Dutch firms face legal action over Iraq mustard gas claims

A Dutch courtroom. Photo: Odi Busman

Two Dutch companies which sold chemicals to Iraq in the 1980s are being taken to court by Iranian nationals who became the victims of poison gas attacks.

The five victims claim Melchemie (now renamed Otjiaha) and KBS Holland were aware their products would be used to produce mustard gas, rather than pesticides for agriculture, as has always been claimed.

Melchemie’s former owner Hans Melchers has also been summoned to appear in court on June 22. The plaintiffs say he was closely involved in the Iraqi deliveries and ignored signs that the chemicals were being used for other things. Melchers has consistently denied the claims.

The five victims were either soldiers or volunteers with the Iranian army when Iraq invaded in 1980 and used mustard gas in the attack. All have lasting damage to their lungs, eyes and skin following the attack and are largely unfit for work.

“These people’s lives have been destroyed,” lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld, who is representing the men is quoted as saying by the Volkskrant. “These Dutch companies are partly responsible for this.”

The case also sends out an important signal to other companies doing business in war zones, she said.

Zegveld was earlier involved in the case against Dutch businessman Frans van Anraat who was found guilty of war crimes in 2005 for supplying large quantities of chemicals to Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1980s which were then used to make chemical weapons.

But the court then refused to award damages to 16 claimants, saying it was too complicated.

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