Paris, France – The historic trial between a 79-year-old Vietnamese-French woman and 14 chemical multinationals would always be a legal battle between David and Goliath.
Trần Tố Nga has breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart and lung problems, a rare insulin allergy and other critical illnesses.
In 1966, then a war journalist in Vietnam, he hid in an underground tunnel with resistance fighters.
When it came out briefly, it was first sprayed by the highly toxic herbicide, known as Agent Orange, used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.
Like many other Vietnamese, he continues to feel its destructive effects and claims to be a victim of the herbicide.
In 2014, Trần filed a lawsuit against the 14 agrochemical companies that manufactured and sold the orange agent in the U.S. military, including the U.S. companies Dow Chemical and Monsanto, now owned by German giant Bayer.
Monday, May 10, a French court fired the case, calling Trần’s allegations “inadmissible,” and saying he had no jurisdiction to try a lawsuit involving war actions by the U.S. government.
Despite this setback, Trần remains determined to continue fighting for justice “for all the victims of Agent Orange.”
“Justice and law do not go together. This has been demonstrated today, but sooner or later, it has been demonstrated [justice] will come, “Trần told Al Jazeera.
At Trần’s request, his three pro-bono lawyers, Paris law firm Bourdon & Associates, will appeal the verdict.
In a statement released on Tuesday, they said the sentence “applies an outdated definition of the principle of jurisdictional immunity” and that the level of dioxin included in Agent Orange was the responsibility of the accused companies.
According to the Vietnamese Association of Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA), the U.S. military sprayed about 80 million liters (21 million gallons) of toxic chemicals during the Vietnam War between 1962 and 1971, as part of Operation Ranch Hand, including 366 kg (740 pounds) of dioxin in a quarter of South Vietnam’s territory.
Dioxin, contained in the orange agent, is one of the deadliest chemicals known to science.
It polluted the soil and destroyed the ecosystem of much of the region as far as Laos and Cambodia. Many species of animals and plants disappeared and, after it spread to fish and shrimp, dioxin contaminated people.
VAVA estimates that 4.8 million people in Vietnam suffer from illness or have become disabled from exposure to Agent Orange.
Like Trần, many Vietnamese (even two generations later) continue to suffer from diseases related to this exposure, including leukemia, Parkinson’s disease, Hodgkin’s disease, cancer, and birth defects.
Trần herself lost her 17-month-old daughter to a heart defect.
Agent Orange has also left a dark mark on Vietnam’s legacy.
Dr. Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, a Vietnamese novelist and journalist who writes extensively after the Vietnam War, said she “remembers very vividly” how, as children, her parents debated whether to eat fish caught in the Delta. Mekong, which was often disfigured.
Eventually, they ate him because they were hungry and because the repercussions of Agent Orange would not be known until much later.
“We use the word ‘poison’ [for Agent Orange]”Nguyen told Al Jazeera.
“I grew up in the countryside and people only used the word‘ poison ’because I knew it was poisonous. It could kill plants and animals and kill humans. ”
The novelist hoped that Trần would be the first Vietnamese civilian to win a case to acknowledge his illness and wept after the verdict.
Military veterans in the United States, Australia, and Korea have been offset by the aftermath caused by Agent Orange, most notably through Agent Orange’s $ 180 million liquidation fund in 1984, but so far no ruled no verdict in favor of compensating a southeast. Asian victim.
These different rulings have seen activists describe the Trần case as an example of “environmental racism”, a concept that emerged during the environmental justice movement of the 1970s.
“The real point is: why these double standards? Why were the Americans compensated and why not the Vietnamese? “Thuy Tien Ho, the coordinator of the Trần Tố Nga support committee, told Al Jazeera.
Another term that emerged in the counterculture movement during the Vietnam War, and which Trần’s lawyers accused agrochemical companies of, was “ecocide,” used to describe a serious destruction of the environment.
In a statement sent to Al Jazeera, a Bayer spokesman said they agreed with the court’s decision to dismiss the claims completely and that the war contractors “are not responsible for the alleged damages associated with the use that the government make of this product during the war “.
An annual march against Monsanto-Bayer and other agrochemical giants will be held on Saturday and is expected to attract thousands of people across France.
The case of Trần stands out as one of the main attractions of the march.
According to Thuy Tien Ho, Trần “has become a symbol” for the fight for environmental justice in France.
Although her loved ones are still worried about her health (her two daughters call her every morning to check that she is still alive), Trần is the one who lifts everyone’s spirits.
Although his team was disappointed with the verdict, he saw it as a victory, as the case managed to raise awareness about the victims of Agent Orange.
“Our cause is just and I know that if I have a just cause, it must be defended,” he said.
“What proves my cause is that I started alone, and now I am supported by hundreds of thousands of people around the world.”