‘Millions continue to suffer’

[This is the speech delivered to the launch meeting of Agent Orange Justice - Australia Vietnam Solidarity Network, held in Sydney on June 1, by the Vietnamese consul general in Sydney, Mai Phuoc Dung.]

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues and friends:

First of all, I would like to thank the Australia Vietnam Solidarity Network for its initiative to launch the international campaign to hold the US responsible for its 10-year chemical warfare against Vietnam, to get it to clean up the toxic mess left in some parts of Vietnam’s environment and win compensation for the 3 million Vietnamese who are devastated, some of whom are third generation victims.

As you know, five decades ago, on August 10, 1961, US forces conducted the first spraying of so-called “herbicides” or “defoliants”, beginning the chemical warfare which lasted for almost 10 years. The use of Agent Orange brought about untold human death and suffering, as well as environmental destruction to south Vietnam and surrounding areas. Consequently, this date has become an annual commemoration - the Day for Victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam (or “Orange Day”) to remind all of us about a major disaster for humanity.

A recent investigative study conducted by US scientists showed that US forces from 1961 to 1971 deployed in Vietnam about 80 million litres of toxic chemicals (more than half of which was Agent Orange) containing nearly 400kg of dioxin, an extremely dangerous substance which has destroyed much of our environment and many people’s health.

With about 80 million litres of toxic herbicides, mostly Agent Orange, containing high concentrations of dioxin, the most powerful toxin ever known, this “chemical warfare” was sprayed on at least 4.8 million Vietnamese and poisoned three million of them. Out of this population, many have died or are dying; many who survive, especially children born with severe deformities, suffer a fate even worse than death.

Right from the first spraying in the early 1960s, many US scientists raised their voices to protest the use of toxic chemicals in Vietnam.

The war is over. Vietnam has made its marvellous rebirth. Nevertheless, millions of people continue to suffer from deadly incurable diseases caused by dioxin exposure. Thousands of those affected have died in agony with deep indignation toward the perpetrators of these crimes. Many women suffered reproductive complications or even lost their right to be a mother. More painfully, their descendants who have nothing to do with the war have been, are and will be victims of dioxin, born with inherited diseases and without even a minute of the happiness of living like an ordinary human being. The victims of Agent Orange/dioxin are the poorest and the most miserable people and with many deformed offspring, their families live in poverty. Despite all efforts by the government and people of Vietnam, supported by the contributions of progressive humanity, the life of Vietnam’s Agent Orange victims is still extremely wretched.  Many of them face ever worsening illnesses or new diseases; many others can no longer work to earn their own living and support their families; and many children with birth defects are suffering and getting nearer to death.

We Vietnamese people, dedicated to peace and friendship, have patiently demonstrated our good will and wish to cooperate with the US in resolving the consequences of war, especially the severe consequences of the horrible chemical warfare. Unfortunately, this good will has received no positive response. Despite the overwhelming evidence, the US has continued calling for more research on the effects of dioxin contamination in Vietnam. While it has acknowledged 15 medical conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure among its own veterans, it remains pitifully apathetic to those on the receiving end of the spray.

Vietnam showed its good will, but the US didn’t. After decades of waiting for the response of the United States, in early 2004 the Agent Orange victims of Vietnam had no choice but to file a lawsuit against the US chemical companies that supplied the US army with  very toxic chemicals for use in Vietnam, violating international law.

It’s a pity that US judges have dismissed the claims of Vietnamese Agent Orange victims with very unconvincing reasons. In fact, they don’t respect the truth and justice.

Tens of thousands of victims have died in suffering, poverty and resentment. At the same time, there have been new victims, the children and grandchildren of those directly exposed to Agent Orange. The courageous struggle of the Agent Orange victims in Vietnam and their lawsuit are not only for the sake of their own children, but also for the benefit of the Agent Orange victims in other countries such as the United States, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. This struggle is also against weapons of mass destruction, for world peace, for the happiness of the future generations.

We will never forget the strong protests by the US people against the invasive war in Vietnam. Once again, we affirm with you that the Vietnamese people have never had any sense of hatred for the US people, who themselves have also written important pages of the history of hard struggle for independence and freedom. We hope to have your profound sympathy for the extreme suffering of the Vietnamese victims. It must be understood that the use of toxic chemicals is a brazen violation of international law and constitutes a war crime and betrayal of the ideals of the Declaration of Independence of the United States.

For the sake of justice and noble conscience, please raise your voice and demand the US courts of law conduct serious proceedings, and that the US chemical corporations fulfil their responsibility to compensate the victims in Vietnam, in the United States and in many other countries.

On this occasion, we would like to call upon all Agent Orange victims in all countries, all victims of acts of war and genocide, to build closer solidarity with us in the struggle for justice and their just interests.

We also call upon the US. Congress and government to realise that it is time for them and all people to clearly recognise their responsibility for the consequences of past chemical warfare, in order  that the peoples of both our nations strengthen friendship imbued in peace and development.

On behalf of 3 million victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam, we would like to send you our greetings and many thanks for whatever assistance you have extended in recent years. The consulate general of Vietnam and other representatives of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in New South Wales will concentrate their efforts for this noble cause.