Agent Orange victims still need support

About 40 people attended public forum titled "Agent Orange campaign — experiences from Vietnam and Australia," on March 4.

The forum was organised by Agent Orange Justice and heard from a delegation of speakers from the Vietnam Association for the Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA), and representatives from several Australia-based groups carrying out support work for Vietnamese victims of US chemical warfare during the Vietnam war.

VAVA president Nguyen Van Rinh told the forum that Agent Orange is a "hard issue," which will require a strong campaign for years ahead to raise public and government attention.

Nguyen Minh Y, director of external affairs for VAVA, told the meeting: "Chemical warfare by the US in Vietnam from 1961-71 imposed huge damage on the country. The herbicide Agent Orange was sprayed over 30,000 villages, destroying forest and food supplies, and causing enormous environmental and economic destruction.

"Around 25% of South Vietnam was sprayed, with 2 million hectares of forest destroyed. Currently, there are 28 to 30 hotspots for dioxin contamination in Vietnam.

"There have also been devastating effects on the health of the Vietnamese people. The total number of victims is estimated to be at least 3 million.

"Agent Orange not only affected the people of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, but also soldiers from the US, and its allies, including Australia. But those most affected were the people of Vietnam."

Nguyen said the victims of AO have a range of immediate and long-term needs, including healing, housing, jobs, caring, treatment and rehabilitation, education and integration into the community. They need regular medication for deformities and mental problems.

"Chemical warfare, including the spraying of Agent Orange, is a serious violation of international law. The US, Australian and New Zealand governments have so far provided some limited compensation to their own veterans.

"Up to 2013, the US has reported to have spent some $40 million to clean-up of affected sites in Vietnam, but no one knows how the money is being spent.

"The US constantly claims a leading role in global human rights. It should now meet its responsibility toward the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange.

"We were not fully successful in our lawsuit in the US courts, but we will not give up. The main purpose of the case was publicise our campaign for Agent Orange justice.

"We in VAVA are fighting for all victims of [Agent Orange], not just in Vietnam, but the US, Australia and elsewhere.

"The main lesson is: Never allow such war crimes to happen again. Be vigilant against new forms of chemical warfare, and campaign against their use.”

Other speakers, including Bruce Montgomery from the Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange Trust, Ronnie from Artists for Orphans, David Murray from an organisation carrying out removal of unexploded ordinance in Laos and Cambodia, and Mike Karadjis from Agent Orange Justice, reported on their groups' ongoing projects and plans.

[For more information, visit Agent Orange Justice.]