the trial on Monday. Some include Bayer-Monsanto, Dow Chemical, Harcros Chemicals, Uniroyal Chemical and Thompson-Hayward Chemical, according to Tuoi Tre News.
“The story of Agent Orange must be known worldwide. Compensating me, for these multinationals, is nothing,” Nga told FranceInfo. “But behind me, there are thousands of victims. I am fighting for my family, of course, but I am also fighting for [those victims], to create a legal precedent.”
In an effort to stop the advance of North Vietnamese troops, the U.S. dropped some 20 million gallons (about 76 million liters) of Agent Orange over Vietnamese forests and nearby locations between 1961 and 1971. The move effectively destroyed crops, polluted the soil and poisoned animals.
Humans, however, appear to have suffered the worst consequences. The chemical dioxin present in Agent Orange has been linked to cancers and birth defects, among a string of other medical problems.
“When you look at me, I don’t seem ill. But I am in fact ill,” Nga said, according to The Connexion.
Nga has suffered from cancer, Type 2 diabetes, tuberculosis and other abnormalities. One of her daughters, who was born three years after her poisoning, died after a few months due to four heart malformations.
Some 6,000 children in Vietnam are reportedly diagnosed with congenital malformations every year. The Vietnamese Red Cross also estimates that more than three million continue to suffer from Agent Orange’s lingering effects.
“That’s because the toxic particles have penetrated the soil and the groundwater that is used to supply cities and rural areas,” André Bouny, who authored a book on Agent Orange, told RFI. “This trial is historic because it will set a precedent for all victims.”
Nga is seeking damages in recognition of the problems that she, her family and others have suffered because of Agent Orange, according to BBC News. So far, only military veterans from the U.S., Korea and Australia have received compensation for the herbicide’s consequences, FRANCE 24 noted.
On the other hand, the defendants have reportedly argued that they cannot be held responsible for how the U.S. military decided to use their products. Jean-Daniel Bretzner, a lawyer for Bayer-Monsanto, said that his client acted “under the orders of a state and on its behalf” and thus holds jurisdictional immunity from prosecution, The Telegraph noted.
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