Posted by Doan Viet Hoat under Human Rights Watch on 29 July 2002

Today, July 23, 2002, the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus and the U.S. Congressional Dialogue on Vietnam has a joint members' briefing on "Freedom of Expression in Vietnam and the Vietnamese Government's Responses". This is a good opportunity for all concerned parties to review the situation of human rights in Vietnam in general and freedom of expression in particular. This is important in light of the new phase of US-Vietnam relationship -the phase of trade agreement implementation.

Generally speaking, the situation of human rights in Vietnam has deteriorated during the last two years. The government of Vietnam continues to violate all basic civil and political rights: freedom of religion, freedom of expression and of the press, freedom of association, and the right of the minority groups to live a dignified, stable and equitable life. Since 2001, hundreds of dissidents and religious leaders, together with their friends and relatives, were harassed, house arrested or imprisoned. Any one, even a communist member, who criticizes the leadership, faces severe oppression, being separated from their family and put into isolation. Some were even "kidnapped" by the police and brought to secret places, like young lawyer Le Chi Quang, medical doctor Pham Hong Son, and just some days ago, journalist Nguyen Vu Binh. A climate of persecution exists all over the country. In 2001, the state of emergency and martial law were even declared in some highland areas in Central Vietnam, with armed soldiers patrolling days and nights in the area. Tens of thousands of minority people in the region were cruelly oppressed, which forced thousands of them to flee to Cambodia. Hundreds of minority people now had to leave their homeland to live in exile in the United Sates.

The situation became more tense when territorial and sea concessions to China were known by the people in the beginning of 2001, in despite of the leadership's intention to keep these news in secret. The secret border concessions to China, without the people's knowledge and approval, betray national interests because throughout history the Vietnamese people have always sacrificed their lives to defend the Fatherland successfully against all invasions by the Chinese. Many people protested openly against the leadership's betrayal and consequently were arrested, which again caused strong and widespread discontent and opposition. A number of petitions against the border agreements have been circulated among the population. Some have been posted online, and for the first time, hundreds of thousands of people from inside the country have signed those petitions.

This policy of oppression of the dissent voices and contempt of the people risks to provoke popular social unrest which is not desirable to all parties concerned. But violence can only be avoided if more effective and decisive measures are carried out. Those measures should lead to, on the one hand, ending all types of oppression by the government, and on the other hand, opening the way for the development of a free and democratic society.

I therefore, on this occasion, call upon the U.S. Congress and Administration to urgently apply the following measures:

1. To reinforce the pressure on the Vietnamese government to end all forms of religious and political oppression. More specifically, the Vietnamese government should release all prisoners detained because of their religious and political opposition, abolish decree 31/CP concerning measures of administrative surveillance, and 26/CP concerning measures to control religious activities.

2. To include clauses to guarantee human rights respect in all agreements with Vietnamese government. Particularly, the Senate should pass the Vietnam Human Rights Bill, which has been approved by, all-but-one in the House. I specifically call upon Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts to stop holding this important bill and let it be voted in the Senate.

3. To optimize the U.S development assistance to Vietnam in the direction of promoting the development of an open civil society to benefit the people and not the corrupted officials. This implies more focus on independent civil economic, cultural, educational and religious organizations, and more effective defense of advocates of freedom and democracy in Vietnam.

4. To support the democratization process in Vietnam which includes, as the first step, acceptance by the government of opposition individuals and groups, independent press, independent religious groups, free and independent labor unions, and the rights of the minority people.

I believe that time has come for drastic political changes in Vietnam, in parallel with economic renovation, both to optimize the present and future opportunities for building a better and new Vietnam, and to avoid popular frustration and unrest resulting from missing those opportunities, of which the responsibility rests on all of us.

Doan Viet Hoat Chairman International Institute for Vietnam Washington DC, July 23, 2002

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