Washington, DC – The Vietnamese government should use the opportunity of the upcoming US-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue to release political prisoners and make commitments to end the persecution of bloggers, land rights activists, and other peaceful critics, Human Rights Watch said today. The 17th US-Vietnam Human Rights dialogue will take place in Hanoi beginning on April 12, 2013.
“The Vietnamese government has produced an avalanche of political show trials as it tries to keep a lid on growing dissent,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “The US should use this opportunity to make it clear that Vietnam needs to engage in serious reforms to improve the rights situation, or there will be severe consequences, including damage to relations with the US.”
According to the United States, the purpose of human rights dialogues is to produce concrete results to narrow the differences between international human rights standards and human rights policies and practices in Vietnam. Human Rights Watch said that the US should make clear that if Vietnam wants to be considered a responsible international partner, it should make strong advances in meeting its international human rights obligations immediately.
Vietnam is bidding for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council and will inevitably face greater scrutiny of its record at the Council’s Universal Periodic Review process.
Human Rights Watch pointed to the large and growing number of criminal convictions of peaceful protesters by Vietnam. In 2012, at least 40 people are known to have been convicted and sentenced to prison in trials that did not meet international due process and fair trials standards. Alarmingly, at least 40 more people were convicted in political trials in just the first six weeks of 2013.
“Last year was a terrible year for dissidents, who were imprisoned in large numbers,” Adams said. “Yet just as many activists were imprisoned after political trials in the first two months of 2013 than in the entire year of 2012. The Vietnamese government needs to realize it cannot solve the country’s huge social and political problems by throwing all its critics in jail.”
In recent months there has been an official campaign to suppress critical comments about the process of amending Vietnam’s constitution. This campaign appears to have been a factor in the arrest on December 27, 2012, of human rights-defending lawyer Le Quoc Quan and in official harassment and intimidation during February and March 2013 against critics like the journalist Nguyen Dac Kien, and Buddhist activist Le Cong Cau. Anonymous thugs threw rotten fish heads and fish intestines at the house of 2012 Hellman/Hammett prize winner, writer Huynh Ngoc Tuan. On April 8 and April 9, bloggers Bui Thi Minh Hang and Nguyen Chi Duc were attacked while police failed to intervene.
Vietnam has held some political prisoners for decades. In some instances these prisoners have been denied proper medical care for deteriorating health conditions. One of these is 66-year-old Nguyen Huu Cau, first detained in 1975, then rearrested in 1982 and held ever since. His health has reportedly deteriorated recently.
As a first urgent and humanitarian step, Human Rights Watch urged Vietnam to grant medical parole to all political prisoners and detainees who, like Nguyen Huu Cau, have serious health problems, followed by expeditious independent and impartial review of their cases to ascertain those who should be unconditionally and permanently released because they have been held solely for peaceful exercise of their fundamental human rights.
Those who appear to be in that category include:Nguyen Huu Cau,Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Ho Duc Hoa,Dang Xuan Dieu, Le Van Son, Nguyen Van Hai, Mai Thi Dung, Nguyen Cong Chinh, Pham Thi Phuong,Ta Phong Tan,Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung, Nguyen Van Ly,Nguyen Dang Minh Man, Tran Thi Thuy,Phung Lam, Do Thi Minh Hanh, Doan Huy Chuong, Cu Huy Ha Vu,Nguyen Tien Trung, Pham Van Thong, Nguyen Ngoc Cuong,Dinh Dang Dinh, Nguyen Xuan Nghia, Tran Vu Anh Binh, Nguyen Kim Nhan, Ho Thi Bich Khuong, Le Thanh Tung,Phan Ngoc Tuan, Vi Duc Hoi, Nguyen Van Lia, Vo Minh Tri, Le Quoc Quan – and many others.
Human Rights Watch called on the Vietnamese government to use the current process of amending the constitution to initiate an urgent program of legal reform aimed at:
· Amending or repealing legal provisions that effectively criminalize peaceful dissent, freedom of expression, and labor organizing;
· Removing all legal hindrances toindependent religious organizations to freely conduct peaceful religious activities;
· Dropping plans for implementing the current “Decree on the Management, Provision, and Use of Internet Services and Information on the Network” and removing filtering, surveillance, and other restrictions on internet usage;
· Abolishing all legal justifications for forced labor and detention without trial for so-called “labor therapy” in cases of drug use or other purposes; and
· Dropping all provisions that make possible land confiscation without due process, just compensation,and independent and impartial means of review.
“For far too long, Vietnam’s government has been given an easy ride on human rights, with the result that the Vietnamese people have suffered increasing abuses,” said Adams. “The roadmap to reform is obvious, but it requires the Vietnamese Communist Party to tolerate dissent and accept the right of people to advocate different views.
U.S. State Dept.’s Daily Press Briefing
Acting Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
April 15, 2013
QUESTION: You had a statement last week about the U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue that took place in Hanoi on Friday. Apparently, two people who were invited to that meeting were prevented from attending, Pham Hong Son and a Nguyen Van Dai. Are you aware of that, and have you raised that issue with the Vietnamese Government?
MR. VENTRELL: We are aware, and we have. Just to give you a little context, as you mentioned, the U.S. and Vietnam held a candid and constructive human rights dialogue on April 12th. The April 12th dialogue with Vietnam covered a number of issues, including religious freedom, rule of law, prisoners of concern, labor rights, and freedom of expression.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Dan Baer was able to meet with Father Ly in prison, but we are troubled that Vietnamese authorities reportedly prevented activists Nguyen Van Dai and Pham Hong Son from meeting with DAS Bear as planned. So this really underscores the need for Vietnam to make continued progress to comply with its international human rights obligations and commitments.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) subsequently on the part of the U.S. Embassy, for example?
MR. VENTRELL: I believe our Embassy has been in touch with these individuals, but this particular meeting was blocked. But I’d have to check if they’re regular interlocutors of our Embassy.
Call to Press Vietnam at Human Rights Dialogue
U.S. lawmakers and rights activists called on President Barack Obama’s administration on Thursday to pressure Vietnam to rein in abuses against bloggers, religious followers, land rights activists, and other government critics on the eve of a bilateral human rights dialogue.
Pointing out that this year Vietnam could end up jailing the biggest number of dissidents in three years, they asked the U.S. State Department to press the communist leadership in Hanoi to curb its “backsliding” on human rights at the annual talks on Friday.
The Congressmen and rights campaigners made the call at a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives’ global human rights panel ahead of the 17th round of the dialogue in Hanoi.
The dialogue has drawn growing attention since talks scheduled for late last year were postponed over U.S. frustration with Vietnam’s lack of improvement on issues discussed the year before.
Vietnam has convicted and sentenced at least 40 dissidents so far this year, matching the 2012 total, Human Rights Watch’s Asia advocacy director John Sifton told the hearing.
“The fact is that a growing number of dissidents—including religious leaders, bloggers, and politically active people—are being convicted and sent to jail for violations of Vietnam’s authoritarian penal code,” he said.
The 2012 figure represented an increase from the year before, and the trials this year have led to new arrests that will likely see more jailings before the end of this year, he said.
Aside from sending dissidents to public trial, authorities use a policy of “stealth repression” to control unsanctioned religious groups by holding their leaders under house arrest and cutting them off from their followers, Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights President Vo Van Ai told the hearing.
Ai, who is also a spokesman for the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), said he is concerned the State Department has underestimated the “unabated” sufferings of UBCV Buddhists “in all aspects of their daily lives.”
“Whilst appreciating the State Department’s reports of abuses against the UBCV, we are concerned that they portray but a pale picture of the systematic policy pressures, harassment, and intimidation faced by UBCV Buddhists,” he said.
Ethnic minorities such as the Montagnards, Hmong, Khmer Krom, and Cham are particularly vulnerable to religious persecution, rights groups representatives said.
“The government of Vietnam persecutes all religions across the board, but in particular those who don’t have a voice,” Vietnamese-American former lawmaker Anh Joseph Cao said.
Religious communities are targeted through forced seizure of their land, such as in the case of the 2010 closure of a Catholic cemetery and homes in Con Dau Parish in Da Nang, he said.
Republican Congressman Chris Smith, who chaired the hearing, called for Vietnam to be put back on the State Department’s annul blacklist of top violators of religious freedom.
He said Vietnam continues to be “among the worst violators of religious freedom in the world,” despite being taken off the list of “Countries of Particular Concern,” a designation that could result in sanctions.
Smith also called for a “critical examination” of the State Department’s recent upgrading of Vietnam in an annual report on human trafficking from “Tier 2 Watch List” to “Tier 2” status.
More attention should be paid to labor and human trafficking abuses taking place “with the government’s complicity,” he said.
Lawmakers and activists said any discussions on human rights at Friday’s dialogue should be backed up with set time frames and benchmarks for improvement.
Ai said that without concrete measures to back up the assertions, Vietnamese authorities were able to use the dialogue as an empty display of respect for human rights.
“They use the human rights dialogue as a shield,” he said.
The State Department said in a statement Thursday that human rights are a “key component” of U.S. relations with Vietnam and that officials are looking forward to a “frank, results-based discussion.”