French court dismisses case over Agent Orange use in Vietnam War

A Vietnamese soldier stands next to a hazardous warning sign by a runway at Bien Hoa air base, on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, as US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis visits the former US air base on October 17, 2018. (Photo: AFP)
  • Agence France-Presse
  • May 10, 2021 10:37 AM

Évry, France |A French court on Monday dismissed a case by an elderly French-Vietnamese woman against several agrochemical companies, including Monsanto and Dow Chemical, over the use by the US military of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

The court in the Paris suburb of Evry ruled that it did not have the jurisdiction to judge a case involving the wartime actions of the US government, according to the ruling seen by AFP.

Tran To Nga, who was born in 1942 in what was then French Indochina, accused the chemicals firms of causing grievous harm to her and others by selling Agent Orange to the US government, which used the toxic chemical to devastating effect in the war.

The 79-year-old complainant, who covered the 1955-1975 war as a reporter, also accused the companies of causing damage to the environment.

Dismissing the case, the court backed the companies' contention that they were acting "on the orders" of the US government, which was engaged in a "sovereign act".

Campaign groups estimate that four million people in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were exposed to the 76 million litres (20 million gallons) of Agent Orange sprayed by US forces to destroy ground cover and food sources in its battle with communist North Vietnamese troops between 1962 and 1971.

Vietnam blames it for creating severe birth defects in 150,000 children.

So far, only military veterans -- from the United States, Australia and Korea -- have won compensation for the after-effects of the highly toxic chemical.

German chemicals giant Bayer, which now owns Monsanto, and the other companies accused argued they could not be held responsible for the use that the American military made of their product.

Tran's lawyers argued that the companies should have refused to supply the US military with the chemical.

- 'Fighting for my children' -

Agent Orange destroyed plants, polluted the soil and poisoned animals, and caused cancer and malformations in humans as well as attacking people's immune systems, campaign groups say.

Tran To Nga suffers from type 2 diabetes and an extremely rare insulin allergy, which she argued were symptomatic of exposure to Agent Orange.

She said she also contracted tuberculosis twice and developed cancer, and one of her daughters died of a malformation of the heart.

"I'm not fighting for myself, but for my children and the millions of victims," she said.

She filed the lawsuit in 2014 with the backing of several rights groups that had hoped to turn it into a landmark case of "ecocide" -- a term used to describe serious crimes against the environment.

© Agence France-Presse

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