Veterans win a suit over Agent Orange
▶ Vietnam War veterans celebrating the Seoul High Court’s decision yesterday outside the courthouse yesterday. [YONHAP]
In the first Korean court ruling on compensation for illnesses triggered by the use of Agent Orange, a defoliant, during the Vietnam War, the Seoul High Court said yesterday that the U.S. chemical companies Dow Chemical and Monsanto must pay 6,795 Korean veterans a total of 63 billion won ($63 million).
“There is a high possibility that the plaintiffs, who were in Vietnam between 1965 and 1973, were exposed to the toxic chemical,” the court said. “We acknowledged the need for compensation for those who suffered 11 diseases that are the aftermath of exposure to Agent Orange, such as lymphatic gland cancer and larynx cancer.”
Agent Orange is a colorless liquid herbicide that contains toxins thousand of times stronger than arsenic, and is known to cause hormonal changes in human beings that can trigger cancer, infertility, and birth defects. The chemicals were sprayed from the air and the ground to remove foliage and reveal enemy positions and tunnel entrances.
About 200,000 people in the United States, Australia and other countries filed a multi-mullion dollar lawsuit against eight chemical companies in 1984. The case was settled out of court. Korean veterans were not included in that settlement, and insist they did not know about the case at all until Roh Tae-woo, the last of Korea’s military presidents, left office in the late 1980s. They have been seeking compensation since.
In 1999, 20,600 people filed a 5.1-trillion-won suit against Dow Chemical and Monsanto, charging that three Korean military units had been doused with the herbicide, leading to ailments of their own and of their children.
A district court threw out the case in 2002, saying that the statute of limitations had expired. Korean law has a 10-year clock for such cases beginning at the time victims were exposed to hazards or a three-year limit from the time a victim became aware that he had been affected.
Not everyone was happy about yesterday’s ruling. Jeong Gyu-yeon, a 59-year-old Vietnam War veteran who says he suffers high blood pressure and diabetes because of Agent Orange, complained that the compensation was too little.
“There were many second-generation victims who were left out, and the compensation was small compared to the pain we feel,” he said.
The two American companies have not yet reacted to the decision. Dow’s Korean lawyer said it had not yet seen the verdict.
by Ha Jae-sik, Wohn Dong-hee