Ms. Merle Ratner, a founding member of Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign (VAORRC), affirmed that the US cannot elude its responsibility to compensate Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin at a working session with Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) on the morning of January 2 in Hanoi.

VAORRC’s founder she had collected more evidence to lay the foundations to demand justice for Vietnam victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin during her fact-finding visit to Vietnam.

- You have said it is necessary to have legislation on supporting Agent Orange victims. Who is responsible?

- After the trips to the US conducted by two delegations of Vietnam victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin, some congressional members gave a pledge to bring forward a bill on this issue. They will draft bills that will to be submitted to Congress for approval. To do that, information is a must.

Currently, VAORRC is sharing information with other organisations. Lobbying is also necessary to ensure the bill is passed. In the US, there exist two kinds of lobbies: money use and multi-million dollar contributions. Therefore, it is not easy, but we can carry out protests and demonstrations, while specifically persuading representatives of each state to back legislation in order to give compensation to the Vietnam victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin. We are working with Veterans’ sub-committees, Asia-Pacific sub-committee, and judicial sub-committee of the US Congress.

- Could you point out the Campaign you founded having contact with overseas Vietnamese in the US suffering from Agent Orange/Dioxin?

- We started meeting overseas Vietnamese suffering from Agent Orange/Dioxin and took advantage of this to get more support for victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin. Our mobilisation board also includes overseas Vietnamese.

At present, a lot of young overseas Vietnamese are contacting us about returning to Vietnam to gain a better understanding of the activities of the VAVA. We have received many letters from overseas Vietnamese appealing for assistance because their children have harelips. In my opinion, there should be projects giving these children treatment in the homecountry, in Tu Du hospital for example. That’s a good idea.

- In your opinion, why does the US refuse to accept the concept that people are victims of Agent Orange rather than people with disabilities?

- We know that the US government has never acknowledged their responsibilities. They refuse to compensate these victims though they have to obey international law. We have never agreed with that action. Whileas, they yearly grant millions US Dollars to American veterans withouth any scientific proof. Criteria set for allowance beneficiaries say that one should be able to claim their presence at infected areas, where chemicals were sprayed on, having contracted one of the 15-disease list regulated by the US.

Such a compromise was reached after tough struggles pursued by American veterans but there was no linkage between them and those Vietnamese suffering form the same fates on the other side of the world directly living in those areas. I think that aside from aid given to the so-called “people with disabilities”, the US should be responsible for compensation to AO victims. It was the US who ordered contracts with chemical companies to carry out their spray plot in Vietnam; no excuses are acceptable.

- What is your concern about the US$ 3 million fund for AO victims passed by the US Congress last year?

- I look at it as a positive signal. At least, the move has shown their acknowledgement about the infected lands where people are suffering; however, the budget is not enough to clean all of these areas. Moreover, the fund exists without any using plan or delivery method mentioned. The US Government been seen channeling aid through US companies and organisations but not directly sent to destinations, in this case Vietnamese organisations or AO victims.

- What inspires you to support Vietnam for decades?

- I firstly took part in the anti-war movement during the American war. I also saw horrible images of war screened on TV. Moreover, Americans have to pay tax while the government uses that sum to provoke war. That makes me indignant.

In addition, I have learnt much from Vietnamese and from their stronghearted fight for independence. I admire and love them greatly.

Those who sacrified for their country like Le Quang Vinh, Dang Thuy Tram urged me to build the campaign and make a contribution to Vietnam. I have joined this movement to call for compensation for Vietnam victims of Agent Orange and to normalize the relationship between the two countries.

Translated by Mai Huong, Hoang Anh