At the trial, held in the Crown Court of Evry city in the suburbs of Paris, lawyers for the defendants spent more than four hours arguing for their clients, which are 17 chemical producers from the US, including Monsanto (acquired by the German group Bayer in 2018) and Dow Chemical, while Nga’s three lawyers had only one and a half hours.
Lawyers William Bourdon, Amelie Lefebvre, and Bertrand Repolt have stood side-by-side with Nga for more than 10 years.
In 2009, she testified for Agent Orange (AO)/dioxin victims in Vietnam at the International People’s Tribunal of Conscience, in Paris. In 2013, the Crown Court of Evry accepted her lawsuit and one year later she received notice of the first procedural hearing, with 19 US chemical companies to stand trial.
The public in France has described the trial as “historic”, through which Nga and the organisations supporting the lawsuit hope to promote international recognition of the “crime of environmental destruction”.
Lawyer Bourdon said the US chemical companies have used every possible means not to prevent this trial - since they can’t - but to argue that Nga’s activities are unacceptable and groundless.
The defendants’ representatives claimed that the Crown Court of Evry doesn’t have sufficient capacity to deal with the case.
Lawyer Jean-Daniel Bretzner of Monsanto said the companies “acted in line with State orders and in the name of that State” and are entitled to judicial immunity.
Bourdon stressed that these arguments are outdated, and that Nga’s lawyers are relatively confident, as the law has developed towards enhancing the responsibility of private entities, even when they declare they acted under pressure from an administration.
He categorised the arguments presented by the lawyers defending the US multinational companies as disgusting, noting they believe their actions followed US Government orders and, hence, they do not bear any responsibility for producing the dangerous herbicides that are still tormenting millions of victims in Vietnam even though the war ended decades ago. He also pledged support to the struggle by Nga.
Marie Toussaint, a Greens member of the European Parliament, expressed her discontent over the defendants’ lawyers providing incorrect arguments that Nga no longer has AO/dioxin in her blood.
The US companies tried everything possible to cast off their responsibility in AO production, Toussaint said, adding it is a historical fact that in war, atomic weapons destroyed not only land and people at the time but also severely impacted the following generations, and the same thing has happened with chemical toxins like AO/dioxin.
She affirmed that justice is needed to make peace, and no one has the right to produce hazardous chemicals that affect many generations, regardless of wartime or peacetime.
Voicing his support for Nga’s lawsuit, Mayor Jean-Marc Defremont of Savigny-sur-Orge city said the US chemical companies produced herbicides that seriously destroyed the environment in Vietnam but have yet to be subject to any punishment.
For her part, Nga said that although the court is scheduled to issue a verdict in May, for her, the struggle will continue.
“We will remain patient and persistent, as we have been for the last six years or more,” she affirmed.
Nga, born in 1942, filed the lawsuit in May 2014. With the support of several non-governmental organisations, she accused the companies of causing lasting harm to the health of herself, her children, and countless others, and of destroying the environment.
She graduated from a Hanoi university in 1966 and became a war correspondent of the former Liberation News Agency, part of the Vietnam News Agency. She worked in some of the most heavily AO/dioxin affected areas in southern Vietnam, such as Cu Chi, Ben Cat, and along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, ultimately experiencing contamination herself.
Of her three children, the first died of heart defects and the second suffers from a blood disease. She has also contracted a number of acute diseases
On April 16, 2015, the Crown Court of Evry city held the first hearing on the case, but since then, lawyers for the chemical companies have tried every way to draw out procedures.
The trial was scheduled to open in October 2020 but was postponed due to COVID-19./.