Group Applauds Taiwan Supreme Court Ruling in Favor of Vietnam Victims of Toxic Spill

Group Applauds Taiwan Supreme Court Ruling in Favor of Vietnam Victims of Toxic Spill A man walks among dead fish lying on a beach in Vietnam's Quang Binh province, April 20, 2016.

A group representing victims of an environmental catastrophe caused by a Taiwan-owned steel plant off of Vietnam’s central coast on Thursday applauded a decision by Taiwan’s Supreme Court to allow their lawsuit against the plant’s owner to proceed after it was earlier dismissed by a lower court.

Formosa Plastics Group steel plant caused a toxic spill in 2016 that killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen and tourism workers jobless in four of Vietnam’s central provinces.

Following a report published by the Vietnamese government that year, a group of nearly 8,000 petitioners filed a lawsuit with the Taiwanese judiciary, alleging that toxic substances resulting from the illegal discharge “infringed [their] right to work and the right to health” as well as “the right to life of [their] spouses.”

The petitioners said Formosa should compensate the group 140.3 million New Taiwan Dollars (U.S. $5 million), immediately cease polluting activities, adopt necessary measures to remove the pollution, and adopt remedial measures to repair and improve the environment.

The Taipei District Court dismissed the claims, saying courts in Taiwan lacked jurisdiction to hear the case, but the petitioners appealed to the Taiwan High Court. The High Court also dismissed the case, citing lack of jurisdiction.

However, on March 16, the petitioners re-appealed the High Court ruling to the Supreme Court, which on Nov. 18 overturned the decision, citing Article 20 of Taiwan’s Code of Civil Procedure. The Supreme Court said the provision, which holds that “the court other than that for the location of a codefendant’s domicile may obtain jurisdiction over the action … instead of the court of the codefendant’s domicile,” can be applied because Formosa is headquartered in Taiwan.

“In sum, the petitioners argued that the said Ruling of Taiwan High Court erred in its application of the law is not without merits,” the Supreme Court decision said.

“The Ruling of Taiwan High Court above is rescinded and Taiwan High Court shall make a new ruling.”

Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Thursday, Nancy Bui, deputy chairwoman of the Justice Association for Formosa Victims, welcomed the court ruling and said her group will be busy preparing ahead of new proceedings.

“The verdict by the Taiwan Supreme Court, first of all, is much appreciated and shows us that Taiwan’s judiciary enjoys independence,” she said.

“Secondly, even though we haven’t won the case, this gives hope for the people in [Vietnam’s] Central Region who have been living under hardship over the past four to five years due to the loss of their means for living.”

According to Bui, the association plans to work closely with Taiwanese lawyers in preparation for the case, while at the same time continuing to collect evidence of victims’ suffering.

RFA contacted Formosa Plastics Group seeking comment on the Supreme Court verdict but had yet to receive an answer as of Thursday.

Formosa’s 2016 toxic-waste spill devastated more than a hundred miles of coastline in central Vietnam, destroying livelihoods throughout the region and leading to widespread protests and arrests in affected provinces.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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