Leading U.S. diplomat discusses human rights in Viet Nam

CHRC briefing: A presentation by U.S. Embassy Hanoi DCM Jon Aloisi 2-12-08 By Beth Hearn from LCHR Viet Nam could be on a trajectory to multi-party democracy in the next fifteen or twenty years, according to Jon Aloisi, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi. Speaking at a briefing held by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus on Tuesday, Aloisi recognized the severe human rights problems in Viet Nam, but also emphasized the speed of, and potential for, change within the country. There exists a strong desire for economic growth and a positive image both domestically and internationally, which is spurring some development, he said. Regarding recent demonstrations over church land seized by the Vietnamese government several decades ago, Aloisi remarked: “I’m delighted that the Catholics feel they can organize protests to get their land back. It’s a positive sign of the evolution of leadership that has only been possible due to activism.” One element of the change taking place in Viet Nam entails the improved technology available to dissenters – namely, the Internet. There have been attempts to control and monitor this forum for expression, including requirements that people register to use Internet cafes, but these restrictions are “overwhelmed by the tsunami of information flowing into this very young and literate country,” Aloisi said. Yet this is still a country that “reserves the right to drag away any of its citizens, put them in jail and throw away the key,” he added. The red line, or point at which individuals will start to get in trouble with the government, is when these opinions become attempts to organize people for regime change. “You could blog ‘the party sucks,’” Aloisi said. “But if you get a thousand people together and set up ‘thepartysucks.com,’ you’ll get in trouble.” In addition to the Internet activists, Vietnamese dissidents of all types continue to be arrested for political reasons. CHRC Director Hans Hogrefe, said that even when political prisoners are released, sometimes following international pressure, they still face severe restrictions on their movement and activities. Aloisi also discussed the corruption pervading the Vietnamese government. “The entire leadership is involved in this systematic corruption,” he said. “There are some people who want to deal with it, but they don’t know how because they’re all complicit.” In relation to the position of the hill tribes in Viet Nam’s Central Highlands region, Aloisi pointed to some positive changes over the last four years. There has been a reduction in allegations of incidents of human rights abuses, and an improvement in the ability of the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) and diplomats to access the area when incidents do occur. However, he emphasized that this issue is still a matter of real concern. Viet Nam still has a considerable distance to travel along the road to reform, but Aloisi remained optimistic about the potential for progress to be made, emphasizing the importance of ongoing international pressure. “The U.N. Security Council membership is a big step,” he said. “We can use their membership to educate and push for change.”

Mrs. Thi Thanh Kieng Passes Away

Click here to read announcement in Khmer On behalf of the Khmer Kampuchea-Krom Federation, we sadly announce the passing of Mrs. Kieng Thi Thanh. She passed away yesterday at 3:58am in her home, Kissimmee, Florida, United States of America at the young age of 40. We express our sincere and heartfelt condolences to her husband, Mr. Savann Kien and her family.

Mrs. Kieng Thi Thanh (left) and her husband, Mr. Savann Kien
Mr To Kim Thong, KKF Chairman describes Mrs. Kieng as “a very good Khmer Krom woman who was a perfect wife and mother to her family and highly dedicated to her fellow Khmer Krom.” She will be deeply missed by those who knew and worked with her. May her soul and spirit rest in peace. She is survived by her husband and three children. To express you condolences, please contact the following people: Savann Kieng 407-529-4655 Thach Bot 407-234-2320 Lam Thanh Tam:407-421-9786 Thach Doc: 407-227-6437 Thach Ket: 407-666-6233 Ajar Sang: 321-659-6780.

Vietnam: Events of 2007

Originally posted by Human Rights Watch 2007 was characterized by the harshest crackdown on peaceful dissent in 20 years. The government, emboldened by international recognition after joining the World Trade Organization in late 2006, moved to suppress all challenges to the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) by arresting dozens of democracy and human rights activists, independent trade union leaders, underground publishers, and members of unsanctioned religious groups. This reversed a temporary easing of restrictions in 2006, prior to Vietnam�s hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, when independent activism and opposition political parties had surfaced. Of nearly 40 dissidents arrested since the crackdown began, more than 20 were sentenced to prison in 2007, most under Penal Code article 88, conducting anti-government propaganda. In March Roman Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly, a founder of the Bloc 8406 democracy group, was sentenced to eight years in prison. Others sentenced included human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, labor activist Tran Quoc Hien, and at least five opposition party members. Members of independent churches were also imprisoned. Le Tri Tue of the Independent Workers� Union �disappeared� in May after claiming political asylum in Cambodia with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). He was presumed to have been abducted and sent to prison in Vietnam. Prior to the visit of Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet to the United States in June, Vietnam released political prisoners Nguyen Vu Binh, who had served five years, and lawyer Le Quoc Quan, arrested in March 2007 and charged with attempting to overthrow the government after participating in a fellowship at the National Endowment for Democracy in the United States. Eleven people imprisoned on national security charges were reportedly released in a prisoner amnesty in October 2007, but the Vietnamese government did not publicize their names. Despite flouting its international human rights commitments, in October Vietnam was elected to a two-year term on the UN Security Council. Detention without Trial Vietnamese law continues to authorize arbitrary detention without trial. Administrative detention decree 31/CP was repealed in 2007, but a more repressive law, Ordinance 44, authorizes placing people suspected of threatening national security under house arrest or in detention without trial in Social Protection Centers, rehabilitation camps, or mental hospitals. Lawyer Bui Thi Kim Thanh, who assisted farmers with land rights complaints, was arrested in November 2006 and involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. She was released in July 2007. Prisons and Torture Hundreds of religious and political prisoners remain behind bars in harsh conditions throughout Vietnam. Prisoners are placed in solitary confinement in dark, unsanitary cells, and there is compelling evidence of torture and ill-treatment of political prisoners, including beatings and electric shock. A disturbing number of Montagnard prisoners�even those in their thirties�have died shortly after release because of illness attributed to harsh conditions and mistreatment in prison. Freedom of Expression, Information, and Assembly All media in Vietnam is controlled by the government or the VCP. Criminal penalties apply to publications, websites, and internet users that disseminate information that opposes the government, threatens national security, or reveals state secrets. Foreign internet service providers (ISPs) are prohibited from operating. Internet cafe owners are required to obtain customers� photo identification, which is supplied to Vietnamese ISPs. The ISPs are required to install monitoring software that identifies internet users and their online activities, and store the information for a year. The government monitors online activity and blocks websites covering human rights, religious freedom, democracy groups, and independent media. Website owners must obtain government approval for website content. Internet users such as Truong Quoc Huy, whose trial is expected by the end of the year, have been imprisoned for alleged national security crimes after participating in pro-democracy discussion forums or using the internet to disseminate views disfavored by the government. In February police detained and questioned Roman Catholic priests Chan Tin and Phan Van Loi, editors of Freedom of Speech. In April police arrested Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, an editor of the dissident bulletin Fatherland. In September the government ordered the closure of Intellasia, an Australian-owned website in Hanoi, charging that it disseminated �reactionary� material. Decree 38 bans public gatherings in front of places where government, Party, and international conferences are held, and requires organizers to obtain advance government permission. In July Ho Chi Minh City police dispersed a month-long peaceful protest by hundreds of farmers�many of them elderly women�against government land seizures. Religion Vietnamese law requires that all religious groups register with the government and bans religious activities deemed to cause public disorder, harm national security, or “sow divisions.” During 2007 the Minh Ly Sect in southern Vietnam and the more pro-government part of the Mennonite church in Vietnam were granted legal registration. Other Mennonites in Vietnam, such as those affiliated with Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang in Ho Chi Minh City, a former prisoner of conscience, continued to be harassed. While most Roman Catholics are able to practice their religion, those who advocate for political and civil rights have been harassed, imprisoned, or threatened with arrest. Monks from the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), including top leaders Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do, have been largely confined to their pagodas, and after Thich Quang Do spoke at the farmers� demonstration in Ho Chi Minh City in July the government increased its harassment and surveillance of the UBCV. In March UBCV monk Thich Thien Mien, who formed an association of former political and religious prisoners following his release in 2005 after 26 years in prison, was interrogated by police for alleged anti-government activities. Four Hoa Hao Buddhists in Dong Thap were sentenced to prison terms of four to six years in 2007 for “causing public disorder” after protesting the imprisonment of Hoa Hao members in 2006. In February 2007 several hundred ethnic Khmer (known as Kampuchea Krom) Buddhist monks in Soc Trang peacefully demonstrated for religious freedom. Police dispersed the demonstration and arrested protest leaders, with five later sentenced to two to four years imprisonment for “causing public disorder”. Tim Sakhorn, a Kampuchea Krom monk from Cambodia who had been defrocked and deported to Vietnam in June by Cambodian authorities was sentenced to a years’ imprisonment at a trial in Vietnam in November on charges of undermining national unity (see Cambodia chapter). Ethnic minority Christians belonging to independent house churches continue to be harassed, pressured to join government-authorized churches, and arrested. Most congregations that tried to legally register were rejected or received no response. In Phu Yen province the government recognized-Evangelical Church of Vietnam reported that an Ede Christian died in April 2007 after being detained and beaten by police for not renouncing his religion. In July police and soldiers forcibly evicted ethnic minority Stieng Christians from their farms in Binh Phuoc, beating some of the villagers and bulldozing their crops and homes. An independent report facilitated by UNHCR in 2007 found “severe forms of religion-based punitive action” against Montagnard Christians in the Central Highlands. During 2007 at least 13 Montagnards were sentenced to prison, joining more than 350 Montagnards imprisoned on national security charges since 2001 for peaceful political or religious activities, or trying to seek asylum in Cambodia. A steady trickle of Montagnard asylum seekers fled to Cambodia, with many forcibly turned back by Cambodian border police. Problems remained in monitoring conditions in the Central Highlands without hindrance: after a UNHCR visit to Dak Lak in June, police detained and beat a Montagnard who had helped translate for the delegation. Labor Members of independent trade unions are arrested and harassed, with at least six members of the United Worker-Farmers Organization arrested since 2006. In 2007 the government announced it would raise the minimum monthly salary for workers in foreign companies for the first time in six years. Despite this, unprecedented numbers of workers-mostly at South Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese, and Singaporean enterprises-continued to strike for better pay and working conditions. A new draft law would fine workers who participate in “illegal” strikes not approved by the VCP-controlled union confederation. Decrees issued in 2007 enable local officials to force striking workers back to work, and ban strikes in strategic sectors including power stations, railways, airports, post offices, and oil, gas, and forestry enterprises. Women While Vietnam’s National Assembly has among the highest proportion of women representatives of any Asian country and laws prohibiting gender discrimination and trafficking, poor legal enforcement leaves many women disenfranchised and subject to domestic violence, trafficking, landlessness, growing rates of HIV/AIDS, and low school enrollment rates. Vietnam continues to be a source of and transit point for women and children trafficked for forced prostitution, fraudulent marriages, and forced domestic servitude to China, Cambodia, Taiwan, Malaysia, and South Korea. Sex workers, trafficking victims, and street peddlers’officially classified by the government as “social evils” are routinely rounded up and detained without warrants in compulsory “rehabilitation” centers, where they are subject to beatings and sexual abuse. Key International Actors Vietnam�s donors, including the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, and Japan, pledged US$4.4 billion for 2007, which represents 15 percent of its annual budget. Vietnam�s largest trading partners are China, Japan, the US, and Singapore. In March 2007 33 countries made demarches to the Vietnamese government condemning the arrest of dissidents. In May the European Union called for the release of all nonviolent political activists, followed in July by a European Parliament resolution condemning the crackdown. Relations with the United States continued to warm as the US granted Vietnam Permanent Normal Trade Relations at the end of 2006 and removed it from the US list of religious freedom violators. However, President Bush raised concerns about human rights with President Triet during their June 2007 White House meeting.