Paris, France – The landmark trial between a 79-year-old Vietnamese-French woman and 14 chemical multinationals was always going to be a David and Goliath legal battle.
Trần Tố Nga has breast cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart and lung problems, a rare insulin allergy, and other critical illnesses.
In 1966, then a war reporter in Vietnam, she was hiding in an underground tunnel with resistance fighters.
When she briefly came out, she was sprayed for the first time by the highly toxic herbicide, known as Agent Orange, used by the US military during the Vietnam War.
Like many other Vietnamese people, she continues to feel its destructive effects and claims she is a victim of the herbicide.
In 2014, Trần filed a lawsuit against the 14 agrochemical firms that manufactured and sold Agent Orange to the US army, including US companies Dow Chemical and Monsanto, now owned by German giant Bayer.
On Monday, May 10, a French court dismissed the case, calling Trần’s complaints “inadmissible”, and saying it did not have the jurisdiction to judge a lawsuit involving the US government’s wartime actions.
Despite this setback, Trần remains determined to keep fighting for justice “for all the victims of Agent Orange.”
“Justice and law do not go together. This was proven today, but sooner or later, it [justice] will come,” Trần told Al Jazeera.
Upon Trần’s request, her three lawyers from the Paris law firm Bourdon & Associates, who are working pro-bono, will appeal the verdict.
In a statement released on Tuesday, they said that the ruling “applies an obsolete definition of the principle of jurisdictional immunity,” and that the level of dioxin included in Agent Orange was the accused companies’ responsibility.
According to the Vietnamese Association of Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA), the US military sprayed nearly 80 million litres (21 million gallons) of toxic chemicals during the Vietnam War between 1962 and 1971, as part of Operation Ranch Hand, including 366kg (740 pounds) of dioxin across a quarter of the territory in South Vietnam.
Dioxin, contained in Agent Orange, is one of the deadliest chemicals known to science.
It contaminated the soil and destroyed the ecosystem of much of the region, stretching to Laos and Cambodia. Many species of animals and plants disappeared, and after it spread to fish and shrimp, the dioxin contaminated people.
VAVA estimates that 4.8 million people in Vietnam suffer illnesses or have been left with disabilities from exposure to Agent Orange.
Like Trần, many Vietnamese people – even two generations later – continue to suffer illnesses linked to this exposure, including leukaemia, Parkinson’s disease, Hodgkin’s, cancer, and birth deformities.
Trần herself lost her 17-month-old daughter because of a heart malformation.
Agent Orange has also left a dark mark on Vietnam’s legacy.
Dr Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, a Vietnamese novelist and journalist who writes extensively on the aftermath of the Vietnam War, said that she “remembers very vividly” how – as a child – her parents debated whether to eat the fish caught in the Mekong Delta, which was often disfigured.
They eventually did eat it, because they were starving, and because the repercussions of Agent Orange would not be known until much later.
“We use the word ‘poison,’ [for Agent Orange],” Nguyễn told Al Jazeera.
“I grew up in the countryside and people only use the word ‘poison’ because they knew it was poisonous. It could kill plants and animals, and it could kill humans.”
The novelist hoped Trần would be the first Vietnamese civilian to win a case recognising her illnesses, and wept after the verdict.
Military veterans from the US, Australia and Korea have been compensated for the after-effects caused by Agent Orange, notably through the $180m Agent Orange Settlement Fund in 1984, but no verdict has so far ruled in favour of compensating a South-East-Asian victim.
These differing rulings have seen activists describe Trần’s case as an example of “environmental racism,” a concept that emerged during the environmental justice movement of the 1970s.
“The real point is: Why these double standards? Why were the Americans compensated, and why not the Vietnamese?” Thuy Tien Ho, the coordinator of the support committee for Trần Tố Nga, told Al Jazeera.
Another term that emerged in the counterculture movement during the Vietnam War, and which Trần’s lawyers accused the agrochemical firms of, was “ecocide” – used to describe severe destruction of the environment.
In a statement sent to Al Jazeera, a Bayer spokesperson said that they agreed with the court’s decision to fully dismiss the claims and that wartime contractors are “are not responsible for any alleged damages associated with the government’s use of such a product in wartime”.
On Saturday, an annual march against Monsanto-Bayer and other agrochemical giants will go ahead, and is expected to draw thousands of people across France.
Trần’s case is being highlighted as one of the main appeals of the march.
According to Thuy Tien Ho, Trần has “become a symbol” for the fight for environmental justice in France.
While her loved ones remain concerned about her health – her two daughters call her every morning to check she is still alive – Trần is the one who lifts everybody’s spirits.
Although her team was disappointed by the verdict, she saw it as a victory, as the case succeeded in raising awareness about the victims of Agent Orange.
“Our cause is just, and I know that if I have a just cause, it must be defended,” she said.
“What proves that my cause is just is that I started alone, and now, I am supported by hundreds of thousands of people around the world.”
This is the best tl;dr I could make, original reduced by 75%. (I’m a bot)Noted poet K Satchidanandan has alleged that he was restrained by Facebook from liking, commenting and sharing posts for 24-hours after he tried to upload online a satire video on the BJP’s defeat in the recently concluded Kerala assembly polls.”In solidarity with Satchidanandan, leading contemporary Malayalam poet and former secretary of National Sahitya Academy, whose Facebook account has been closed for posting a video on PM Modi in relation to BJP defeat in recent Kerala election. A most deplorable act. #Facebook”, he tweeted.Spokesperson of the Kerala unit of BJP, M S Kumar said people don’t expect ‘substandard’ posts from a great poet like Satchidanandan.Extended Summary | FAQ | Feedback | Top keywords: media#1 Kerala#2 social#3 Facebook#4 poet#5
While there are, obviously, big structural forces at play in Labour’s defeat, some of the tactical decisions that Starmer’s team have taken have not helped either. First, they chose an MP defeated at the last election — and one who had tried to stop Brexit — as their candidate. This gave the Tories an opening to talk about that issue. Second, they decided to hold the by-election on the same days as the Tees Valley mayoral contest, allowing the relatively unknown Tory candidate to link herself to Ben Houchen, the hugely popular Tory mayor.
The problem for Starmer is that the building blocks of Labour’s traditional electoral coalition are moving ever further apart from each other. If Starmer moved further to try to win back support in seats such as Hartlepool, he would risk alienating Labour’s metropolitan base in cities such as London and Bristol — in those places, Labour is expected to win the mayoralties at a canter.
Labour has all but conceded defeat in the crucial Hartlepool byelection after a Conservative onslaught saw Boris Johnson’s party poised to win the seat for the first time in 62 years.The expected loss of Hartlepool, which was due to be declared at around 6am, would leave Labour’s leader, Keir Starmer, facing huge questions over the future direction of his party as yet more of its lifelong supporters vote for Johnson’s Conservatives.It would be only the second time in nearly 40 years that a governing party has taken a seat from the opposition.The expected defeat came amid early signs of a torrid night in the local elections in England, with voters deserting the party for the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and in some cases the Green party. Ballots continue to be tallied up across England, Scotland and Wales following the Super Thursday polls – the largest test of political opinion outside a general election.Labour appeared to concede defeat in Hartlepool shortly before 3am on Friday. Jim McMahon, the shadow minister who ran the party’s byelection campaign, said: “It’s pretty clear from the way that the ballots are landing that we are not close to winning this despite our best endeavours.”McMahon said Labour had “held our own” and ran a “good campaign with integrity and a very positive vision for Hartlepool” but that it was for Hartlepudlians to choose “which vision they want to get behind”.Asked whether he was officially conceding defeat, he told Sky News: “We haven’t got over the line that’s quite clear from the ballots. To what extent is too early to tell, but that’s pretty clear. For me it’s about reflecting on what was a very difficult campaign to begin with … I’ve been here six weeks; I’ve enjoyed the campaign; I’ve enjoyed the town and its people and I’ve enjoyed working alongside our fantastic volunteers.”The byelection was a key test of Labour’s appeal to its traditional heartlands, just over a year after Starmer became leader with a pledge to rebuild the “red wall”.However Labour struggled to combat a deep disillusionment with the party in Hartlepool, a constituency it has held since 1964, and a historic shift in allegiances towards a Conservative party once considered toxic in north-east England.The mood in the Labour camp was dismal overnight. Starmer was understood to have been told of the outlook at about midnight, shortly after his team arrived at the Hartlepool headquarters. One member of the team said it became clear at around midnight – while the votes were still being validated – that the Tories had racked up a “healthy majority”.One Labour source said they expected the Conservatives to win by as many as 5,000 to 6,000 votes. Turnout for the contest was 42.55%, the lowest in years, although byelections generally record fewer voters.There were grim faces all around the Mill House leisure centre, where the count was held under strict social distancing measures, as the morning wore on – even when a giant inflatable Boris Johnson was erected outside the sports hall at 4am.Hilton Dawson, a former Labour MP who contested the byelection for the pro-devolution North East party, joked morbidly that his party would pick up “about 10 votes”. Sixteen candidates took part but it was always going to be a two-horse race.The result in Hartlepool comes after several neighbouring Labour constituencies have fallen one by one to the Conservatives in recent years – six in the last general election – with post-industrial areas forming the bedrock of Johnson’s 81-seat majority in the Commons.Labour has seen its share of the vote ebb away in Hartlepool over the past 15 years, though the switch to the Conservatives has been accelerated by Brexit. The town where it was once said people could “weigh Labour votes, not count them” has blamed Labour for the loss of steelmaking jobs as well as cuts to the local hospital and police – even though those were largely due to the Conservatives’ austerity programme.There was unhappiness that Labour selected the pro-Remain former neighbouring MP, Paul Williams, as its candidate in a town that voted 70% to leave the European Union. Labour had been defending a narrow 3,595-vote majority in a town it has held since Harold Wilson was in Downing Street nearly 60 years ago. The byelection was called after Mike Hill, the MP since 2017, stood down over sexual harassment allegations, which he denies.Williams, a local GP and former MP for neighbouring Stockton South, has sought to convince Hartlepudlians to give Labour another chance, arguing that the party is under new leadership both locally and nationally. He told the Guardian last month that its challenge was to convince people to trust Labour.Elsewhere in England, the Tories seized Redditch and Nuneaton & Bedworth councils in the Midlands from Labour, along with Harlow in Essex, while Starmer’s party saw heavy losses across north-east local authorities.Results from the Holyrood election – where the issue of Scottish independence was a main feature in the campaign – will come through later on Friday and Saturday.
Madrid premier Isabel Diaz Ayuso, a fierce critic of Covid-19 lockdowns, secured a major victory in Spain’s regional elections, prompting the head of the left-wing Podemos to end his political career after taking fifth place.
With more than 99% of the ballots counted late on Tuesday night, Ayuso’s People’s Party took 45% of the vote, or 65 seats in the regional legislature, just four shy of an outright majority. Doubling its share of the vote compared to the last race in 2019, the People’s Party is expected to enter into a coalition with the right-wing Vox Party, which itself took fourth place with 9% of the vote.“Freedom has won in Madrid, once again,” Ayuso told supporters after her win, echoing a campaign slogan, while People’s Party leader Pablo Casado said voters “trusted [Ayuso’s] handling of the pandemic.”The premier’s campaign was fueled in no small part by her opposition to lockdowns, appealing to voters weary of draconian restrictions while refusing to shutter bars and restaurants during the health crisis. Tuesday’s race dealt a blow to leftist factions, seeing the Socialist Workers’ Party slip 10 points and 11 seats compared to 2019, tying with the progressive Mas Madrid. In fifth place behind Vox came Podemos, a left-of-center party founded in 2014 in opposition to European austerity policies. Though it gained three additional seats, the relatively poor showing led Podemos founder Pablo Iglesias to declare his exit from politics, saying “We have failed; we were very far from putting together a sufficient majority.”
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“I am not a political figure who can contribute to our political force or help consolidate its institutional strength,” Iglesias added.Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez – a leading member of the Socialist Workers’ Party whose Covid-19 policies were frequently slammed by Ayuso – took to Twitter late on Tuesday night to acknowledge her win. “The polls have given Ayuso a great result and, above all, a great responsibility. Congratulations,” he said. “The [Socialist Workers] will always be ready to work for a better Madrid and turn its votes into a force for the future for the region and its people.”The election campaign in Madrid, Spain’s capital and a city of 7 million, has been fraught with heated rhetoric and at times threats of violence, with several candidates, including Ayuso and Iglesias, receiving death threats from opponents. In early April, a regional office for Podemos was hit with a firebomb, prompting Iglesias to blame the “far right,” calling the attack “street terrorism.” A party spokesman claimed it was the sixth time a Podemos office was targeted by vandals.
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This is the best tl;dr I could make, original reduced by 83%. (I’m a bot)India’s prime minister has suffered a rare political defeat in a key state election, amid signs of a voter backlash over his handling of the coronavirus disaster as the country recorded a record number of deaths.Narendra Modi had been expected to make significant gains on Sunday in West Bengal, one of few states where his rightwing Bharatiya Janata party does not have a parliamentary majority.Vinay Sitapati, an assistant professor of political science at Ashoka university, said: “Had the BJP won Bengal, it would have been spun as validation of their nationwide Covid approach. We should not make the opposite mistake: the Bengal loss is because of a combination of longstanding local factors.” He predicted regional leaders and an “Eventual patchwork of parties” – rather than a weakened Congress party – would now take on Modi nationally.Extended Summary | FAQ | Feedback | Top keywords: Modi#1 Bengal#2 state#3 India#4 BJP#5