Groups again appeal for compensation in Vietnam pollution case

FocusTaiwanTaipei, April 17 (CNA) Local civil groups have decided to continue their pursuit of compensation on behalf of Vietnamese from a Taiwanese company for polluting their homeland after a district court found that Taiwanese courts did not have jurisdiction in the case.

Members of the groups, including the Vietnamese migrant workers’ office of the Catholic Hsinchu Diocese, said Friday they are appealing the case to the Supreme Court after the Taiwan High Court upheld the district court’s rejection of their case against the Formosa Plastics Group (FPG).

“Taiwan can help, so can Taiwan court,” the group members chanted in front of the High Court, a reference to Taiwan’s public relations campaign to participate more in the World Health Organization titled “Taiwan Can Help.”

A total of 7,875 Vietnam residents filed suit against FPG and its partner investors in the Taipei District Court in June 2019 for the harm caused by pollution from FPG’s steel mill in Ha Tinh in 2016.

They were seeking NT$140.27 million (US$4.66 million) in compensation from FPG, the major shareholder of Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corp., the mill’s other shareholders including Kaohsiung-based China Steel Corp. and Japan’s JFE Steel Corp., and the mill’s board members.

The case was turned down by the district court in October 2019. It ruled that under the Taiwan Code of Civil Procedures, Taiwanese courts do not have jurisdiction over the case as it involves Vietnamese nationals and occurred in Vietnam.

The ruling was appealed to the High Court, but it was rejected by the court in March 2020 after it determined that the ruling from the lower court did not contain any errors.

On Friday, Chang Yu-yin (張譽尹), a lawyer representing the complainants, said “it is obvious the ruling was made based on the wrong law.”

He expressed the hope that the Supreme Court review the case based on the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, an international treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1996 that was adopted in Taiwan in 2009.

Chang wanted the court to address the problem of jurisdiction in the case based on the universal principles written in General Comment No. 24 on States’ obligations under the covenant, he said.

Vietnamese priest and human rights activist Nguyen Van Hung (阮文雄) said the victims in the Ha Tinh pollution case lost their lawsuit in Vietnam, and were blocked from filing an appeal by local police who even arrested those initiating the appeal.

It proved that there is no fairness or justice for anyone in Vietnam, Nguyen said.

The case dates back to April 2016, when FPG’s steel complex in Ha Tinh Province of central Vietnam was found to have discharged pollutants that killed fish along a 210-kilometer stretch of coast in the country.

FPG has admitted responsibility for the pollution, described as the most serious environmental incident the Southeast Asian country has faced in a decade.

According to one estimate, the pollution caused more than 40,000 Vietnamese fishermen to lose their jobs or put them on the verge of being pushed out of the job market, while an additional 176,000 people were indirectly hurt.

After an investigation by Vietnamese authorities, the steel mill was required to pay US$500 million in damages for the pollution, which was paid in August 2016.

The civil organizations that have sued FPG are arguing, however, that the company did not negotiate compensation with victims of the pollution.

In addition, although FPG paid the damages, some of the pollution victims only obtained NT$20,000 each, and many of the other victims were unable to work at all, so they decided to sue FPG, they said in a joint statement on June 11, 2019.

(By Hsiao Po-wen and Elizabeth Hsu)

Source: Accessed on 4/22/2020.