A public campaign was sparked with the setting up of VAVA – the Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange Association – in January 2004. A class action lawsuit against 37 US manufacturers of Agent Orange was subsequently filed in US Courts. By mid-September 2004, meetings and forums convulsed the whole country, alarming some Communist Party officials. Such extensive protest does not normally happen in Vietnam without official sanction from the Party. Yet by March 2005 VAVA reported that 11.5 million signatures had been collected.
The decision on 10 March 2005 by US Judge Allen Weinstein to dismiss the Vietnamese Agent Orange lawsuit on procedural grounds (a decision that will be appealed) has further fuelled discontent. While most public anger is directed at Washington’s 30-year denial of responsibility for the tragic consequences of their chemical defoliation campaign, many Vietnamese activists are increasingly questioning their own Government’s response. Vietnam’s leadership appears split over the level of support that should be given to the campaign and whether to risk a major confrontation in US-Vietnam relations at a time when the country is seeking entry into the WTO.