Theses Master's

SCOFFLAW: International Law and America’s Deadly Weapons in Vietnam

Garfinkel, Ariel

This research uses the Vietnam War as a case study to elucidate and assess state obligations for post-war clean up and reparations for continuing harm against civilians. The cessation of hostilities fifty years ago marked the end of the Vietnam War for U.S. and Viet Cong troops, but to date the War has yet to end for Vietnamese civilians. Much of the ordnance employed by the U.S. military never detonated and remain, to present day, live and buried in and on the soil surface typically exploding upon human contact and injuring or killing unsuspecting children and adults. Since the U.S. troops departed Vietnam in 1973, at least 100,000 Vietnamese children and adults have been injured or killed by such explosions. In addition to ordnance, the contamination of Agent Orange and other herbicides sprayed during the War in concentrations greater than the standard international limit continues to pollute the environment and critically impairs human health. One focus within this research is the gender-based impacts of war. As the bearers of children and as traditional caregivers, particularly in rural villages where much of the War was fought, women are particularly affected by the continuing effects of war. This research explores how, in the example of Vietnam, women are often at elevated risk of ordnance explosions; why they typically experience social and economic isolation as a result of physical and reproductive health adversities from the abovementioned violence; and how they are at a particular disadvantage when it comes to accessing health and rehabilitation services related to war. This research documents in detail the extent as well as the psychosocial and economic impacts of the left-behind ordnance and herbicide contamination on civilian populations. It covers variables such as the quantities of ordnance and herbicides deployed by the U.S. during the War, the number of Vietnamese killed and injured by explosive ordnance since the end of the War, the demographics of such victims, the number of civilians exposed to Agent Orange and other toxic herbicides, and the inter-generational human health outcomes of exposure to the chemicals. This work also addresses obligations the U.S. may have under international law to clean up its weapons and chemical contamination, as well as to provide reparations for victims. To assess state responsibility, the paper presents, examines and analyzes the provisions of four relevant international conventions, considering their entry into force and U.S. ratification status, whether they cover the weapons used in Vietnam, what cleanup obligations they require of states after war, and what reparations obligations the U.S. may be responsible for offering Vietnamese civilians. The paper closes with conclusions about the United States’ adherence to international law, and it provides recommendations to the United Nations and the international community regarding U.S. responsibilities under treaty and customary international law.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Garfinkel, Ariel - Thesis.pdf Garfinkel, Ariel - Thesis.pdf application/pdf 2.85 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Institute for the Study of Human Rights
Thesis Advisors
Cooper, Belinda
M.A., Columbia University
Published Here
July 15, 2017


A book based on on this research was published in January 2018. It is available for purchase at