HOW TO PROMOTE HUMAN RIGHTS AND

DEMOCRACY IN VIETNAM  

 

 By Nguyen Thanh Trang

 

The violations of human rights in Vietnam have been well documented by such reputable organizations as the Human Rights Watch, the Amnesty International, the Reporters Without Frontiers and the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. Since 1945, year after year, these rights have been continuously and systematically violated, not by some low level cadres as isolated acts, but rather by the hierarchy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam as a matter of national policies.  

 AN OVERVIEW OF POLITICAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS CONDITION IN VIETNAM

 Present Political Situation 

Vietnam, as it stands today, remains a one-party State, ruled and controlled by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). As history has proven time and again, power controlled by the few and denied the many, corrupts without question. The current Vietnamese government is no exception. It has repeatedly pursued a policy of intimidation, imprisonment, harassment, and violence to suppress peaceful dissention.  

The Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, written and adopted by no one else but Communist Party leaders, guarantees the party’s dominant role in all aspects of life. It also assures the Communist Party of absolute power over the people and the country. Besides Article 4 of the Constitution that asserts the Communist Party supremacy, Article 9 also gives the Communist Party total control of all branches of the government.  

Furthermore, the Vietnamese Government can also issue un-democratic Decrees such as Administrative Detention Directive 31/CP which authorizes police and security forces at local levels to arrest and detain any persons without trials for up to 2 years for “security reasons” 

The Vietnamese Government permits no public challenge to the legitimacy of the one-party State. It prohibits independent political, labor, and social organizations. It continues to arrest, detain and imprison any person for the peaceful expression of dissenting religious and political views. Their victims include Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, Prof. Nguyen Dinh Huy, Father Nguyen Van Ly, Dr. Pham Hong Son, Mr. Nguyen Vu Binh, Mr. Tran Dung Tien, Dr. Pham Hong Son, Mr. Nguyen Khac Toan and Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang, among others.

 Human Rights Violations            

The violations can be classified into four categories: 

Violations of Labor Rights. Workers’ rights are so severely restricted that no independent trade unions are allowed despite the communists’ claim that they represent workers. The only labor organization in existence is the General Labor Federation of Vietnam, created and run by the Communist Party, is used as a vehicle to control workers, not to advance their interests. The existing Labor Law forbids strikes at enterprises vaguely considered vital to national security and defense, while a related Decree issued on August 29, 1996, bans labor strikes in 54 industries. 

Violations of Freedom of Expression. Many laws and decrees have been issued to arbitrary limit the right to free expression. No private citizens are allowed to publish newspapers or magazines, or to operate radio or television stations. Hanoi, while maintaining that there are more than 500 newspapers and magazines in circulation as an indication of freedom of the press, conveniently ignores the fact that none of them is independently owned and run by private citizens! In 1978 Dr. Nguyen Dan Que was arrested and jailed for 10 years for expressing his concerns about human rights violations by the government. He was jailed the second time in 1990 for over 8 years for having issued a Manifesto calling for the abolition of the Communist Party’s monopoly of power and the recognition of people’s rights of self-determination. Another infamous case happened in January 1999 involved the late General Tran Do who was expelled from the party because of his criticism concerning corruption and the lack of democracy in Vietnam. His request in July 1999 to publish a newspaper was coldly rejected. 

Violations of Freedom of Religion. All religious activities are systematically suppressed through various means: dissolution of religious organizations, confiscation of numerous churches and temples, prohibition of religious publications, and persecution of monks and priests.  

- The United Buddhist Church of Vietnam, one of the largest religious denominations in Vietnam, was declared illegal in 1981. The government confiscated its temples and persecuted its clergy for refusing to join the state-sponsored Buddhist organizations. For more than two decades, the government has detained and confined top Buddhist leaders, including the Most Venerable Thich Huyen Quang, the Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, the Venerable Thich Tue Sy, and others. 

- The Catholic Church continues to face significant restrictions on the training and ordination of priests and bishops, resulting in insufficient number of clerics to support the growing Catholic population in Vietnam. Father Nguyen Van Ly was convicted and sentenced to jail in a closed trial in 2001 after publicly criticizing religious repression by the Government of Vietnam. 

- The Montagnards in the Central Highlands of Vietnam continue to face   significant repression by the Government of Vietnam; their practice of Christian Faith are severely curtailed. More than 100 Montagnards have been sentenced to prison terms of up to 13 years for claiming land right, organizing Christian gatherings, or attempting to seek asylum in Cambodia. 

-  During Eastern weekend in April 2004, thousands of Montagnards gathered to protest their mistreatment by the Government of Vietnam, including confiscation of tribal lands and ongoing restriction on religious activities. The protests were met with violent response. Numerous demonstrators were arrested, injured, and dozens were killed. 

Violations of Personal Freedoms 

- Privacy. No citizens can enjoy privacy. Mail is censored, parcels searched, telephones tapped and access to the internet is curtailed and strictly controlled. Residence can be disturbed at nights without court order. 

-Association. All gatherings require permits, and political meetings are strictly forbidden. Any protest, though peaceful or legitimate in nature, is deemed a challenge to the authority of either the Communist Party, or the Government. Thus, it is illegal and subject to harsh suppression. A well-known example is the brutal crackdown in May of 1996 by security forces against protesters from the Kim No village, outside of Hanoi, who had gathered to oppose the government’s decision to take away their farmland and sell it to foreigners turning it into a golf course. The repression resulted in the death of one young woman, ruthless beating of many, and imprisonment of their leaders. 

- Self-Determination. Self-determination does not exist in Vietnam. The Communist Party holds the supreme and absolute power over the entire population. The Government, through Article 4 of the Constitution, delegates absolute political power to the Communist Party which oversees and controls all national institutions, including the Cabinet and National Assembly. 

- Election. All candidates running for National Assembly must be approved by the Fatherland Front, the Communist Party’s frontal organization. No opposition is permitted. Demands for freedom and democracy are responded with arrests. Heavy jail sentences were handed down to Prof. Doan Viet Hoat, Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, Prof. Nguyen thanh Giang and journalist Nguyen Vu Binh as well as many other dissidents, solely for their peaceful expression of the desire for political reform. 

- Due Process for Fair Trials. In Vietnam today, the government does not respect the law of the land. Trials and sentences are completely at the discretion of officials or judges, who actually receive orders from the Communist Party leaders. Violations of due legal process include secret trials, imprisonment without trials, trials without legal counsel and defense, disrespect of fundamental rights, extended detentions, tortures, and house arrests. 

 

PROBLEMS FACED BY PRO-DEMOCRACY ACTIVISTS

-          Telephone lines can be intercepted and cut off any time by the Police and security forces.

-          Internet is severely curtailed and strictly controlled by the Government. Vietnam also sets up fire-walls to block Internet programs deemed “dangerous”, such as discussions of social justice, freedom, human rights and democracy. 

-          No Freedom of the Press. The Government does not allow private citizens to publish newspapers, magazines, or to operate radio or television broadcasting stations.  

-          No Freedom of Assembly. All gatherings require permits, and political meetings are strictly forbidden. 

-          No Freedom of Association. Labor Unions and Political Parties are strictly forbidden. 

-          No Freedom of Religion. Religious activities are curtailed and controlled by the Government. 

-          The Vietnamese Communist Party maintains total control of all three branches of The government. The Executive, the National Assembly and the Judiciary branches  are controlled by the Communist Party.   

-          The Government of Vietnam and the Vietnamese Communist Party do not comply with the Constitution and the Laws of the Land.    

-          No security. The administrative detention Directive 31/CP authorizes police and security forces to arrest and detain any persons without trials for up to 2 years. People are unhappy and angry with the government, but they dare not speak out because of this terrible threat. 

STRATEGIES FOR OVERCOMING THE ABOVE PROBLEMS 

    Improving condition for freedom of expression    

-          Increasing the use of cell phones for better communication between pro – democracy activists.

-          Increasing the use of Internet for buying, selling products and services and also for      better communication among pro-democracy activists.

-          Encouraging people to listen to radio broadcasting programs overseas such as BBC, VOA, RFI, Radio Free Asia, and radio programs produced by Vietnamese  overseas. 

-          Using the Internet to broadcast news and commentaries as surrogated radio programs  to bring update news worldwide and human rights violations in Vietnam.  

 

    Taking small steps for improving basic human rights    

-          Publishing professional and religious News Letters without applying for permission.   

-          Promoting Youth activity programs, such as Soccer Teams, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Buddhist Youth Groups, etc. 

-          Establishing professional groups, such as Lawyers Association, Accountant Club, Chambers of Commerce, Lyons Clubs, Rotary Clubs, etc. 

-          Establishing local and regional groups of human rights activists, and whenever possible, trying to build a nation-wide network.     

 Reaching out to the World    

-          Working hand in hand with overseas Vietnamese human rights groups and international human rights organizations for promoting human rights and democracy in Vietnam. 

-         Working with other human rights organizations throughout Asia and forming human rights and democracy networks within the entire region. 

-         Lobbying various international financial institutions to demand that Hanoi respect human rights as a condition for receiving their financial assistance programs. 

-          Lobbying the United Nations, the European Union, Australia, Japan, Canada and the United States to pressure Hanoi to improve human Rights conditions in Vietnam. 

 

CONCLUSION 

Although, by various measures, political situation and human rights conditions in Vietnam have deteriorated in recent years, there are some prospects for optimism. 

First, the movement of human rights and democracy in Vietnam has grown significantly during the last few years and pro-democracy and human rights activists in Vietnam have received strong support from world opinion and many international organizations as well as the Vietnamese overseas, especially those from the human rights groups; 

Second, the appearance in recent years, at about the same time a series of courageous and knowledgeable dissidents in their thirties, such as Dr. Pham Hong Son, Lawyer Le Chi Quang, Reporter Nguyen Vu Binh, Veteran Nguyen Khac Toan, etc., who dare to risk their life to speak up what they think the Vietnamese people should know about how badly the country is being run, and how gloomy the future of the country will be if there is no political improvement. If survived, these young dissidents may be the seed for future opposition groups which will move and shake the country with followers from the mass. 

Third, the continued trade and diplomatic pressure worldwide has forced the Government of Vietnam to recognize that it can not increase trade with the West or join the World Trading Organization (WTO) and still remains in political isolation at the same time. This twenty first century has no future for any dictatorial regimes. Peoples and nations all over the world are on the strong march towards Human Rights and Democracy.

Everyone of us here know very well which way the wind is blowing, but one important question still remains to be answered: ”The Berlin Wall came tumbling down in 1989, when will the Bamboo Curtain fall?”.

 Nguyen Thanh Trang

December 16, 2004

 

 

 

 

                                   

 

 

 


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