The International Association of Democratic Lawyers, has, for over ten years, been working to address the ongoing effects of the United States’ use of chemical weapons, most specifically the Agent Orange during the American war in Vietnam. These agents were sprayed over large portions of South Vietnam to destroy foliage and crops so as to give the United States a military advantage in the war. The spraying occurred for 10 years from 1961 to 1971 and made no distinction between military or civilians. It is estimated that almost 5,000,000 Vietnamese were exposed to these chemicals during the war.
These Agents, in particular, Agent Orange contained high levels of dioxin, one of the most toxic substances known to man. Dioxin is very persistent in the environment, and many people have already died from their exposure to Agent Orange. There are currently many children and grandchildren of those exposed who are being born with Agent Orange related birth defects and illnesses. There are 28 “hot spots” which have been identified in areas surrounding former US Military bases where the soil is so contaminated that it continues to spread dioxin into the environment and food chain.
The IADL has highlighted the effects and Agent Orange to our member associations and in 2004, through IADL affiliate the National Lawyers Guild, instituted a law suit seeking compensation for the victims.
Although the law suit was not successful, it had the effect of raising awareness of the problems faced by the Vietnamese and this terrible legacy of this war.
In order the carry forward the law suit and to support the victims of Agent Orange, the Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA) has been working to organize support for the victims within Vietnam and throughout the world.
In May of 2009 IADL working with VAVA and many others organized an International Peoples’ Tribunal of Conscience to investigate and determine liability of the United States Government and the Chemical Companies which manufactured Agent Orange for the results of the use of these chemical weapons.
The judgment of the Tribunal found the United States Government had engaged in an illegal war of aggression against Vietnam and was therefore liable to the people for the results of that war. The Tribunal also found the chemical companies were jointly liable for manufacturing chemicals known to contain dioxin.
On August 8 and 9, 2011, several IADL leaders were part of the 2nd International Conference in Hanoi. This conference brought together the Vietnamese victims with people throughout the world who are also struggling against the impact of chemical weapons used in war or as a result of industrial accidents, as well as 2nd and 3rd generations of victims including children of US veterans and Vietnamese Americans. The Conference was held to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the commencement of the spraying on August 10, 1961.
The Conference issued an appeal to the world to redouble the efforts to end the effects of the use of these chemicals and compensate the victims.
In the meantime the US campaign has succeeded in the introduction of legislation in the US Congress which would provide for funds to clean up the hot spots and provide aid to the victims, as well as provide medical and other support to 2nd and 3rd generations of US Veterans US Vietnamese who are born with defects related to agent orange.
IADL agreed to assist this effort by developing an international solidarity committee to build international support and public opinion to support the campaign and pressure the US government and the Chemical companies, specifically Dow and Montsanto,
At the meeting in San Jose, Costa Rica, on September 24, and 25, 2011 after presentation by the leadership of VAVA, IADL agreed that all its affiliates would engage in this international campaign to bring forward this pressure and to organize with allies educational programs, and other actions aimed at joint actions annually on Agent Orange Day, August 10 at either US embassies as well as the offices of Dow and Montsanto, the primary suppliers of Agent Orange to the US military. .
IADL will work with other international organizations on the basis of the Judgment of the Paris Tribunal to formulate world wider public opinion on the Agent Orange issue, and also address the wider issues that the war in Vietnam raises placed including the issue of the illegality of the American War in Vietnam, the right to peace, the violations of international humanitarian law through the use of chemical weapons, as well as the impact of the military industrial complex, and fighting impunity for war crimes.
IADL will take advantage of its status of ECOSOC and UNICEF to raise the Agent Orange issue with the concerned UN organizations.
The Bureau will work with all member associations and individual members to develop and support this effort.