Vietnam Sucker-Punches the on Human Rights

andReligious Freedom

by Michael Benge – April 27, 2013

For years, the AmericanEmbassy, the State Department, and the Senate have enabled communist Vietnam, ignoring the regime’s abuses of religious freedom andhuman rights to allow it privileged access to and international investments, markets, and donoraid. Now, Vietnam has sucker punched the by increasing its repression.

On April 11, the HouseCommittee on Foreign Affairs, chaired by Congressman Chris Smith, highlighted alitany of abuses by the communist Vietnamese. Congressman Smith explained thatthe House of Representatives had twice passed the Human Rights Acton Vietnam, only to have it rejected by the Senate. He noted the repeatedrecommendations by both the House and the United States Commission onInternational Religious Freedom to have the Department of State designate Vietnam as a “Country of Particular Concern” (CPC)for its ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom, as is required bythe InternationalReligious Freedom Act of 1998.

John Sifton, from Human Rights Watch — Asia, reported that”Police brutality, including torture in detention and fatal beatings,continued to be reported in all regions of the country.” His testimonycovered a plethora of human rights abuses, starting with fact that “agrowing number of dissidents — including religious leaders, bloggers, andpolitically active people — are being convicted and sent to jail forviolations of Vietnam’s authoritarian penal code, which prohibits publiccriticism of the government and the communist party. Others are jailed forexposing corruption.”

Former Congressman Anh”Joseph” Cao said, “Since 2007, Vietnam has been backsliding on human rights, and is now theproud possessor of the title ‘The Worse Violator of Human Rights in Southeast Asia‘. Political opposition is outlawed; repression ofdissidents intensified; severe restrictions on freedom of expression imposed;bloggers and peaceful activists are arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. In mostcases, national security has been cited as a pretext for the illegal arrestsand criminal investigations. One of the main groups of people who have sufferedgreatly under Vietnam‘s opposition has been the religious faithful and leaders.”

Religious abuses

Vietnam is an equal opportunity religious rights abuser: its targets includeProtestants, Catholics, Buddhists, Hoa Hao, and CaoDai as well. The regimefears all religions as an organized threat to its own political religion –communism.

On March 17, VamNgaij Vaj, a Hmong elder and leader of a protestant church in Cu JutDistrict, Dak Nong Province, was savagely tortured and then beaten to death bypolice officials. This is not an isolated incident, but commonplace. Vaj’sbattered body showed extensive marks from electric shocks with cattle prods,which are often used to torture prisoners. His torture and murder is an exampleof how police officials intimidate and terrorize Christian ethnic minorities inthe Central and NorthernHighlandsVietnam

Anna Buonya, representingthe Montagnard Human Rights Organization, testified about the persecution of abroad spectrum of ethnic minorities, adding that entire Hmong villages havebeen destroyed by Vietnamese authorities because they practiced Christianity.In the past few years, over 4000 Montagnard house churches have been destroyed.There are currently over 400 Montagnard Christians, many of them preachers, whohave been imprisoned for their religious and political beliefs; some for aslong as 16 years. She stated that it is common practice by the Vietnameseauthorities to deny prisoners clean water, sufficient food, and family visits.

Robbing the faithful

Ms. Buonya also spoke ofanother form of persecution. Most ethnic minorities in the central highlandslive on a small plot of marginal land covered with scrub brush, on which theyare barely able to grow subsistence crops to feed their families. Often, afterthey have carved out fields, built homes, improved the land, and planted, theirland is taken by the government when the crops are ready to harvest –confiscated with no compensation or recourse. The family is arrested on thespurious charge of “destroying forest” and the newly-developed landis sold to ethnic Vietnamese settlers or to large agricultural companies toplant cash crops such as rubber. The money from the stolen land goes to linethe pockets of local officials.

Also testifying before thecommittee was Tien Thanh Tran, a member of the Con Dau Catholic Parish in theDiocese of Da Nang, which has 135 years of history. On May 4, 2010, during a funeral for a 90-year-old parishioner,several hundred police and members of the Fatherland Front — a parastatalgroup used for government-sanctioned thuggery — attacked the procession andbrutally beat over 100 parishioners, including men, women, and children, andarrested more than 60 persons. The prisoners were repeatedly tortured withcattle prods and beatings to the head, back, and legs; some weeks on end. Atleast one prisoner died from this abuse. Mr. Tran suffered multiple injuries,including having both eardrums broken and a hole pierced in his eye.

The purpose of these brutalacts is to force the parishioners to leave so local officials can expropriatethe land from the church and its members and sell it at a huge profit for selfenrichment; while simultaneously wiping out this historical Catholic parish. OnDecember 19, 2012, police and thugsbroke into the house of a remaining parishioner at lunch time to beat up thewife and rape a woman in front of her husband and two daughters. Similar abuseshave happened in other Catholic parishes across Vietnam

Behind Hanoi‘s mask

Vo Van Ai, InternationalSpokesman of the United Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), testified that theUBCV is “Vietnam’s largest religious organization and has a history ofpeaceful social activism and moral reform,” yet UBCV’s 85-year-oldPatriarch Thich Quang Do remains under house arrest, and the UBCV is outlawedby the communist government. He said, “Whilst appreciating the StateDepartment’s reports of abuses against the UBCV, we are concerned that theyportray but a pale picture of the systematic police pressures, harassment andintimidation faced by UBCV Buddhists in every aspect of their dailylives.” The UBCV “has faced decades of harassment and repression forseeking independent status and for appealing to the government to respectreligious freedom and related human rights.” Vo Van Ai called upon theState Department to “look behind Hanoi‘s mask, beyond the veneer of State-sponsored freedomof worship, and recognize the full extent of religious repression.”

The U.S. Commission on InternationalReligious Freedom reports that the UBCV has suffered marked increases inbeatings, arrests, detention (up to 15 years), and harassment of groups andindividuals viewed as hostile to the communist party. The UBCV is preventedfrom carrying out educational and charitable activities and from celebratingreligious occasions, such as Buddha’s birthday, and dignitaries are preventedfrom traveling and meeting together. Believers are under threat of losing theirjobs and having their children expelled from school.

Hanoi has also set up a series of phony churches, templesand monasteries, as well as purported religious institutions; and when visitingdelegations from the or other countries are there to investigatereligious freedoms they are actually taken to these false fronts.Alternatively, they may be shown actual places of worship but met there bycommunist officials (công an tôn giáo) — wolves in sheep’s clothing –disguised in the robes of Catholic priests, Buddhists monks, and Protestantpreachers. These double agents spoon-feed disinformation to naïve orregime-enabling Western embassy and Foreign Service officials, and to humanrights and religious freedom investigators.

Nowhere to run

Ms. Buonya and otherstestified that there is no safe haven for asylum-seekers fleeing human rightsabuses. She told of two Montagnards who have suffered severe persecution andphysical beatings by the Vietnamese police and have been in hiding for severalyears. Miraculously, they were finally able to obtain an interview with theU.S. consulate while yet in hiding, only to be told by the InternationalOrganization for Migration that unless they obtained a passport from theVietnamese government, their application would be denied.

Even if they are able toescape to Thailand, the Montagnards face rejection by the UnitedNations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), upon which they could be arrestedand put in immigration detention. Worse yet, they could be sent back to Vietnam. For years, Vietnamese agents of influence implantedwithin UNHCR have held sway over the agency regarding refugees. Because ofthis, many refugees are returned; such was the case when refugee camps wereclosed in Cambodia. Many more refugees have been detained in Thailand for several years. Even though some have immediatefamily in the United States; the American Embassy is unwilling to intervene ontheir behalf.

And the band plays on

Communist Vietnam hasviolated every agreement it has made with the United States. Even so, the government continues to bend over backward toappease this regime. In the process, the has given away nearly all its leverage to influence Vietnam‘s human rights abuses. The only significant leverremaining is the ongoing “Trans-PacificPartnership (TPP)” negotiations. The free-trade TPP negotiatingpartners include AustraliaBruneiDarussalamCanadaChileMalaysiaMexicoNew ZealandSingapore, and the , is holding separate talks with Vietnam for its inclusion.

Before Vietnam is given the advantages of inclusion in this newtrade pact, there must be vast improvements in the areas of human rights,religious freedom, and free trade unions.

Michael Benge spent 11years in Vietnam as a foreign service officer and isa student of South East Asian politics. He is very active in advocating forhuman rights, religious freedom, and democracy for the peoples of the regionand has written extensively on these subjects.


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