Why do we ignore the Vietnamese people’s plight?

By Bruce Kesler

How can I ask you to think about the Vietnamese people when U.S. interests are absorbed by the crises in the Middle East, the nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea, or in big power diplomacy with Russia and China?

Simple answer: If our principles and efforts in those crises mean anything, some consistency is required, particularly where they can do some tangible, near-term good, and if our pledges to Iraqis or Israelis mean anything, they must be demonstrated to the people of our prior war.

The United States holds the key to Vietnam’s much desired entry into the World Trade Organization, and must first insist on concrete and verifiable compliance by Vietnam in meeting its so far hollow human rights pledges.

Instead,across political party lines, U.S. commercial interests are more committed to their potential profits foregoing this leverage regardless of the human price, and withstrong Bush administration support have lobbied so far successfully for Congress to approve Permanent Normal Trade Relations for Vietnam to enter the WTO. President Bush is planned to visit Vietnam next November, and aside from the theory this would leverage relations with China, would welcome a peaceful coexistence demonstration with this former enemy.

Yet,President Bush crows in Moscow, as negotiations are unsuccessful for U.S. support of Russia entering the WTO, that

“We’re tough negotiators,” Bush said when a Russian reporter asked about U.S. resistance. “And the reason why is because we want the agreement that we reach to be accepted by our United States Congress.”

Where’s the “tough negotiators” for the Vietnamese people’s human rights?

In today’s Washington Post, afeature article trumpets Vietnam’s expanding economy and its trade prospects:

“WTO seems to be motivating quite a considerable amount of change in Vietnam,” said Jonathan Pincus, senior country economist for the U.N. Development Program. “The vast majority of that change has been positive. The vast majority of that change is still to come.”
Entry to the WTO would follow nearly two decades of economic liberalization that helped transform Vietnam into one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies. Despite widespread corruption and bureaucratic lassitude, Vietnam’s economy has expanded by 50 percent in the last five years.

But, not a word in this Washington Post feature article out of over 1200 about the sad state of human rights in Vietnam.

This is curious, to say the least, from a newspaper that along with others in the major media are so quick to headline the latest charges about U.S. purported human rights failures in the War On Terror. Even more curious is that the leftist staff in NGO Human Rights Watch’s Middle East section are the source of so many such criticisms, yet when theExecutive Director of HRW’s Asia Division just issued a scathing open letter to Vietnam’s Prime Minister about Vietnam’s well documented depredations, the Washington Post and the rest of the MSM can’t find room to feature it.

Some examples from HRW:

* As you know, Article 19 of the ICCPR provides for the right to freedom of expression. In contrast, Vietnam’s Law on Publications strictly bans publications that oppose the government, divulge state secrets, or disseminate reactionary ideas. According to Vietnam’s Press Law, the role of the media is to serve as the voice of the party and state. There are no privately-owned media outlets; all publications are published by the government, the Party, or Party-controlled organizations.

In addition, the government controls the Internet by blocking websites considered objectionable or politically sensitive, monitoring email and on-line forums, and making Internet café owners responsible for information accessed and transferred on the Internet by their customers.

* Article 21 of the ICCPR recognizes the right of peaceful assembly, and Article 22 provides for the right to freedom of association with others. In Vietnam, however, political parties, unions, and nongovernmental human rights organizations that are independent of the government, the Party or mass organizations controlled by the Party are not allowed to operate. Public demonstrations are extremely rare, especially after government crackdowns against mass protests in the Central Highlands in 2001 and 2004.

* Followers of religions that are not officially recognized by the government continue to be persecuted. Security officials disperse their religious gatherings, confiscate religious literature, and summon religious leaders to police stations for interrogation.
* Hundreds of religious and political prisoners remain behind bars in prisons throughout Vietnam, including in Ha Nam, Dong Nai, Phu Yen, Nghe An / Ha Tinh, and Thanh Hoa provinces. There is compelling evidence of torture and other mistreatment of detainees. Prison conditions are extremely harsh and fall far short of international standards. We have received reports of solitary confinement of detainees in cramped, dark, unsanitary cells; and of police beating, kicking, and using electric shock batons on detainees, or allowing inmates or prison gangs to carry out beatings of fellow prisoners with impunity.

Police officers routinely arrest and detain suspects without written warrants. The judicial system is vulnerable to government or party interference and pressure. Trials of dissidents are closed to the public, the media, and often to the families of the detainees themselves. Defendants often do not have access to independent legal counsel.

Similarly, in June the

President of the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and Vice-President of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), wrote to UN Secretary-general Kofi Annan, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Louise Arbour and the President of the UN Human Rights Council, Luis Alfonso de Alba to draw their attention to the gross and systematic human rights violations in Vietnam, which he qualified as “a veritable blight on humanity”.

Mr. Ai called on the new UN Human Rights Council to address the situation in Vietnam as an urgent priority, stating that Vietnam was “seeking to become a full member of the international community whilst cynically disdaining its binding obligations to respect human rights”.

Annexed to his letter was a new report by the Vietnam Committee entitled “2006 : Grave Violations of Human Rights in Vietnam” with a detailed overview of “Vietnam’s policy of complete lack of dialogue with UN human rights mechanisms combined with systematic abuses of its citizens fundamental rights”. (See full text).

The document describes political repression orchestrated at the highest levels of the Vietnamese Communist Party and State, and the regime’s total non-compliance with UN human rights mechanisms. Vietnam has systematically refused to invite UN Special Rapporteurs (on Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Religion etc.) to visit Vietnam since 1998, when the then UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance, Abdelfattah Amor issued a highly critical report on the religious freedom and human rights situation following his in situ visit. Moreover, the government fails to submit mandatory periodic reports (due every 2 years) on its implementation of UN treaties ratified by Vietnam. Its report on the UN International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, one of the UN’s key human rights treaties, is overdue since 1995. Concerning the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, not only has Vietnam taken no heed of the UN Human Rights Committee’s recommendations to bring Vietnamese laws into line with international human rights law, but has done exactly the opposite, adopting extensive new legistation to “codify” political repression and stifle peaceful dissent.

There’s more examples here at theMontagnard Foundation.

Congress has demonstrated independence on other matters. Congress should demonstrate it again here, requiring real and documented progress on human rights in Vietnam before granting Permanent Normal Trade Relations and Vietnam’s entry to the WTO.

Reprinted with permission of Bruce N. Kesler, ChFC REBC RHU CLU

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