Santa Ana, 12.12.2004. The commemoration of the 56th International Human Rights Day and the presentation of the 3rd Vietnam Human Rights Award were ceremoniously held in a Santa Ana College auditorium in Santa Ana, California. About 250 guests and Vietnamese compatriots attended the event at the invitation of the Vietnam Human Rights Network (VHRN), including relatives and friends of the two awardees, government elective officials, members of the Vietnamese Inter-Faith Council in the US, representatives of international human rights partner organizations, religious, political and community based organizations. Most Vietnamese media agencies in Southern California were also present. (Click here to see some pictures)

Members of the patriotic Hung Ca band such as Viet Dzung, Nguyet Anh (from Virginia), Nguyen Xuan Nghia, Tuan Minh and Tuyet Mai helped warming up the meeting hall with their heroic and patriotic theme songs prior to the official beginning of the event.

Dr. Nguyen Ba Tung, Head of the Organizing Committee, came after the opening ceremonies with his warm welcome to the guests in a short speech on the significance of the 2004  International Human Rights Day and the third Vietnam Human Rights Award. He said, “Today, while celebrating the 56th anniversary of a testament to human dignity, tolerance, and pluralism, we must denounce the Vietnamese government’s continual use of violence and terror against its population’s basic rights. We urge the international community to take strong stand with regard to undermining human rights for the sake of national security and economic development interests...The meeting today also provides an opportunity for the Vietnam Human Rights Network to publicly commend the achievements and outstanding contribution of those who have been defending human rights at great costs: imprisonment, torture and even death. This year the award has a particular significance because it focuses on the right to free speech, a fundamental building block of free society. Two award recipients today, Dr Nguyen Dan Que and former Colonel Pham Que Duong, are the best to embody this utmost value.”

Next, Prof  Nguyen Thanh Trang, Chairman of the VHRN Coordinating Committee, read the commendations for U.S. Congress members Loretta Sanchez and Ed Royce for their valuable contributions to the fight for human rights in Vietnam. He especially praised them in their capacity as co-authors of the Vietnam Human Rights bills and Congress resolutions aiming at advancing the human rights cause in Vietnam. He particularly acknowledged Representative Ed Royce for his most valuable contribution in the establishment of Radio Free Asia, and Representative Loretta Sanchez for her contact and visits with human rights activists in Vietnam during her official trips there. Only last week, she was denied her visa to Vietnam by Hanoi. Due to their busy legislative schedules at the Congress, their respective representatives, Mr. Bill Cooper and Mr. Ta Khoi, received their certificates of appreciation and offered thanks to VHRN on their behalf. They also conveyed their bosses’ promises of support to the fight for human rights in Vietnam.

The representative of state assemblyman Todd Spitzer, meanwhile, asked the VHRN to offer to Dr. Nguyen Dan Que and Mr. Pham Que Duong his citations for their sacrifices in fighting for human rights in Vietnam. Senator Barbara Boxer’s appreciation letter to the two awardees and VNHRN also received incessant applause from the audience.

The presentation of the awards took place first with the commendation by Dr. Tran Dinh Thuy, Chairman of the Executive Board of the Vietnamese Medical Association of the Free World, to Dr. Nguyen Dan Que. Apart from his long history of imprisonment, his indomitableness and his patriotism were mentioned, particularly the famous statement “Exile does not mean freedom” he made when he refused to be conditionally freed in exchange for Hanoi’s demand that he live in exile. Dr. Nguyen Tuong Bach, 88, a relentless freedom fighter, was asked to present the award to Dr. Nguyen Dan Que’s brother and representative, Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan, from Virginia. Dr. Quan said, “Being kept in isolation in a remote area in Thanh Hoa Province, Dr. Que has no way of knowing that he is the recipient of the 2004 Vietnam Human Rights Award.  Had he known this, he would be tremendously happy to know that his fellow countrymen share his convictions and recognize his works.

Next came former Republic of Vietnam Navy Captain Nguyen Ngoc Quynh who read the commendation for former North Vietnamese Colonel Pham Que Duong, the second award recipient. He explained: “Mr. Duong and I were officers of two opposing armed forces for more than 20 years. We might have had some direct fights against each other in the past. So, will it be proper for me to proclaim him now? I think the answer is definitely “No” if he is still a member of the Communist Party and doing whatever his Party tells him to do, including oppressing human rights. But, as we know, Mr. Duong has denounced the Party and moved to the side of the Vietnamese people fighting for democracy and human rights.” 

Mr. Pham Que Duong, 71, is a former Vietnamese Communist Party member and North Vietnamese army colonel and former editor of the Military History Review of the Military History Institute. In January 1999, he handed back his party membership card in protest against what he called Hanoi leadership’s improper reaction to general Tran Do’s call for a clean government. The police followed him, tried to isolate him, and arrested him several times. He continued to criticize the government's cover-up and totalitarian policies, to call for true democracy, and to defend imprisoned or mistreated human rights activists. He was arrested on December 28, 2002 in Saigon where he had gone to visit democracy and human rights activists. He was detained until July 2004, given an unfair trial and sentenced to 19 months in prison for “abusing democratic rights to jeopardize the interests of the state" and “failing to comply with the government's house arrest order".  Since he had been held without trial for a period exceeding his sentence, he was released and placed under house arrest ever since.

Most Venerable Thich Chon Thanh, Chairman of the Vietnamese Inter-Faith Council in the United States, presented the award to Mr. Que's representative, radio journalist Dinh Quang Anh Thai.

The conversation between Mr. Pham Que Duong and the journalist Dinh Quang Anh Thai recorded 5 hours earlier was played back to the attention and applause of the audience. Through the conversation, Mr. Pham Que Duong expressed his thanks to VHRN for supporting him and presenting him this award as well as encouraging democracy and human rights in Vietnam. He also emphasized on the need for political change alongside with economic reform. 

 The event came to an end following the speeches of some guests of honor. Most participants remained until the last minute to enjoy the outstanding performance of the Hung Ca band and share the rhythmic applause for the patriotic songs. 


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