Friday, July 06, 2007

JUSTICE CANNOT WAIT

By Len Aldis


On 18th June in the Court of Appeals in New York, lawyers for the Victims of Agent Orange made their arguments against the ruling of Judge Jack Weinstein and sought to overturn that ruling thereby bringing the manufactures of the chemicals used in the US War on Vietnam to trial before a jury.

Lawyers for the 36 chemical companies, headed by Monsanto and Dow Chemicals, argued as part of their defence that they were carrying out the instructions of the US Government. Readers will no doubt recall the pleas by the Nazis on trial at Nuremberg “we were only obeying orders”.

The ruling by the three judges: Judge Robert Sack, Roger J. Miner and Peter Hall, is now awaited. When this will be announced is unknown but it is expected to be some months. Meanwhile the suffering will continue for the victims – over three million in Vietnam – their families, other relatives and their communities.

During the ten-year period of the spraying of the chemicals - in the main Agent Orange that contained Dioxin – from 1961 till 1971 the horrors of abnormal births began and has continued to this day thirty-six years after the spraying stopped. Near to 5 million Vietnamese were sprayed and over 3 million have been seriously affected with illnesses and disabilities all of which are painful to witness.

Photographs and films have shown the many victims and their tragic circumstances, but neither a photograph nor a film can show you the pain felt by the victims, their parents, brothers and sisters. You have to see for yourself to begin to understand how the crime of using chemicals as a weapon of war has affected so many people.

On South Vietnam 82 million litres of chemicals were sprayed, destroying the forests, crops, and vegetation. The chemicals also contaminated the lakes, rivers and most tragic of all poisoned the people.

Thanks must go to the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) for beginning the lawsuit against the thirty-six chemical companies headed by Monsanto and Dow Chemicals, who manufactured the chemicals. Our thanks must also go to the lawyers Vietnamese and American who have given so much of their time and support in preparing the case against the companies.

In March 2005 Judge Jack Weinstein ruled against the Vietnamese thus leading to the Appeal that was heard on 18th June 2007 before three Judges: Robert Sack, Roger J. Miner and Peter Hall. On their ruling, whenever it is made, will depend if justice has been won for the victims of this war crime.

If their ruling goes in favour of the Vietnamese and US Veterans who are also suing the companies, this will mean that the case will go to trial before a jury. This was the essence of the first lawsuit.

However, we know from previous court cases that whenever the verdict goes against Monsanto, Dow Chemicals etc they appeal, as they did when the South Koran High Court ordered Monsanto and Dow Chemical to pay compensation to the Korean Veterans affected by Agent Orange.

It therefore has to be accepted that justice for the victims will take a long time. Meanwhile the suffering for the millions of victims will continue.
Further, and sad to state, before justice is finally won, thousands of present day victims will die from their illnesses and disabilities, and many thousands of new victims will be born.

The legacy of Agent Orange has already gone into the third generation. In my recent visit to Hanoi at the VAVA press conference I was pleased to meet with the four victims who were due to go to the US for public meetings and to attend the Court of Appeals hearing. One, young Nguyen Muoi is a second-generation victim; his father served in the A Luoi Valley and was sprayed by Agent Orange.

Muoi suffers from the painful Spina Bifida an illness that the former President Clinton in his statement in the White House on May 28th 1996, said was due to the use by US forces of Agent Orange. For the sons and daughters of the US Veterans who come down with Spinal Bifida they will be compensated. For young Muoi, he must wait for the ruling of the Appeal Court. His struggle is the struggle of millions of Vietnamese Victims.

Such is the extent of the crime carried out by the chemical companies who manufactured Agent Orange and the US Government for allowing its use on Vietnam.

I appeal to all readers and friends of the Victims of Agent Orange, we cannot allow justice for the victims to be delayed too long; they have waited for thirty-six years. Each of us must continue the struggle and increase our work in the campaign for justice. Millions around the world have pledged their support by signing petitions in many countries. We cannot, and must not, fail the victims.

You can help them by signing the petition:
http://www.petitiononline.com/AOVN/