Clinton Presses Vietnam on Rights Record

Posted on July 10, 2012


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung during a meeting in Hanoi on Tuesday. (July 10, 2012)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for closer ties between Washington and its former wartime foe Vietnam, even as she said the government in Hanoi isn’t doing enough to respect human rights.

Speaking in the Vietnamese capital on Tuesday in the midst of a cross-Asia tour, Mrs. Clinton touted the widening commercial links between the two nations, with trade reaching $22 billion in 2011, from $1 billion in 2001. The two countries have also moved closer in recent years as Vietnam seeks more support in its long-running disputes with China. Beijing’s extensive territorial claims in the resource-rich South China Sea overlap with those of Vietnam and other Southeast Asian nations, leading to growing fears of a regional conflict.

Mrs. Clinton said she hoped Asian leaders would work together to come up with a solution to the territorial disputes. She encouraged the development of a fresh code of conduct for activities in the sea at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit this week in Cambodia, to ensure future disagreements are resolved amicably.

“The U.S. greatly appreciates Vietnam’s contribution to a collaborative, diplomatic resolution of disputes and the reduction of tensions in the South China Sea,” Mrs. Clinton said at a briefing after meetings with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh.

But Mrs. Clinton said she remains concerned that Vietnam’s government isn’t doing enough to protect the rights of its citizens, including protections for free expression online. Vietnam has at times instructed Internet-service providers to block access to sites such as Facebook FB -2.18% and Twitter in recent years, while police have detained some well-known bloggers. Human-rights groups say such actions are designed to limit dissent.

“I know there are some who argue that developing economies need to put economic growth first and worry about political reform and democracy later, but that is a short-sided bargain,” Mrs. Clinton said. “So I also raised concerns about human rights, including the continued detentions of activists, lawyers, and bloggers, for the peaceful expression of opinions and ideas.”

Mr. Minh said at the briefing he was hopeful that relations between the countries would continue to warm, however, especially through economic links.

“The potential to boost economic cooperation between the two countries is huge, and we hope the U.S. will become the top foreign investor in Vietnam in the near future,” he said.

U.S. officials are keen to keep promoting commercial ties between the two countries, to create new opportunities for American companies abroad and to help shore up relations with Hanoi as Washington seeks to contain China’s influence in the region.

Although Vietnam has been a major destination for U.S. investment in recent years, it has become somewhat less attractive more recently because of macroeconomic instability, marked by high rates of inflation and a series of currency devaluations. Analysts have argued Vietnam needs to pursue more economic overhauls, including steps to privatize state companies, to give its economy a new boost.

At an American Chamber of Commerce event in Hanoi Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton said she was encouraging Vietnamese officials to keep reforming the economy, especially by opening markets further to private investment. She said the U.S. was also doing its part by joining with local companies and nongovernmental organizations to boost skills training and build a better-educated workforce—long a concern for major multinational companies operating in Vietnam such as Intel INTC -2.33% Corp..

Patrick Barta

Clinton raps Vietnam on rights, sees limits to ties

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers a speech during a meeting with the business community in Hanoi July 10, 2012.

HANOI (Reuters) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Vietnam’s human rights record on Tuesday, especially its restriction of free speech online, and her aides said there were limits to better ties until it improved.

During a brief visit to Vietnam, a one-party state that is dominated by the Communist Party, Clinton also rejected the idea that economic growth should be given priority over democratic freedoms, arguing that the two “go hand in hand”.

U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said the United States, which provides its former adversary nonlethal military equipment, would not consider selling lethal equipment unless the country’s human rights record improved considerably.

The sea change in relations between the two countries since the Vietnam War’s is reflected in their economic ties – with trade reaching $22 billion last year, officials said.

It has also been driven, to some degree, in recent years by the Vietnamese perception that the United States can act as a counterweight to Chinese influence in the region, notably in disputes over the South China sea.

“If Vietnam is going to continue developing and transition to an innovative, entrepreneurial economy … there will have to be more space created for the free exchange of ideas, to strengthen the rule of law and respect the universal rights of all workers, including the right to unionize,” Clinton said.

At a news conference with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh, Clinton said that in their talks she had “raised concerns about human rights, including the continued detention of activists, lawyers and bloggers for the peaceful expression of opinions and ideas.

“In particular, we are concerned about restrictions on free expression online and the upcoming trial of the founders of the so-called Free Journalists Club,” she said.

According to Human Rights Watch, Vietnam has detained the club’s founding members – three of the country’s most prominent bloggers and activists – for almost a year without trial for using the Internet to exercise their rights.

The rights group identified the three as Nguyen Van Hai, Phan Thanh Hai and Ta Phong Tan.

“There are some who argue that developing economies need to put economic growth first and worry about political reform and democracy later. But that is a short-sighted bargain,” she said. “Political reform and economic growth are linked.”

In addition to meeting Vietnam’s prime minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, Clinton also requested, and obtained, a meeting with the general secretary of the Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong.

A senior U.S. official told reporters that Clinton wanted to see Trong in part because resistance to political freedoms and to closer ties with the United States was strongest within the party, Vietnam’s military and its state security apparatus.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Trong appeared discomfited by Clinton’s detailed presentation of U.S. human rights concerns, which included citing specific cases that Washington has raised for years.

“He was uncomfortable in the session,” the official said, saying he believed “more and more of the people on the senior side … are coming around a little bit to a recognition that this (improving human rights) is going to be necessary for them”.


Vietnam: Clinton Should Spotlight Internet Freedom

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vietnam’s President Truong Tan Sang meet on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Honolulu, Hawaii on November 10, 2011.

(New York) – United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should publicly press Vietnam to respect freedom of expression and Internet freedom, and release prominent Internet bloggers when she visits Hanoi on July 10, 2012.

Restrictions on Internet freedom have been a serious problem in Vietnam since May 2004, when the government began to firewall critical websites.

A new draft Decree on Management, Provision, and Use of Internet Services and Information on the Network revealed by Ministry of Information and Communications in April 2012 extends many speech crimes to the Internet and requires companies to filter whatever the government finds objectionable. In a country where newspapers, TV, and radio are strictly controlled by the government, the Internet is one of the few bastions of free expression.

“Secretary Clinton should urge Vietnam to strip out rights-restricting provisions of the draft Internet decree before it reaches the National Assembly,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “As written, the decree is a recipe for further criminal prosecutions of bloggers and free speech activists because almost anything the Vietnam authorities construe as criticism could be banned.”

Article 5 of the draft decree prohibits any act “abusing the provision and use of the Internet and information on the web” which can be arbitrarily interpreted as to “oppose the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” “undermining the grand unity of all people,” or “undermining the fine customs and traditions of the nation.” Article 24 requires foreign-based companies who provide information in Vietnamese language to collaborate with the authorities to filter and eliminate any prohibited information interpreted as “prohibited acts” stated in article 5. Similarly, article 25 requires the filtering of any information on the Internet interpreted as “prohibited acts” stated in article 5. And article 29 requires individuals who use domestic and foreign social network services to make sure that any information she circulates and/or provides links to does not contain prohibited content.

Human Rights Watch said that Vietnam has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and is obliged under article 19 of that treaty to respect freedom of expression. Article 69 of Vietnam’s constitution also establishes the right to freedom of speech and right to receive information.

On May 23, the Global Network Initiative (GNI), a coalition of civil society organizations and corporations that includes Human Rights Watch, issued a press release expressing deep concern over “the free speech and privacy implications of the Government of Vietnam’s Draft” of the Internet decree. GNI noted that the draft legislation “if made into law, would oblige Internet companies and other providers of information to Internet users in Vietnam to cooperate with the government in enforcing overbroad provisions that are inconsistent with international human rights standards.” GNI urged the Vietnamese government to “address these issues as it finalizes the decree.”

The US Embassy in Hanoi also raised concerns on June 6 in written comments on the draft of the Internet decree sent to the Vietnam government, highlighting serious issues involving the potential human rights and economic impacts of the decree. The Embassy called the provisions in article 5 of the decree “overly broad and vague” and raised concern about intermediary liability requirements because “requiring service providers to enforce such broad prohibitions and be subject to liability for failure to do so will likely lead to restrictions on legitimate content.”

“Clinton should press Vietnam to tear down its Internet firewall, and live up to its international human rights commitments, starting with respect for freedom of expression, association, and peaceful public assembly,” Robertson said. “Ending Vietnam’s backsliding on human rights is a critical test that must be met for any sort of deeper US-Vietnam relationship to thrive.”

Persecution of Bloggers
Vietnam continues to harass, intimidate, arrest, and imprison bloggers and online activists, often using draconian provisions of the penal code, including article 88 that prohibits “conducting propaganda against the state” and sets out penalties of up to 20 years in prison. In the last three years, Vietnam authorities have imprisoned more than a dozen prominent bloggers and activists for using the Internet to express their opinions and advance their causes. The list included bloggers Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Vi Duc Hoi, Ho Thi Bich Khuong, Nguyen Tien Trung, and Nguyen Ba Dang, and Internet-using activists like Father Nguyen Van Ly, Dr. Cu Huy Ha Vu, lawyer Le Cong Dinh, and others.

The police have also detained three of the country’s most prominent bloggers and activists for almost a year without trial for using the Internet to exercise their rights. These bloggers are the three founding members of Club for Free JournalistsNguyen Van Hai (a.k.a Dieu Cay), Phan Thanh Hai (a.k.a Anhbasg), and Ta Phong Tan. Several other bloggers, including blogger Le Van Son (a.k.a Paulus Le Son), Le Thanh Tung, and Dinh Dang Dinh, have also been held for many months without trial.

Such actions violate rights and run counter to the growing international recognition of the importance of protecting freedom of expression on the Internet. On June 29, 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution on the Promotion, Protection, and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet that “affirms that same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular, freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice…”

The Vietnamese government has recently indicated it plans to seek a seat on the UN Human Rights Council in the near future.

As a first step to show its commitment to the principles of human rights and respect for UN decisions, Human Rights Watch said that Vietnam should publicly guarantee it will respect freedom of the Internet and demonstrate that commitment by immediately and unconditionally releasing all people who have been detained and/or imprisoned for their opinions and activism on the Internet and revising the draft Internet decree.

“These political prisoners and detainees are using the Internet to exercise basic rights,” said Robertson. “By detaining activists and pressing forward with rights-violating provisions of the draft Internet decree, Hanoi is showing just how problematic its candidacy for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council is.”

Human Rights Watch

Blogger Slashed by Thugs

Nguyen Huu Vinh in an undated photo.

The attack on the Vietnamese netizen comes amid a crackdown on anti-China demonstrations.

An outspoken Vietnamese blogger has been attacked by knife-wielding thugs after he took part in an anti-China rally in Hanoi amid a government crackdown on activists who attended the rare public demonstrations.

Catholic blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh said a group of local thugs came to his house in Hanoi’s Giap Bat precinct on Sunday after he came from the demonstrations.

“They charged into my house to beat me and slash me with a large knife right after I was at the anti-China demonstration,” Vinh told RFA’s Vietnamese service.

Vinh received cuts on the neck, back, chest, and hands before neighbors responded to his calls for help and the thugs ran away.

He said the ringleader of the group was the son of the head of a neighborhood committee, the lowest level of local government administration.

“They were not police, but a group of thugs organized by the local urban population group head Nguyen Xuan Ky’s son,” he charged. The charge could not be immediately verified with the authorities.

Vietnamese authorities have harassed other netizens and activists who participated in or tried to attend the anti-China rallies in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City on July 1 and 8.

Public demonstrations are rarely allowed in Vietnam and the rallies, sparked by territorial disputes in the South China Sea, have been led by dissidents and activists.

Local police
Vinh, a former policeman in his mid-50s, said he called local police twice for help and to report the incident but that they arrived at his home after a long delay.

The Giap Bat precinct deputy police chief was at the scene and submitted a report that evening, followed by other police personnel the next day, Vinh said.

Vinh said he had never had any personal conflicts with the attackers and did not know why they would go after him.

He warned police not to allow impunity for those who act illegally against him and his family.

“When working with the Giap Bat precinct police, I made clear that I strongly protest any action of harboring individuals … who threaten me and threaten my life or spy on my family and invade our privacy, among other things,” he said.

Controversial blog
Vinh, who blogs about social injustice, official corruption, and Hanoi’s response to Chinese “aggression” in the South China Sea, has been questioned more than 30 times by the authorities over his writing, including by the Ministry of Public Security.

Vinh said that on those occasions he told the authorities his writing is truthful and it would be illegal to make him stop.

“All of my writings are based in truth and reality. If you want to prohibit me from writing these realities, you should get the National Assembly to promulgate a law banning people from telling the truth. Then I’ll abide by that law,” Vinh said.

“I want to live in a society under a state of law in which everything must be clear and transparent,” he added.

Vinh is a member of the Archdiocese of Hanoi and many of his articles have documented on repression of Roman Catholics in Vietnam, including Hanoi’s Thai Ha parish.

His blog was hacked in 2010 amid a series of cyberattacks on dissident websites that media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said may have been part of a government crackdown.

He has witnessed, blogged about, and posted photos of religious crackdowns and land seizures, as well the anti-China rallies this year and last year.

He said that despite efforts to intimidate him he would not stop attending the demonstrations.

“I feel moved when seeing posters held high by my fellow anti-China demonstrators expressing their patriotism. I believe that every Vietnamese citizen has that obligation and I myself also have such an obligation, so I continue to take part in the demonstrations,” Vinh said.

Fellow blogger Huynh Thuc Vy, from Vietnam’s Quang Nam province, was detained by police and driven from Ho Chi Minh City to her hometown after attending a rally the week before.

Several other bloggers said they had been prevented from attending the demonstrations.

Last year, authorities allowed the first of the anti-China demonstrations to go ahead without disruption, but detained dozens of participants at later protests following talks between Hanoi and Beijing.

Calls for release
The attack on Vinh came as New York-based international watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to press Vietnam for the release of prominent bloggers during her visit to Hanoi on Tuesday.

The country has imprisoned more than a dozen bloggers and activists in the past three years for using the Internet to promote their causes and express their opinions, the organization said.

“Vietnam continues to harass, intimidate, arrest, and imprison bloggers and online activists” who are exercising their basic rights of expression, it said.

‘I Tried To Speak Up for My Country’

Unfazed by police intimidation, Vietnamese blogger Huynh Thuc Vy vows she will not be silenced.

RFAVietnamese blogger Huynh Thuc Vy in an undated photo.

Huynh Thuc Vy, 26, blogs about democracy, human rights, and political violence in Vietnam, a country rated rated by Reporters Without Borders as one of the world’s top “Enemies of the Internet.”

The daughter of a dissident who spent 10 years in jail for his writings, Huynh Thuc Vy has faced fines from authorities for her “propaganda” and endured a raid on her family’s home last year, when police confiscated their computers.

On July 1, Huynh Thuc Vy went Ho Chi Minh City to take part in an anti-China demonstration. Three days later, she was taken into custody and driven to her home province of Quang Nam, where police interrogated and harassed her in what she believes was an attempt to scare her into avoiding further protests.

She spoke to RFA’s Nanh Kanh about her ordeal on July 6, just after returning home:

Everything started happening after [the demonstration on] July 1. On July 4 I went to the police station in Tan Quy Ward, District 7 in Ho Chi Minh City. Police kept me there for three hours. I intended to go home with my husband, but when we left the station police from my home province came and forced me into their van and took me away without my husband.

I didn’t know which street or road we were traveling on, until finally I realized we were going back to my hometown. The van went very fast, and during the trip the personnel in the van interrogated me and were harassing me and terrorizing me.

When the van stopped at Tam Ky [the capital city of my home province] the security police of the PA 61 office [a special branch of the police] came to meet me and asked many questions of me repeatedly for a long time. I know that they knew the answers already, but they continued to ask me.


They were intentionally terrorizing me and harassing me. They kept asking the same questions over and over again.

They asked me about the purpose of my writing, the purpose of the demonstration, and how I knew about the demonstration. They wanted to know how we communicated as organizers. They wanted to know if my father approved of me attending the demonstration, where I stayed in Ho Chi Minh City, and who I stayed with.

They asked many private questions, like about my email address, my username on Skype, and my passwords, but I wouldn’t tell them. They tried to trap me to make it look like I was denouncing my friends who took part in the demonstration.

They wanted me to talk about Hang Bui [a nationalist demonstrator who was arrested and sent to jail after anti last year’s anti-China demonstrations]. I told them I don’t care about her past, what her ideas are, or her behavior. To me she is a patriotic demonstrator. She tried to do the best thing for our country, so I respect her.

Around 9:30 pm on July 5 I finally got home, but they dumped me out of the van a few kilometers away from my home, so I had to walk all the way back at night.

The whole time I was in the police station I didn’t eat or drink. They only gave me a little water and a little rice porridge. I was starving. I felt very exhausted because they kept interrogating me and I had to work with many different people. They wouldn’t say the reason why they detained me.


I guess that they are afraid that I will participate in the next demonstration next weekend. I think that’s why they forced me to go back to my hometown. They are trying to control me during that time.

I tried to speak up for my country to show how much I love it and the people.

The police asked me if I had just participated in the demonstration or whether I was an organizer who had encouraged other people to join. Actually, I just wanted to participate to show how much I love my country.

International rules

Actually, the Vietnamese police act like gangsters. It makes me feel ashamed because they present themselves one way, but act totally lawlessly.

I’ll do whatever it takes to show the basic human rights of the citizens of Vietnam, but they told me that it was illegal because the laws of Vietnam are different from those in other countries. They explained that as a Vietnamese, I must follow Vietnamese law.

I said, when you’re playing a soccer match, do you follow the laws of Vietnam or do you play according to international rules? They went silent because they had no answer to that.

Even if they arrest or detain or kidnap me, I’ll still keep my faith that I will never stop doing what I can for my country.

They’ve taken many of my family’s laptops. We had to save money instead of eating to buy those, but they took many of them away from us. Right now we are dealing with many difficulties in our family. I will try to continue my efforts to fight to make Vietnam better in the future.