The defendants, which are US chemical companies, neither sent their representatives to the trial nor made any reply to the request for their presence at the court. However the presentations by both Vietnamese and international scientists, experts as well as journalists and witnesses further clarified the terrible consequences produced and used by the US chemical companies and army in Vietnam.
The presentations by Vietnamese experts focussed on the attack of toxic herbicides during the war on the environment in Vietnam and its consequences. The wartime destruction of the natural landscape is nothing new, but the scope of destruction of nature in the Vietnam War is unprecedented in the human history.
Some 3.06 million hectares of natural lands suffered from toxic substances and of which, more than 2 million hectares of forests have been badly affected at different levels. The military attacks on the environment, which were conducted by the US on a massive scale for many years, were highly systematic and led to the destruction of many ecosystems in large areas of Vietnam. In many forest areas that were repeatedly sprayed, ecosystems have been completely destroyed, but no signs have indicated that indigenous forest trees are recovering naturally. The long-term consequences include loss of ecosystems and biological diversity, economic stagnation, severe constraints on human development, poverty, malnutrition, disease and other socioeconomic problems. To this day, traces of dioxin can still be found in the soil of the most intensively affected areas. These dioxin contaminations heavily affect the environment, and the life and development of the inhabitants of these sites. Its tragic consequences persist even today and will continue for generations to come, and the poor, who depend most directly on natural resources, suffer the most from it.
Nearly four decades later, many of the affected ecosystems have not yet recovered. The long-term consequences include loss of ecosystems and biological diversity, economic stagnation, severe constraints on human development, poverty, malnutrition, disease and other socioeconomic problems.
Agent Orange, as the main component of the toxic chemicals used by US army during the war in Vietnam, has reversed the natural conditions and turned rich forest ecosystems with high biodiversity into exhausted ones. Favorable habitats for many specific animals of rain forests, especially for large endemic species of Vietnam, have been lost.
The war does not end when the bombs have stopped falling and the fighting has finished. Its devastating aftermath continues long after, on the land and in the minds and bodies of people. Over three decades have passed since the ending of the Vietnam War, but many dioxin-sprayed areas continue to deteriorate, and the people and war victims, especially Agent Orange/dioxin, are still suffering.
The court paid much attention to the stories recalled by several foreign journalists who had witnessed the images of destroyed environment and deformed people including many children due to their exposure to Agent Orange used by the US army in Vietnam.
They noted that the massive spraying of Agent Orange was a deliberate war crime targeting populations in Vietnam, their environment and their health.
The chemical war conducted by the US in the South of Vietnam appeared to be the worst yet of all of its kind, and its impact on the environment and human beings is unprecedented in history of mankind. Its tragic consequences persist even today and will continue for generations to come, and the poor, who depend most directly on natural resources, suffer the most from it. Restoration of the war-ravaged environment is a matter of particular urgency, since well-functioning ecosystems are essential to human health and the reduction of poverty. There is also a need for research in a number of areas to provide a solid basis for sustainable development.
They demanded that the US government and chemical companies who manufactured and then sprayed the toxic chemicals in Vietnam should recognise their responsibility and provide sufficient funds for the urgent environmental remediation of hot spots as well as for helping victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin and their families to receive appropriate health care, rehabilitation, education, vocational training and job creation and social services to meet their needs.
French advocate, Roland Weyl, on behalf of the Vietnamese plaintiffs, pointed to the fact that the US government purchased such toxic chemicals from the chemical producers to serve their purpose of environmental and human destruction in Vietnam. “We have known much about this crime of destroying the environment and populations in Vietnam. It is a crime which has seriously violated the international laws. The US chemical companies must be responsible for healing the pains of the Vietnamese victims and cleaning the environment.”
Judge Marjorie Cohn from the US, who had been active against the war in Vietnam since 1960s, said: “This was a very powerful testimony and it is going to be very difficult to source it out loud but I am hopeful that we can do justice. Actually the testimony is very painful and my heart goes out to the damages of the Vietnamese victims’ sufferings.”
Judge Jitendra Sharma, president of the tribunal, said: “The Vietnamese victims and witnesses helped us know clearly about their sufferings and feelings. This shows that justice demands for an equality for the Vietnamese victims before it is too late.”
The hearing is the initiative of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the French Lawyers Association. The International Tribunal of Conscience is expected to issue the final verdict on May 18.
During the court, photos taken by four foreigners are display at the headquarters of the Association of Overseas Vietnamese in Paris, France, featuring the terrible consequences of Agent Orange in Vietnam, especially the enduring pains of the Vietnamese victims.
The viewers are also able to understand more about the effects of Agent Orange through a 70-minute documentary entitled "Agent Orange - a personal requiem" by Japanese director Masako Sakata. It is a story of Masako Sakata, whose husband Greg Davis died of cancer believed to be related to his exposure to Agent Orange during the war in Vietnam. Masako travels to Vietnam where she learns more about Agent Orange's impacts but also about the the love and courage of Vietnamese families who are caring for their ill or disabled loved ones.
“I found the victims everywhere, so immediate and present. Children who were not even born then are suffering from all kinds of deformities and illnesses. In spite of such difficulties and poverty, everywhere I found love, caring, warmth. Meeting the victims and their families helped me heal,” Masako Sakata said.
The documentary also reveals some of the historical facts that led to unprecedented ecological disaster.