The Citizen (Gauteng)

Court rules for makers of Agent Orange

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Évry – An elderly French-Vietnamese woman failed yesterday in her bid to sue Monsanto and other makers of the toxic chemical Agent Orange over its use by the US as a weapon during the Vietnam War, after a French court ruled the companies had legal immunity because they were working for a sovereign government.

Tran To Nga, born in 1942 in what was then French Indochina, accused 14 agrochemic­als firms of causing grievous harm to her and others by selling Agent Orange to the American military, which used it to devastatin­g effect in Vietnam.

The 79-year-old complainan­t, who covered the 1955-1975 war as a reporter but has lived in France for the past three decades, also accused the companies of environmen­tal damage.

But a court in the Paris suburb of Evry ruled the firms had been “acting on the orders of, and on behalf of, the US” and therefore enjoyed immunity from prosecutio­n under internatio­nal law, which prevents one country from judging the actions of another.

Campaign groups estimate four million people in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were exposed to the 76 million litres 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 severe birth defects in 150 000 children. So far, only military veterans – from the US, Australia and Korea – have won compensati­on for the after-effects of the highly toxic chemical.

Tran To Nga has Type 2 diabetes and an extremely rare insulin allergy, which she linked to exposure to Agent Orange. She said she also contracted tuberculos­is twice and developed cancer, and one of her daughters died of a heart malformati­on.

“I’m not fighting for myself, but for my children and the millions of victims,” she said.

Monsanto had accused her of trying to use French courts for a legal campaign that would have faced much tougher odds in the US legal system.

German chemicals giant Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018, hailed the ruling, arguing it was “not responsibl­e” for the damage caused by the US government’s use of its product in wartime. Tran plans to appeal.

Her lawyers argued that Monsanto and the other companies were not forced to work with the US but had applied to become suppliers of Agent Orange. They also said the companies could have refused to supply the chemical if they knew it was going to be weaponised.

Agent Orange destroyed plants, polluted the soil, poisoned animals, caused cancer and malformati­ons in humans and attacked people’s immune systems, campaign groups say. –

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