LEVANDE FRAMTID (LIVING FUTURE) AND VIETNAM ENVIRONMENT
Levande Framtid, self-identified as “Public education campaign on the Vietnam War and other crimes against humanity by the United States and its allies,” is the organization that organized the Vietnam Environmental Conference (renamed later as the Environmental Conference on Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam) in Stockholm, Sweden from 26 to 28 July, 2002. Its purpose was to review the long-term consequences of a calamity which is generally referred to as the Vietnam War. At the end of the conference, a declaration was adopted to “condemn” the United States and to “beg” for fresh money. The original text of the declaration is as follows:
WARS DO NOT END when the bombs stop falling and the fighting stops. The devastation continues long after, in the land and in the minds and bodies of the people. Years have passed since the conclusion of the wars that for decades tormented Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam; but throughout the region, innocent victims are still suffering.
People continue to be maimed and killed by the millions of explosive devices left behind from the war. The victim is often a child who chances upon a landmine or unexploded bomb while playing with friends or walking to school; or it may be a farmer whose plow strikes a shell hidden in the earth. These human tragedies affect entire families and communities. During peacetime, there have been at least 50,000 deaths in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, plus countless injuries. The number continues to grow, month after month.
Intense and widespread U.S. bombing of rural areas, land-clearing with tractors, spraying of defoliants, and other war-related devastation laid waste to vast tracts of valuable fields and forests. Ecosystems were destroyed, leaving wastelands dominated by worthless grasses and weeds. Large areas cannot be farmed due to the persistent danger of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO).
Other remnants of the war work their damage less visibly, but no less destructively. Over 72 million liters of defoliating chemicals were sprayed on the fields and forests of Vietnam, and an unknown amount on the countryside of Cambodia and Laos. The toxic by-products of their manufacture still remain in hazardous “hot spots”— the highly contaminated sites of accidents, spills, and military bases— causing serious risk to health in surrounding populated areas.
The most toxic and persistent of these unintended by-products is dioxin, which has been linked to a growing list of infirmities, including several forms of cancer, the birth defect spina bifida, type 2 diabetes, and disorders of the nervous, immune and endocrine systems. Internationally recognized research also suggests possible links to several other birth defects and reproductive disorders.
Many children of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam who are afflicted by these consequences of war require lifelong care from families already burdened with poverty and, in many cases, with other war-related injuries and illnesses. There is a need for additional scientific research on the health effects of dioxin, especially research that can yield direct humanitarian benefits such as locating hot spots that qualify as hazardous by international standards and guidelines. Humanitarian assistance to victims, identified on the basis of criteria established by responsible national authorities, should be immediate and ongoing; it cannot await definitive scientific conclusions.
Much has been done by the peoples of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to assist victims, reclaim the land, and rebuild villages, towns and infrastructure. In this they have been aided by numerous individuals and organizations from around the world. That aid must not diminish as new problems challenge the conscience of the world. Moreover, the resources thus far available, both locally and internationally, are far short of the need.
A full accounting, based on information available to the U.S. government from in-country surveys and records of both overt and covert military operations, must be provided to determine the scope and impact of the use of chemicals during the war.
The 27th International Conference of Red Cross and Red Crescent— responsible for maintaining and updating the Geneva Agreements on the Rules of War— concluded in 1999 that belligerent parties “should endeavor, wherever appropriate, to engage in post-conflict discussion with respect to aiding the victims of war”. It is long past time to apply this principle to the costly legacy of war in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
The peoples and governments of those countries have demonstrated a generous spirit towards former enemies and do not seek to perpetuate the hostility of war. But they do seek assistance. The world community, especially the U.S. government along with those corporations and other countries that were directly or indirectly involved in the production and use of the weapons at issue, must respond to that appeal by addressing today the enduring consequences of the past in a spirit of restorative justice.
In the name of humanity and simple decency, we call on the United Nations and on all people of conscience and good will, personally and through the actions of their governments, to support a large-scale effort to address the present and continuing impact of war on the lives, livelihoods and environment of the peoples of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
Recognizing the true causes that have suffered innocent victims in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam since the end of the war decades ago, the Vietnamese American Science and Technology Society (VAST) sent an official letter to Levande Framtid to recommend an effective and practical approach in dealing with current environmental problems in these countries. The VAST’s original letter is as follows:
January 26, 2003
Föreningen Levande Framtid (“Living Future Society” Box 1181 S-181 23 Lidingö , Sweden
RE: Environmental Conference on Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam
Dear Mr. Chairman:
We deeply appreciate your efforts in organizing the Environmental Conference on Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam; which was held in Stockholm, Sweden from 26 to 28 July, 2002; to review terrible conditions of the lives, livelihoods, and environment of the peoples of these countries. The conference concluded that the terrible conditions are long-term consequences of the Vietnam War. There is no doubt that the destruction of the war is a major factor affecting the living conditions of the peoples of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam; but the destruction of the peace is evident and far more devastating. In fact, deforestation since the end of the war has exceeded the damage during the war and is encroaching primitive forests. The ecosystem has been damaged and the environment has been degraded due to uncontrolled development and mismanagement such as hydro power dams in Laos and Vietnam (central highland) and canals, roadways, and dikes in the Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. Untreated industrial wastewater laden with toxic chemicals and other contaminants have been polluting canals and rivers, a sole source of drinking water for majority of population in Vietnam. Hundreds thousand of metric tons of pesticides, insecticides, and toxic chemicals - including the dirty dozen chemicals banned by the 2001 Stockholm Convention - have been imported, legally and/or illegally, and misused. Health effects from these pesticides, insecticides, and toxic chemicals such as death, cancer, birth defect, and food poisoning have been reported throughout Vietnam.
In the name of science and conscience, we suggest your organization and the experts attending the conference to focus on the consequences of the peace. As mentioned in the Conference Declaration, “Years have passed since the conclusion of the wars that for decades tormented Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam; but throughout the region, innocent victims are still suffering.” Yes, the innocent victims are still suffering, but they are suffering because of the devastation of the peace rather than the destruction of the war!
Truyet T. Mai, Ph.D. Executive Officer
On February 3, 2003, Mr. Al Burke, the conference coordinator, responded to the VAST letter through e-mail. Mr. Burke’s e-mail is as follows:
Truyet T. Mai, Ph.D. Executive Director,Vietnamese-American Science & Technology Society Orange, California
Dear Truyet T. Mai,
Thank you for your letter of January 26, 2003. I hope you will not be offended that I respond to it via e-mail. For financial and other reasons, we usually do not correspond via regular mail.
The post-war problems to which you refer are, of course, very important and are being studied by a number of experts from a variety of countries along with their Vietnamese colleagues-- although with very limited resources, as usual. Clearly, these post-war effects are related to the vast destruction of the 30-year war, the devastating effects of the embargo and isolation instigated by a vengeful United States, and ongoing harassment by bitter exiles who by any definition must be regarded as traitors to their country. (I am aware that these people usually like to think of themselves as "true patriots". But the vast majority of their former countrymen would disagree-- which is the main reason that the United States lost its war of aggression. I am also aware that the majority of Vietnamese exiles in the U.S. genuinely love their country and long to be reconciled with it-- even if that longing is opposed, sometimes violently, by a bitter minority.)
Undoubtedly, many post-war problems have also been aggravated by unwise decisions and policies of government authorities. But this is hardly limited to Vietnam. For example, most of the environmental problems to which you refer have been or continue to be present in the United States, which has not suffered the same kind of human, ecological and economic destruction as Vietnam.
In any event, our conference was concerned with the long-term consequences of the war, hence the emphasis on those issues. These do not seem to interest you very much, but they are of deep concern to many people who feel that they have been neglected for far too long, largely for political reasons of the sort that your letter seems to reflect.
We welcome the interest and support of anyone who wishes to help Vietnam overcome its terrible legacy of mistreatment at the hands of, especially, France and the United States, and the small minority of Vietnamese (estimated at ca. ten percent of the total population) who chose to ally themselves with these foreign powers.
Al Burke, Co-ordinator
Vietnam Environmental Conference
As a scientific and non-political organization, we do not provide comments or respond to this letter, but we are obligated to make this letter public so that the Levande Framtid’s position can be identified.
Levande Framtid is closely related to Nordic News Network (NNN), which originated as an initiative of Mr. Al Burke, who immigrated to Sweden from the United States in 1988. The NNN’s chief purpose is to analyze and report on developments in the Nordic countries including Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. “False and misleading information has the power to harm” is one of its guidelines.
It is noted that Sweden supported the Bai Bang pulp and paper mill project in the North Vietnam in 1974 because of its opposition to the Vietnam War. The mill draws its raw materials from a total area of 1.2 millions hectares, mostly natural forests. It is also noted that Nordic Hydropower, a joint venture of the Norwegian and Swedish power utilities, is one of the co-owners of the Theun-Hinboun Power Company that builds and operates the Nam Theun-Hinboun hydropower project in Laos. The river section downstream of the dam site was severely impacted by the project because the Norplan (now Norconsult International, a Norwegian consulting company with links to the Nordic dam building industry) ignored many key impacts of the project and did not consult adequately with local communities in its impact studies.
Besides Levande Framtid, Hatfield Consultants, Ltd., a Canadian consulting firm based in Vancouver, also contributed significantly to the conference. Hatfield Consultants was working for the 10-80 Committee in Vietnam to investigate impacts of dioxin on the people and environment in the A Luoi area between 1998 and 2000. Many persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as Hexachlorobenzene, DDE, DDD, DDT, Mirex, Dieldrin, and PCBs were found at elevated levels significantly higher than that of dioxin, but they were ignored by Hatfield Consultants. These POPs belong to the “dirty dozen” banned by the Stockholm Convention in May 2001.
VAST, February 2003