Appeal of the Second International Conference of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin
Hanoi, Socialist Republic of Vietnam
August 9, 2011 -- The Second International Conference of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin, held in Hanoi from August 8 to 9, 2011, included participants from around the world: Agent Orange victims, victims of other toxic chemicals, scientists, lawyers and social activists. The conference is a significant and important historic event, marking the 50th anniversary of the first spraying of the toxic chemical Agent Orange (1961-1971) by the US forces in Vietnam and Indochina.
The delegates to the conference agree that:
During the Vietnam War, from 1961 to 1971, US forces through Operation Ranch Hand sprayed nearly 80 million litrrs of herbicides over South Vietnam, of which 61% was Agent Orange containing at least 366kg of dioxin, the most toxic substance known to science.
Since the First International Conference of Victims of Agent Orange in 2006, there has been greater public understanding and awareness of the dangers of Agent Orange/dioxin to humans and to the environment. More diseases have been officially recognised as being due to exposure to Agent Orange. Along with the Vietnamese people, many others around the world have become victims of this toxic weapon of mass destruction. Soldiers in the US, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand were exposed during the time they fought in Vietnam, and now their children and grandchildren are suffering as well. People in the US, Canada, South Korea, Puerto Rico, Australia, New Zealand and other areas were exposed because they lived near or worked in areas where the US forces stored, buried, manufactured, tested or experimented with Agent Orange as part of their war in Vietnam.
Because of dioxin-related damage to their endocrine, immune and reproductive systems, victims of Agent Orange suffer from multiple health conditions, some of which are quickly lethal and others which doom people to a life of horrific misery. Due to these diseases, many have been denied the most basic of human rights – especially the right to life, and the pursuit of happiness. Because of their inability to work and bearing the costs of medical treatment, most victims of Agent Orange everywhere are very poor.
However, because Agent Orange was intentionally directed against the Vietnamese people, they are subject to the most onerous conditions. 4.8 million Vietnamese people directly sprayed repeatedly over extended periods of time were subject to multiple sources of exposure. The proportion of old people, women and children, who are especially susceptible to dioxin, is particularly high in Vietnam. In Vietnam, an enormous number of children continue to be born with Agent Orange-related birth defects. Now, a fourth generation of Agent Orange victims is being born. Because of this danger, in effect many women have been denied the human right to bear children. Agent Orange not only harmed human beings and devastated the environment of Vietnam during the war but also continued its devastation after the war.
Dioxin dumped in the soil continues to damage the environment and sicken the people in and around several "hot spots". Causing deforestation of nearly 3 million hectares of land, during the war, especially in coastal areas, Agent Orange has damaged not only the environment in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia but also the regional environment. It has and continues to have severe consequences for people in many areas of the world.
The use of Agent Orange in the war in Vietnam is a war crime and a crime against humanity. Its consequences are passed from generation to generation. It challenges us to end, once and for all, the use of chemical weapons and any weapons of mass destruction anywhere today.
Humanity's concern about the affects of chemical warfare, the threat of accidents at chemical manufacturing plants and the looming environmental disaster due biochemical engineering is increasing. The agony of those exposed to Agent Orange is central to this consciousness and international solidarity with Agent Orange victims' struggle for justice is growing.
Call to action
Therefore, the delegates to the conference hereby call upon:
All victims of Agent Orange, whatever their nationality or circumstances of exposure, should unite more closely and earnestly to act for our common interests. Further, to demonstrate our solidarity with victims of other weapons of mass destruction such as the atomic bomb and depleted uranium, all the victims and their supporters should work together in unity and coordinate actions. Only together, can we be effective, powerful and successful in achieving justice!
We ask all of humanity, all governments, organisations and individuals, whatever their social or political position, to take immediate action to support all victims of Agent Orange, with particular emphasis on those in Vietnam. In every country, and in every region, we should set up organisations and develop specific programs for mobilising material resources in whatever form and for making our voices heard in all available forums in support of the struggle of the Vietnamese Agent Orange victims for justice.
3) Study and remediation
Scientists, public health and environmental experts, especially from the United States, should focus on studying the specific health and environmental dangers of Agent Orange/dioxin and possibilities for remediation. This is very urgent in order to help victims whose time is running out, and in order to avoid similar disasters for future generations.
4) UN ban on weapons and war crimes
The world community in general, the United Nations and each government in particular should rapidly promulgate new measures to more effectively prevent all acts in violation of international laws prohibiting war crimes and crimes against humanity.
5) US government and chemical manufacturers to accept responsibility
The US government and chemical manufacturers of Agent Orange, particularly Monsanto and Dow Chemical, should accept their responsibility and engage in greater and fuller efforts to work with the Vietnamese people and government to clean up the existing "hot spots" and to provide comprehensive and meaningful assistance to the victims of Agent Orange and their families in Vietnam in a more practical and effective manner. Because little of the monies appropriated by the US Congress has actually reached the victims, funds intended for the victims should be given to Vietnamese NGOs like the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/dioxin (VAVA) so that they actually go to those who need assistance most. The need for hospitals, clinics and respite homes for the victims and their parents, is overwhelming – many of the victims require 24-hour care and their elderly parents who are doing the caring also need help.
6) Disclose locations of Agent Orange sites
The US government and all governments that have allowed the use of Agent Orange for any purpose during the Vietnam war years, should publicly disclose all the locations where Agent Orange was used, buried or dumped.
7) Partner with VAVA
The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin is the legal and moral representative of Vietnam's Agent Orange victims and acts as a non-governmental organisation representing the interests of these victims throughout Vietnam. To hear their voices and to help Vietnamese victims effectively and specifically, people of good will and compassion should partner with VAVA and assist it programatically and materially, contacting VAVA through its website, http://www.vava.org.vn.
Now, 50 years since the first use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, the delegates of the conference declare again that the needs of the victims are urgent, requiring immediate action!
Half a century is too long to wait for justice!
We pledge to work together to make sure that justice delayed will no longer be justice denied!
Agent Orange victims to continue suing US chemical producers
VietNamNet Bridge – Senior lieutenant-general Nguyen Van Rinh, chair of the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA), says that Agent Orange victims who were born in peace are preparing to sue US chemical firms.
Why lodge a new lawsuit?
"The first lawsuit was rejected by the US court. If we pursue that case, they will reject it again for sure. The rejection is unfair and violates human rights. American veterans enjoy Agent Orange allowances, totalling billions of US dollar a year (around $13.5 billion in 2010) but Vietnamese Agent Orange victims are neglected. Not only Agent Orange victims in Vietnam but also victims in Japan and veterans in South Korea are ignored.
"We are determined to seek for justice. We are researching US laws and asking for assistance from excellent lawyers in the world, including American lawyers, for the new lawsuit. The new lawsuit is about to be lodged."
Who are the plaintiffs in the second lawsuit?
"In the first lawsuit, plaintiffs were veterans who were infected with Agent Orange. In the new case, they will be civilians who were born in peace time but they are disabled because of Agent Orange.
"This is a civil lawsuit of several plaintiffs. Individuals will hire lawyers. They are VAVA's members so our association will help them in the case."
Do the plaintiffs and VAVA see difficulties in this case?
"It is surely to be difficult but we are preparing very carefully. We will consult American lawyers. Many foreign lawyers are willing to assist us. They met with Vietnamese plaintiffs in both Vietnam and the US. After researching the case and collecting evidences, international lawyers say that Vietnamese plaintiffs can highly win the case."
Lawyers are very confident, how about VAVA?
"We are also very confident and hope that US firms will have to compensate Vietnamese Agent Orange victims. Previously, US veterans sued these companies and they received $180 million of compensation.
"However, in the worst case that we will not win the case, we will lodge other lawsuits."