GENEVA, 23 March 2009 (VIETNAM COMMITTEE) - Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva today, Mr. Vo Van Ai, President of Quê Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights denounced “grave violations of human rights” in Vietnam, and the government’s systematic “non-compliance with the UN human rights instruments which it has ratified”;
Vietnam’s non-compliance is particularly disturbing because “policies in Vietnam are not decided by state institutions such as the government or the Parliament, but by the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP)”. Whilst Vietnam has a binding commitment to respect key UN treaties such as the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political rights which it ratified in 1982, “the Communist Party does not consider itself bound by Vietnam’s international obligations”.
Vo Van Ai described the VCP’s mechanisms of control over the population, enforced by the “Precinct Security Warden who maintains everyone under surveillance, the obligatory residence permit (ho khau), without which all citizens are illegal, and the curriculum vitae which records peoples’ actions, affiliations and opinions”. This system enables the authorities to exert intolerable pressures on dissidents and their families in everyday life (loss of jobs, children expelled from school, threats, harassments, etc).
As a result, all peaceful dissent is systematically stifled, said Mr. Ai, citing the case of Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) leader Thich Quang Do, currently under house arrest without trial at his pagoda in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) after 26 years in detention; the muzzling of journalists who reveal “embarrassing” information (detention, revoking of press cards of several journalists and two Editors-in-chief in 2008); the detention of cyber-dissidents or “Bloggers” such as Dieu Cay, sentenced to 30 months in prison in September 2008 for posting articles demanding democratic reforms.
Faced with growing protests by farmers and peasants against State confiscation of lands (Victims of Injustice), unprecedented strikes of hundreds of thousands of workers denouncing sweat-shop working conditions and low pay in face of rocketing prices (72% rise in the price of rice over the past year), and first-ever demonstrations by students and young people to protest China’s claims of sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel islands, Vietnam has reacted with brutal repression and arrests. Many young demonstrators arrested in September 2008 remain in prison under extremely harsh conditions, e.g. Pham Van Troi, Nguyen Xuan Nghia, Pham Thanh Nghien, Nguyen Van Tuc, Ngo Quynh, and teacher Vu Hung, whose health has reportedly deteriorated in prison. Lawyers Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan are serving 4 and 3 year sentences simply for holding training sessions in human rights.
Vietnam has also adopted a series of “perfidious laws”, Mr. Ai told the UN, to “legalise” arbitrary detention and the suppression of dissent, in gross violation of the ICCPR and the 1992 Vietnamese Constitution. These include Decree 38 banning demonstrations outside public buildings, used routinely to detain farmers and peasants; an 2008 Decree obliging workers to pay their employers 3 months’ salary in compensation if their strike is deemed illegal; Ordinance 44 authorizing extra-judicial detention of government critics in psychiatric institutions or under house arrest; increased restrictions on the Internet, including Decree No 7/2008/TT-BTTTT controlling and restricting the use of blogs.
Mr. Ai also alerted the Human Rights Commission to the risk of an “ecological catastrophe” in Vietnam’s Central Highlands with the $500 million Bauxite mining project launched in cooperation with China. The open-cut mining “will destroy vast forest and crop areas, create mountains of toxic sludge” and harm the lives and environment of ethnic minorities in this coffee-growing region, he said. Vietnam has allowed thousands of Chinese workers to settle in the area and begin to exploit the Bauxite, despite strong protests by experts, local residents and an Open Letter by famed war hero Vo Nguyen Giap asking for exploitation to be delayed until international experts study the project’s ecological impact.
Mr. Ai called on the UN Human Rights Council to press Vietnam to extend a standing invitation to the Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders, Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and Freedom of Religion to visit Vietnam to examine the situation in situ.
- In an NGO Briefing on the side-lines of the Human Rights Council, Mr. Vo Van Ai made public a Communist Party document classified “top secret”, presented at an internal VCP meeting in Hanoi on 10.7.2008. The document explains how to the Party can maintain power by controlling and manipulating the population in every domain. “This document shows that repression is a carefully planned, deliberate policy. The systematic violations of fundamental rights over the past years corroborate the cynical and inhuman policy described in this document”, he said.
The document exhorts the Party to “maintain a climate of permanent fear – even if is a vague, impalpable fear in the people’s sub-conscience. At the same time, we must never let this fear develop into despair, for a desperate person is a danger to the regime” (our emphasis).
In order to maintain a democratic façade to enhance Vietnam’s international image, the Party must create “pseudo democratic opposition movements”, whilst ensuring that “they never develop into real democracy movements. We must isolate them and restrict their actions, ensure that they have lots of “leaders” but no followers; that they talk a lot but cannot act”. The Party should “take a leading role in promoting civil society”, but ensurethat “the Party infiltrates and controls all civil society movements”.
Concerning young pro-democracy activists, the document stresses, “we must ruthlessly repress this category, give them prison sentences of 3 to 7 years. That is the best way to nip their movement in the bud. When they get out of prison they will be middle-aged, tired and disillusioned. Those who remain idealistic will be burdened by family responsibilities. They won’t be able to engage in activism any more”.
“If the Party continues on these lines”, concludes the document, “we can easily stay in power for another 20 years”.
- In preparation for the “Universal Periodic Review” of Vietnam’s human rights record in May 2009, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and the International Federation of Human Rights have submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Council detailing serious concerns on a wide range of human rights issues. The report is available on the Human Rights Council website, or on Quê Me’s website at: http://www.queme.net/eng/doc/UPR_Vietnam_2009_English.pdf