Talk to European Commission about
The Human Rights Conditions
in Vietnam Today

(In Brussels, 13 March 2007)
By Nguyen Chinh Ket

General overview on human rights in Vietnam

In Vietnam, all basic human rights are not respected. The root cause of this is because the Vietnamese Communist Party is doing everything it can to hold on to its power. Their ambition is simply to indefinitely rule the country regardless of the ensuing poverty, backwardness, suffering, and deterioration of moral values. Their sole purpose is to protect the privileges that they have been enjoying since their seize of power from the French colonialist in 1945 and from the Republic of South Vietnam in 1975. The Vietnamese Communist Party knows too well that if they allow the people to exercise their civil rights then the population would surely demand them change or step down from power due to their ineffectiveness in solving the nation's problems. Such development would be harmful and dangerous to their monopoly of power. As a result, The Vietnamese Communist regime are more than ready and willing to trample on the rights of the people.

The basic rights that are currently being violated can be listed as follows:

1) The Right of Self Determination:

There were at least two historic opportunities for the people of Viet Nam to determine the course of the country, in 1954 and 1975. In both cases, however, the Vietnamese Communist Party has robbed the people of their rights. While the entire nation at that time aspired for national independence, the Communist Party chose Socialism and Communism, and forced the nation to follow its course. Since then, the Vietnamese Communist Party has become the instrument of the Communist International. Vietnam is turned into the battleground between North Vietnam who wanted to expand Communism and South Vietnam who tried to defend its freedom. Since 1975, after successfully taking over the South, the Vietnamese Communists have united the country in poverty, suffering and backwardness under its totalitarian dictatorship. To this day, Article 4 of the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam remains: “The Communist Party of Viet Nam…following Marx-Leninism and Ho Chi Minh’s thoughts, is the force that leads the government and society”. It is this system of power which denies any forms of competition or substitution has crushed almost all democratic rights of the people.

2) The Right to Freedom of Speech and Information:

This is the most important among all fundamental human rights because when other rights are violated, people can use their freedom of speech to defend themselves, to expose the infringement and to fight to get back those rights. Denial of this right is stripping away people’s ability to defend themselves against the violations of the regime. The victims of brutality are now not even allowed to cry for help. The government of Vietnam has done just that. To maintain their totalitarian rule, the dictator first take the freedom of speech away from the people.

Presently, Vietnam has 600 printed newspapers and periodicals, but every single one of them is owned and controlled by the authorities. All 600 media outlets say nothing but the Party's line. No privately-owned papers are permitted. A few private websites are allowed currently but the Vietnamese Communist authorities have maintained various firewalls to block access to overseas websites promoting human rights and democracy. They also imposed strict control over users at Internet-service stores.

Furthermore, anyone who dares express different political viewpoints from those of the Party are harassed, arrested, imprisoned or even killed.

3) The Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

When the victims of human rights violations speak out individually and separately, the authorities can silent them easily. However, when they join together and speak for the whole group, their voices are much more forceful and it is much more difficult for the government to suppress. To deal with this potential threat, the Vietnamese Communist regime simply issued Decree 38 in 2005, forbidding any gatherings of 5 or more people in the street, to fortify its existing laws against the formation of any independent associations or political parties.

Currently, all active associations have been established directly or indirectly by the Communist authorities to serve the ruling party. These associations obviously always agree with and help extend the power of the Communist Party. Other than that, all private associations outside the control of the Party are not allowed to officially form or hold activities. For example, when Messrs. Pham Que Duong and Tran Khue apply for permission to form the People Against Corruption Association in September 2001, not only their application was denied but the applicants themselves were also imprisoned for the crimes of "espionage". Recently, when Mr. Hoang Minh Chinh declared the re-activation of the Democratic Party on June 1, 2006, Mr. Nguyen Phong declared the establishment of the Vietnam Progression Party on September 8, 2006, both of them were repeatedly harassed and even physically attacked. When citizens like Nguyen Tan Hoanh, Nguyen Thi Le Hong, Hoang Huy Chuong, Nguyen Thi Tuyet and Tran Quoc Hien declared the formation of the Unified Farmer Worker Associations on October 30, 2006, all of them were arrested and have been imprisoned without charges ever since.

4) The Right to Freedom of election and political candidacy:

Looking at the condition of the country, it is rather obvious that, given the rights to choose their leaders, there is a very high probability Vietnamese people would not elect members of the Vietnamese Communist Party to the leading positions. The Communists, therefore, must strip people of this right by allowing only their chosen members to be candidates in all elections and so ensure the result no mater whom the people vote for. Typically, voters must vote for 8 or 9 out of 10 candidates nominated by the government. All elections are simply gimmicks to display the democratic color of the Regime to the outside world. All elections, from local to national levels, in the past 60 years have been done by the rule “Party nominate – People vote”. No truly independent citizens have ever reached the final lists of candidates in all those years.

5) The Right to Freedom of Religion:

A few religious organizations are the only existing entities that are not established by the Communist Party. These churches remain relatively independent of various governments in the past and had existed before the Communist Party came to power. They are well organized in tight hierarchies, and have considerable influence on sections of the population. Most fundamentally, these organizations believe in God and therefore stand opposite to the views of their atheist rulers on various issues. All of those elements cast religious organizations as threats to the dictatorial rule of the Communist government. The Regime, therefore, always treats religions as the opposing forces that need to be eliminated.

From past experiences, however, the government know they cannot eradicate religions because it is a natural human need. The more they tried to kill off religions, the more anger, animosity, and protest were generated against the Regime. The Communist Party nowadays has changed their tactics to limiting churches' activities and expansion. And most importantly, the government infiltrate these religious organizations, corrupt them from inside, and turn them into instruments of the Party. The government achieved these goals by:

– Planting agents into the internal structure of the religions to wreak division, suspicion, and disunity.

– Requiring all churches to seek government's pre-approval on all appointments and ordinations of the clergies. Such requirement prevented the churches from assigning qualified personnel to leadership positions, and as a result, significantly weakened religious organizations over time.

– Using the policy of “the stick and the carrot” toward religious leaders. Those who are obedient to the regime would receive favors and advancement. Those who live by the truth and their conscience receive ill-treatment and harassments, not only on themselves but also on the religious communities they lead.

In general, the policy of the Vietnamese Communist government on human rights includes two contradictory faces: to the international community, the Vietnamese Communist regime is ready and willing to sign any agreements, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Civic, Political and Cultural Rights, etc. in order to attract international aids in the areas of politic, economic, cultural and foreign relations; On the other hand, toward the Vietnamese people, the government's policy is totally in reverse. For example, during the APEC Summit in November 2006, the regime portrayed an image of happiness and improvement to the world while quietly and brutally terrorized democracy activists and citizens seeking legal justice for their grievances.

Subtle ways to suppress human rights

1) Loosing and tightening freedom rights

The activists for human rights and democracy never believe that the communists truly respect the human rights of the people. In front of the pressure of the Free World, everything good that we can see in their action is apparent. When the pressure of the Free World on Human Rights increases, the Vietnamese government looses the human rights to some degree. But when the pressure decreases, they tighten at once those rights. When the pressure exists no longer, they may imprison all the fighters for freedom and democracy.

This is proved in the days around the recent lunar New Year in Vietnam: Two months after Vietnam joined the WTO, they arrested Father Nguyen Van Ly (in Hue), Attorneys Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan (in Ha Noi), and some others without any explicit and legitime reasons. Because already successful to become one of WTO members, they thought that the Free World would be able to cause them no more pressure on human rights.

In a word, in reality there is no freedom right in Vietnam, but what is called freedom we can see there is only fragments of freedom that the government can give and take back whenever they want.

2) The two opposed face policy

In general, the policy on human rights in Vietnam is the policy of two opposed faces:

– Before the world, the VN government is always ready to sign any international documents on human rights – such as Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Civic, Political and Cultural Rights, etc. – to join UNO, WTO…; prove that in Vietnam the human rights situation is always very good (they always say that all human rights are defined in the constitution); nothing but to deal with other countries in the world.

– But to deal with the people, it is completely contrary in reality.

There are many examples to prove that. The recent APEC meeting in November 2006 in Vietnam was a typical one of the contradiction. With the international, the communist government tried to introduce the face of Vietnam with always increasing positive renewals. But with the fighters for democracy and the victims of injustice in Mai Xuan Thuong Flower Garden in Hanoi, etc., they filled them with terror by threats.

3) Using anticonstitutinal laws

The VN government has created at their discretion many anticonstitutinal articles in the laws to change into law violations

• all acts using the legitimate human rights
– done without demanding or obtaining the permission of the government,
– harmful to the Communist Party’s monopole of ruling the country,
– not conformable to the orthodox theme of the government.

• all acts of fighters requiring the legitimate human rights
– even the mindest and nonviolent ones,
– even conformable to the VN constitution and to the International Laws.

Is the regime facing any pressures outside the ruling party ?

The greatest source of pressure that is potentially capable of forcing some changes or even taking down the Vietnamese Communist regime is the power of the people of Vietnam. However, currently, the Vietnamese have yet overcome the enormous fear the Vietnamese Communist Party had imposed over them for the past 60 years through campaigns of terror, execution, brutal torture, and so on. People, therefore have not dared to voice their dissent even though their disenchantment and bitterness against the regime have long reached the boiling point. On the other hand, such fear is on a downward trend. More and more people speak out in recent time to protest and demand the Vietnamese Communist Party to change its policies, to replace the current dictatorship with a pluralistic democracy. The Democracy activists are also stepping up their effort to mobilize people. They firmly believe that only the power of the people could force the Vietnamese Communist Party to change fundamentally, and bring about a successful and sustainable democracy.

Next is the pressure from the international community, especially from countries that are providing aids or holding trade relations with Vietnam, such as the European Union, the USA, Norway, Australia, Japan, etc. With help from these countries, the economy of Vietnam is stabilizing, and thus, the population for their own survival have to accept the regime. Meanwhile, Communists cadres, through bribery and corruption, are those that have reaped the most benefit from international aids and trading partners.

However, we believe that in the near future the international pressure will become more powerful and focused on the Vietnamese Communist rulers when overseas Vietnamese compatriots and activists become more effective in presenting the reality of severe human rights violation in Vietnam before the world community. Upon receiving such plentiful and concrete information, we believe the international community shall act decisively in demanding the Vietnamese authorities cease all political oppressions, respect human and civil rights as defined by international laws and agreements.

We do understand that in order to rally international support, we must first have democracy activists inside Vietnam standing up and speaking out in exposing the government's severe violations of human rights and its carelessness in solving social problems, including corruption, drug abuses, prostitution, children and women trafficking, etc. More and more courageous Vietnamese men and women are standing up and joining the struggle.

In general, Vietnamese Communist regime would only accept changes when there is enough pressure to force them to. Most of the dictatorships would only accept defeat after resorting to all means of violence and still unable to stop the power of the people and international pressure.

Activities of the Alliance and Bloc 8406

Bloc 8406 and the Alliance for Democracy and Human Rights in Viet Nam have followed the roadmap, devised by Bloc 8406, involving 4 phases and 8 steps. Following are the two completed phases:

Phase I:

Exercising the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of the Press as foundation for other civic and human rights.

We have strongly demanded the Vietnamese Communist regime respect basic human rights, first and foremost among which is the right of free speech. Also in this direction, Bloc 8406 has taken the active role of printing and distributing 3 periodicals - Tu Do Ngon Luan (Free Speech), Tu Do Dan Chu (Freedom and Democracy), Que Huong (Motherland) - without asking for permission from the authorities.

Phase II:

Encouraging the re-activation, establishment and expansion of democratic and non-communist political parties.

– We have either established or fostered the environment for the formation and operation of various organizations, such as the Vietnam Progression Party (September 8, 2006), Independent Union (October 20, 2006), Fellowship of Former Religious and Political Prisoners (October 27, 2007), United Farmer-Worker Association (October 30, 2006), Association of Aggrieved Citizens (December 9, 2006), Committee for Human Rights In Viet Nam (December 10, 2006).

– We formed the Alliance for Democracy and Human Rights in Viet Nam (October 16, 2006) to link organizations and political parties in Viet Nam and abroad into a joined force raise a more effective struggle for freedom and democracy.

Furthermore, since their formations, Bloc 8406 and the Alliance also:

– Spoke out against oppression and warn the international community when Vietnamese citizens or democracy activists were being harassed, oppressed, detained, or imprisoned.

– Called on the population to boycott the election to the National Assembly (the 12th term, 2007). Such election only serves to legitimize the puppet National Assembly whose members are pre-chosen exclusively by the Vietnamese Communist Party. As a result, the elected assembly is just the Party's apparatus to create laws and legalize all of its policies for the sake of maintaining its sole control over the population. Also through this National Assembly, the Communist Party arbitrarily generates new laws - albeit blatantly violating the Constitution itself - to ban the activities of the democracy advocates no matter how peacefully expressed, and thereby convict them of breaking the laws.

– Launched the campaign to observe the Democracy Day for Viet Nam on the 1st and 15th of each month. The participants express their support by wearing white shirts on these day.

– Sent representatives abroad to campaign for international support.

What could the free world do to support the democracy movement in Viet Nam?

The international community could be the pivotal force in promoting democracy in Vietnam by:

– Applying, as a matter of highest priority, all forms of influences to force the Vietnamese Communist authorities to accept the existence of at least one independent periodicals, such as the Free Speech Bi-weekly. The newspaper must be printed, and distributed openly and freely at any newsstands. People can read this paper without fear of retribution from the Public Security cadres.

– Pressuring the Vietnamese Communist regime to respect all articles it has promised to uphold upon joining the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, etc., especially, in the area of human rights.

– Conditioning all assistance to the government of Vietnam on its respect of human rights as promised to the world.

– Speaking openly in support of the struggle for human rights, freedom, and democracy for Vietnam.

– Establishing an international list of Countries of Particular Concern for violations of the freedom of expression and information, along with effective measures of sanction.

– Demanding the Vietnamese Communist authorities allow International Red Cross to provide medical care to political and religious prisoners such as Father Nguyen Van Ly and journalist Nguyen Vu Binh.

– Pressuring the Vietnamese Communist government to let international human rights institutions to freely study the condition of human rights in Vietnam, including prison camps, detainment centers, and freely visit political dissidents.

– Demanding the Vietnamese government, as a member of the WTO, must allow foreign companies to invest in areas of communications, broadcasting, Internet services, telephone and postal services, etc. so that the government no longer holds its monopoly in these areas. This in effect will limit the government's ability to suppress the democracy activists by arbitrarily cutting their lines of communication.

Nguyen Chinh Ket