Complaint of Human Rights Violation in Vietnam

December 9, 1999

Mrs. Elsa Stamatopoulou
Deputy Director
New York Office
High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Headquarters
First Avenue & 45th Street
New York, NY 10017

RE: Complaint of Human Right Violation in Vietnam

Dear Mrs. Stamatopoulou:

Vietnam Human Rights Network (VNHRN) is a consortium of organizations and individuals dedicated to promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms in Vietnam. We, the members of VNHRN, feel encouraged that Secretary-General Kofi Annan has proclaimed this century as the Century for Human Rights.

The United Nations has pioneered in codifying the concept of human rights as an inalienable component of life and succeeded in establishing a universal standard for it. It is now widely accepted that people are born with human rights. Human rights do not come as gifts that may be given or taken away at the whim of an individual, a group, an organization or a government. Furthermore, human rights constitute the determining factor that differentiates people from other living species. Without human rights people's existence would be lowered to bestial level. This is not merely semantical; it is also substantively true. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights reiterates in its Preamble a pledge that has been made in the UN Charter:

The peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.

The Preamble further spells out how such pledge is to be implemented:

Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in cooperation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedom.

Since human rights are fundamental, defending, protecting and promoting human rights should be nurtured as the ultimate goal of all acts, projects, programs and policies. Otherwise, such acts, projects, programs or policies should lose their ontological justification. No rationalization - not even the interest of the state - may be prevalent to the detriment of human rights.

Yet, human rights do not lead to chaos. The Universal Declaration describes the perimeter of human rights: a person's human rights are restricted by his or her neighbor's rights. This remains the only recognized restriction on human rights. Article 29 of the Universal Declaration stipulates:

Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
Article 29 goes on and elaborates as follows:
In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in democratic society.

(Emphasis added by this writer for illustration.)

Without equivocacy and in their proper limits and proportion, human rights have been established as guiding light and basis for the rules of behavior for nations around the world. Several nations have shown sign of increased diligence in the observance of human rights.

Nevertheless, a few other member-states fail to adopt the cause of human rights as designed by the UN. Human right violations persist, openly and flagrantly as in Kampuchea, Kosovo and East Timor, or sophisticatedly camouflaged as currently in Vietnam.

We, the members of VNHRN, take this opportunity to bring to the attention of the UN General Assembly and the High Commissioner for Human Rights the massive and systematic suppression of human rights in Vietnam. These violations infringe upon several provisions of the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, and have caused severe sufferings to the Vietnamese people. These violations may be categorized into five general areas, namely:

(1) suppression of freedom of religion, including dissolution of religious organizations, imprisonment of religious leaders as well as followers, confiscation of church properties, prohibition of religious publication;

(2) prohibition of freedom of expression, including jailing of writers and reporters, disrupting means of communication and confiscation of personal writing equipment those belong to people who refuse government censure;

(3) denial of due process, including secret trial, denial of legal counsel and representation, summary execution;

(4) denial of fundamental rights, including extended detention without trial, torture, house arrest that is comparable to jailing; and

(5) ban of popular elections and denial of self- determination rights.

The above-cited violations have been carried out on a consistent pattern throughout an extended period of time lasting several years. They are not isolated acts of subaltern government employees. They emanate from a systematic campaign and policy promulgated by the central government as well as provincial authorities in Vietnam.

All remedies have been attempted and exhausted with no avail. In some secluded geographical areas recourse to vocalize grievances is totally and effectively withheld.

Considering the circumstances, not only is Vietnam burdened with the duty to observe and guarantee human rights for its own people, the UN as representative of the international community has the authority and the obligation to ensure the compliance with the standard it has established in distinct detail for its member-states with regard to Human Rights.

We, the members of VNHRN, urge the UN to take all actions it deems proper and necessary in order to enforce its requirement of human rights, especially upon its Vietnamese member and restore human rights to the people in Vietnam.

STATEMENT OF FACTS

I.- VIETNAM'S SUPPRESSION OF FREEDOM OF RELIGION IS IN VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 18 OF THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND ARTICLES 18 AND 22 OF THE INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS.

On April 19, 1999, the Vietnamese government promulgated Decree No. 26/1999/ND-CP that submits all churches in Vietnam to the control of the government. This law provides that church properties must be kept under the management of the state; religious recruitment, training and appointment be made with the approval of the government; and publication of religious materials be submitted to government agencies for censorship.

This law provides punishment for crimes ranging from "superstitious activities" to activities that "go against the healthy culture" of the country. The general concern lies in the ambiguously worded language of the decree that will tolerate broad flexibility in its interpretation leading to abuse by law enforcement authorities.

Actually, this decree does not introduce anything new. For 25 years the government in Vietnam has maintained a consistent and systematic campaign to suppress freedom of religion. Drastic measures of oppression are directed at churches and worshipers. Religious organizations are dissolved and replaced with government-nominated entities; church officials arrested, jailed or exiled; and church properties including places of worship and assets, confiscated. Ordinary worshipers have been intimidated and prevented from participating in religious ceremonies.

Recently, followers of CAO DAI faith published a open letter complaining that (1) at the death of a high ranking priest the government appointed a Communist Party official to head the funeral committee, (2) a holy testament left by said deceased spiritual leader was taken away from church offices, (3) several officers of the church were jailed, (4) since January 1999 a list of 72 candidates to the religious directorate has been submitted to the government for its approval but until today, no such approval seemed forthcoming creating a vacuum in the church leadership, (5) the Church's properties were confiscated, and (5) there had been attempt to appoint a Communist Party official to lead the Church.

The HOA HAO Church also complained of persecution. Mr. Le Quang Liem, an 82 year old prominent leader of the Hoa Hao church, sent a letter to the government protesting the government's seizure of church properties, denial of permission to practice their faith, and unilateral appointment of a church governing body consisting of 11 Communist Party members.

In June of this year, the government authorized a pilgrimage to the Hoa Hao Holy Land on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Hoa Hao religion. Unexpectedly, hundreds of thousands of members of Hoa Hao Buddhist faith converged toward An Giang province between 23 and 29 of June, 1999. The government issued an emergency order to use open intimidation and physical violence to block and disperse said religious gathering. Several arrests took place.

The PROTESTANT Church experiences a similar fate. The Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a charitable organization in England, disclosed on August 10 of this year that four churches frequented by Mnong worshipers were demolished by government agents, the most recent one being the Dak La Church in Tho Son Village, Binh Phuoc Province, along the Vietnamese-Cambodian borders.

Similarly, Hmong villagers in Northern highlands reported they were prevented from attending church services and 30 local Protestant church leaders had been jailed. In Quang Nam Province, on September 19, 1999, a 25-signature letter from Protestant followers complained of an unjustified assault staged by national security forces against their church at Que Chau village. 17 church members were lead away in handcuffs. On October 10, 1999, in Viet Tri (North Vietnam) several worshipers were arrested on charges of illegal assembly. Their leader Mrs. Nguyen Thi Thuy was arrested for hindering police activities and obstruction of justice. Similar assault against Christian followers took place in the Ha Long Bay area where 30 church members were arrested for meeting in a hotel for bible study and prayers.

The CATHOLIC ORDER -- the Co-Redemptorists -- has been the object of government onslaught. This religious Order is known for its charity services and schools. Its clergies, priests and nuns -- like those of Mother Teresa's Order in India -- live among the poor and the handicapped, and provide assistance in a variety of fields.

The government issued an order turning all schools, orphanages, dispensaries, training centers, seminaries and other facilities of the Order into state's properties. Priests and nuns were forced to return to their families or reapply for authorization to stay in the same areas. Only the Order's headquarters in Thu Duc was spared.

In 1988, the Order's headquarters were attacked. National security troops occupied the premises and arrested everybody present on site. The Order was charged with conspiracy to carry out terrorist acts. At the age of 82 the founder of the Order, Father Tran Dinh Thu, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Several members of his staff -- clergies and lay-people alike -- received prison terms. All land, buildings, and other assets were confiscated. In 1993, the government released Father Tran Dinh Thu and placed him under house-arrest until today.

BUDDHIST Church's Venerable Dr. Thich Quang Do appealed to the ambassadors of the European Union countries to secure the respect of human rights and religious freedom in Vietnam, and for the release of the Most Venerable Thich Huyen Quang (the 84 year old head of Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam) and 31 other religious and political prisoners. A large number of these prisoners had been detained without trial since 1981.

Ven. Thich Quang Do, 72, had been himself arrested and jailed on numerous occasions, and recently for organizing an emergency relief fund for flood victims in several Western provinces of Vietnam. He has been released but put under house arrest.

Other Buddhist leaders have suffered harassment by the national security agents, namely Ven. Thich Duc Nhuan, Ven. Thich Tue Sy, Ven. Thich Tri Sieu, Ven. Thich Khong Tanh, Ven. Thich Nhat Ban, and Ven. Thich Tri Tuu.

Note that all Buddhist church schools and monasteries were closed; property and religious documents confiscated by the Government since 1976. The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam was outlawed without explanation and replaced in 1981 with a government-sponsored Buddhist organization. This new Buddhist organization is staffed with state-ordained clergy.

II.- VIETNAM'S SUPPRESSION OF FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION IS IN VIOLATION OF ARTICLES 18, 19 AND 27 OF THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS; ARTICLE 15 OF THE COVENANT ON ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS; AND ARTICLES 18, 19, 21 AND 22 OF THE INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS.

Vietnamese writers, poets, reporters, and other intellectuals who resist the control of the Communist Party are denied their freedom of expression. They are either jailed or put under house arrest with total isolation from public contact. Their means of communication such as telephone utilities are disrupted and their tools of trade and equipment such as personal computers, printers and typewriters taken away. Besides, their family members are submitted to reprisal and their friends interrogated and investigated.

Writers such as Hoang Tien, Ha Si Phu, Hoang Minh Chinh (a former high-ranking Party official), Tieu Dao Bao Cu, Nguyen Kien Giang, Nguyen Thanh Giang, Vu Huy Cuong, Hoang Huu Nhan and their families were repeatedly submitted to the above described harassment. Dr. Nguyen Thanh Giang's two grown-up children who were university trained scientists were dismissed from their employment without cause.

Ven. Thich Quang Do described that he was released from jail to his home that was simply another jail. Even UN Special Rapporteur Abdelfattah Amor, on his official fact-finding tour in Vietnam last year, was frustrated by the host government from meeting with individuals who had voiced their aspiration for democracy and refused to propagate the Communist Party's platform.

In April 1999 former General Tran Do applied for permission to publish a newspaper. Said application was denied. Ven. Thich Quang Do on behalf of the Buddhist Church applied for a similar authorization. He never receives any response from the government. Yet, the current Vietnamese constitution guarantees freedom of the press for all citizens.

A number of international organizations, including World Association of Newspapers, Reporters Sans Frontieres, Texas Friends of a Free Vietnam Committee, and The Liberty Flame Foundation sent letters of protest to General Le Kha Phieu, the Vietnamese Communist Party Secretary General, affirming their support for Tran Do's rights under UN's International Covenants on Civil and Human Rights to publish his newspaper. This international effort does not bring any result and meets with silence from the government.

A report from Political and Economic Risks Corporation in Hong Kong assesses Vietnam as the most repressive regime with regard to freedom of the press, far ahead of its Asian neighbors. News media in Vietnam has always been monopolized by the government. The citizen has no channel to express his own views.

III.- VIETNAM'S DENIAL OF DUE PROCESS IS IN VIOLATION OF ARTICLES 6, 7, 8 AND 11(2) OF THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS; AND ARTICLES 2, 3, 15, 16 AND 26 OF THE INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS.

Due process that guarantees an accused's rights to justice and fairness is absent in the Vietnamese judiciary system. Decree No. 31-CP grants law enforcement authorities the right to detain any citizen up to 3 years without warrant or trial. This constitutes a violation of the people's rights to personal safety.

A few reports further illustrate the lack of due process in court system. A woman was accused of trafficking. Mrs. Luu Thi Nga, born in 1965, was arrested in September 1998 for allegedly possessing 1.9 kilograms of heroin. She was arraigned, tried, convicted and sentenced to death. In three months after she was arrested, at 6:00 AM on December 4, 1998, she was executed in the town of Quang Ninh. In a capital case where death penalty is imposed, such time of three months is too short and insufficient for the accused to prepare her defense.

In another instance, Mr. Tran Van Thuan and Mr. Huynh Te Cam were charged in June 1996 with carrying anti-revolutionary documents. They were tried behind closed door in 1997 and convicted. Both were executed by firing squad at the Thu Duc military academy, outside of Saigon, on January 6, 1998.

All three above people were denied their right to a public trial, the assistance of counsel, representation by a lawyer before the court, and appeal in capital cases where death penalty was ordered.

These are individual cases that are reported only in foreign press. Yet, these stories illustrate a pattern of denial of due process and lack of guarantee of individual fundamental rights.

Prisoners further report that Vietnamese defense lawyers are appointed by the government and are not permitted to meet their clients before trial. Jury members are government-paid employees and not selected among independent people from the community. Investigators draft confessions and compel accused people to sign them. The use of threats and torture against defendants are not uncommon. In court defendants who represent themselves are not allowed to speak. Finally, verdicts are determined prior to trials by an "internal committee" composed of members of the prosecution, the court and investigating agencies. Defense attorneys play no role in said proceedings.

IV.- VIETNAM'S PRACTICE OF ILLEGAL IMPRISONMENT AND HOUSE ARREST IS IN VIOLATION OF ARTICLES 8 AND 9 OF THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND ARTICLES 2, 11 AND 14 OF THE INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON SOCIAL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Dr. Nguyen Dan Que stated that while he was in prison he had met over 100 other political prisoners in various locations. Dr. Que was himself incarcerated for expressing his support of democratization in Vietnam.

Amnesty International cited in its 1999 Annual Report the cases of 56 prisoners of conscience still being held in prison. These include well known names such as Prof. Nguyen Dinh Huy and 78 year-old Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Tan of the Movement to Unite People and Build Democracy, Messrs. Do Van Hung and Do Van Thac, Catholic priests Mai Duc Chuong, Nguyen Viet Huan, Nguyen Van Thin and Pham Minh Tri. The US State Department officially reports that Vietnam is holding at least 150 political and religious prisoners whose identities have been confirmed by released prisoners as of January 1999. Additionally, 40 people were detained on terms up to 11 years for demonstrating against government officials' corruption in Thai Binh Province in 1997, and another 17 people prosecuted for a similar demonstration in Dong Nai Province.

Most of the above people are being held without charge or trial. Several of them are submitted to physical and psychological tortures. Prisoners are coerced to address prison guards as "masters" or "Lords", and identify themselves as "children".

Occasionally, the government announces the release of political prisoners from jail. Released prisoners are then transferred to home imprisonment under close surveillance by national security agents. Some released prisoners are denied citizenship rights, refused residence permits, and terrorized at the impression that they may be re-incarcerated at any time.

This policy of holding dissidents prison in their own homes coupled with constant "invitations to a working session at national security stations" has the effect of preventing these people from engaging in income generating activities to support themselves.

At the conclusion of the 55th annual meeting with UN's Commission of Human Rights, 46 NGO's signed a petition supporting the report authored by Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance Abdelfattah Amor on religious freedom in Vietnam. This petition demanded among all line items the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience who are incarcerated for peaceful expression of dissenting thoughts. This petition fails to bring about the release or liberalization of jail system vis--vis prisoners of conscience.

V.- VIETNAM'S DENIAL OF SELF-DETERMINATION RIGHTS IS IN VIOLATION OF ARTICLE 21 OF THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS, AND ARTICLES 1(1) AND 25 OF THE INTERNATIONAL COVENANT FOR SOCIAL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS.

Vietnamese people have never been given the opportunity to exercise their rights to self-determination, voice their personal opinions, express their views on issues affecting them and their families, and register their choice of government.

Public offices from central to village levels are filled with cadres appointed by the Communist Party. Even officials of humanitarian and charitable institutions such as the local Red Cross are appointed by the Communist Party. There has never been a popular election in Vietnam at least in the last 25 years.

Vietnam's constitution professes the supremacy of the Marxism-Leninism ideology over all philosophies, schools of thoughts and religions. General Le Kha Phieu, Secretary-General of the Communist Party, emphasizes that the Party refuses to share political power with other forces. He explains that the people of Vietnam are committed to Marxism-Leninism and have chosen the leadership of the Communist Party. Apparently, in the eyes of the government, that is sufficient to justify the Communist Party's sole rule in all national affairs.

To ensure their supremacy the Party tolerates no dissenting opinion on whatever issues that might come up in the community. One wonders how the Party justifies the delegation to itself of people's power and fundamental civil rights. General Le Kha Phieu fails to explain in what manner the Vietnamese people have cast such choice in favor of the Communist Party. He further fails to explain how the Communist Party derives its power and authority to govern, without popular elections.

Nonetheless, whatever explanation is being provided by the Communist Party, Vietnam fails to justify her taking a position that opposes the requirement the UN has established for its member-states concerning self-determination.

As a member of the UN with full power and privileges, Vietnam reneges its commitment to promote fundamental rights of the people including their right to self-determination. The government treats their own people as second class citizens in their own land.

RECOMMENDATIONS

1.- Vigilance, scrutiny and prevention as guiding norms require that information be made accessible before an assessment on human right conditions is made. Efforts should be taken to explain to Vietnam the concepts of human rights, fundamental freedom and the rule of law. Such concepts might be alien to people living in an authoritarian structure. Programs should be designed to help Vietnam review its laws including its constitution in order to incorporate these concepts. The next important step would be to assist in the translation of these rhetorical legal stipulations into practical implementation.

2.- Efforts should be taken to familiarize Vietnam with the idea that human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law have now become crucial to social systems in the contemporary international community. A standard of behavior has been agreed upon by members of said community and may not be over-shadowed by any rationalization or justification, including a claim of exemption on national sovereignty ground.

3.- International activities, be they multilateral or bilateral, should carry the contingency that Vietnam adheres to the adopted universal standard on human rights. This acceptance of duties should begin with Vietnam's prompt release of all political prisoners or proper public trial with diligent observance of due process.

The UN has the collective obligation to assure the strict compliance by all of its member states to the standard of rights as determined in its Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its supporting Covenants.

Dated: December 9, 1999

for Vietnam Human Rights Network


________________________________

Hong-Lien Nguyen (Ms.)
Vice-President
225 Adams Street, Suite 11-C
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Tel.: (718) 625-0210

Back to top


Vietnam Human Rights Network
[Home] [About us] [Bills of Rights] [Documents] [Human Rights news] [Forum] [Join] [Downloads] [Links]