PARIS – A French court on Monday dismissed the case of a French-Vietnamese woman who sued 14 companies that produced and sold the powerful defoliant dioxin Agent Orange used by U.S. troops during the Vietnam War, her lawyers said.
The judicial court of Evry, a Paris suburb, ruled that the case fell outside its jurisdiction as the defendants said they acted under the constraint of the U.S. government in wartime.
Tran To Nga, a 79-year-old former journalist, told the Associated Press she will appeal the decision. Tran said she had prepared for what she described as the worst-case scenario but the decision still puzzled her.
“Frankly, I’ve been fighting for 10 years and the trial took 6 years (before taking place). How is it that during those 6 years, they didn’t say that my complaint was not eligible?” she asked.
Tran described in a book how she breathed Agent Orange in 1966, when she was a member of the Vietnamese Communists, or Viet Cong, that fought against South Vietnam and the United States.
She filed a lawsuit in 2014 in France against firms that produced and sold Agent Orange, including U.S. multinational companies Dow Chemical and Monsanto, now owned by German giant Bayer.
She is seeking damages for her multiple health problems, including cancer, and those of her children.
Her lawyers said they will argue at the appeal court that the companies were not coerced into producing Agent Orange. They also said they hoped that their client's health will allow her to continue her struggle until the end of the judicial process.
Bayer said in a statement “it has been well-established by courts for many years that wartime contractors ... operating at the behest of the U.S. government, are not responsible for the alleged damage claims associated with the government’s use of such product during wartime.”
Backed by a group of NGOs, Tran's legal action also aims at gaining better recognition of civilian victims and the damage done to the environment. U.S. forces used Agent Orange to defoliate Vietnamese jungles and to destroy Viet Cong crops during the war.
“I was hoping the crimes would be recognized," Tran said. “I was hoping those who hurt the humankind would have the courage to recognize what they did before we could, together, talk about how we might help the victims.”
“The pain and the suffering is the same for everyone. There’s no difference between the victims, whether they’re American or Filipino, Korean, Australian,” she added.
So far only military veterans from the U.S. and other countries involved in the war have won compensation. The justice system in France allows citizens to sue over events that took place abroad.
Between 1962 and 1971, the U.S. military sprayed roughly 11 million gallons of the chemical agent across large swaths of southern Vietnam. Dioxin stays in the soil and in the sediment of lakes and rivers for generations. It can enter the food supply through the fat of fish and other animals.
Vietnam says as many as 4 million citizens were exposed to the herbicide and as many as 3 million have suffered illnesses from it, including the children of people exposed during the war.
Associated Press Journalist Alexander Turnbull contributed to the story.