Human Rights Abuse Continues in Vietnam

By Richard S. Williamson

The human rights situation in Vietnam continues to be unacceptable. Last spring it was my honor and privilege to serve as Ambassador and United States Representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. In the Commission Chamber I said, “The Vietnamese Government’s intolerance of political dissent, including on the Internet, resulted in the arrest of several democracy activists… Religious freedom problems persist and restricted are particularly acute for the leadership of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and for Protestant Christians in the Central and Northwest Highlands.” Unfortunately, there has been no real improvement in the situation. There even are signs that it has gotten worse.

In Vietnam, sometimes police beat suspects during arrests, detention and interrogation. Reportedly, security police continue to detain, beat and are responsible for the disappearance of persons. Incidents of arbitrary detention of citizens continues, including detention for the peaceful _expression of political and religious views. Prison conditions remain harsh and some persons reportedly have died as a result of abuse while in custody.

In Vietnam, the judiciary is not independent. The Government denies some citizens the right to fair and expeditious trials. And the Vietnam Government continues to hold a number of political prisoners. In Vietnam, the Government significantly restricts freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association. The Vietnamese Government does not tolerate most types of public dissent and has stepped up efforts to control dissent on the internet. And security forces continue to enforce restrictions on public gatherings and travel. The Vietnam Government prohibits independent political, labor and social organizations. Freedom of religion and operation of religious organizations other than those approved by the State are restricted. In particular, Buddhists, Hoa Hao, and Protestants active in unregistered organizations face harassment as well as possible detention by authorities.

Human Rights Watch reports that a few months ago “in the weeks leading up to Christmas, (Vietnamese) police were busy rounding up and arresting dozens of Montagnard Christians and detaining them at district and provincial stations and prisons throughout the region. In Gia Lai province alone – one of the provinces in the Central Highlands – police arrested 129 people between December 12 and 24.” Citizens’ privacy rights are restricted. And the Government continues to restrict significantly civil liberties on grounds of national security.

In Vietnam, the Government does not permit human rights organizations to form or operate. Violence and societal discrimination against some ethnic minorities continue. And the Government restricts some core worker rights, such as freedom of association.

There are reports that in Vietnam children work in exploitative conditions. Trafficking in women and children for the purpose of prostitution within Vietnam and abroad continues to be a serious problem. And there are reports of trafficking of women to China for arranged and forced marriages.

In its 2005 World Report, Human Rights Watch states, “Human rights conditions in Vietnam, already dismal, worsened in 2004. The government tolerates little public criticism of the Communist Party or statements calling for pluralism, democracy, or a free press. Dissidents are harassed, isolated, placed under house arrest, and in many cases, charged with crimes and imprisoned. Among those singled out are prominent intellectuals (and) writers.”

The oppression is well documented. And it is incumbent on the United States to give a voice for those victims. We must pressure Vietnam to improve its human rights record and to end its campaign of religious persecution. As Professor Viet D. Dinh of Georgetown University told Congress, “This is no longer a war of bullets and bombs, but a battle of ideas and institutions.”

In his recent State of the Union Address, President Bush said, “Our aim is to build and preserve a community of free and independent nations with governments that answer to their citizens and reflect their own cultures, and because democracies respect their own people and their neighbors, the advance of freedom will lead to peace.”

In the past eighteen months freedom has been on the march. The Rose Revolution in Georgia. Afghanistan. The Orange Revolution in Ukraine. The Palestinians. Iraq. And now the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon has begun. People throwing off the oppression of authoritarian governments that long abused their own citizens. Brave people realizing free and fair elections to form governments that answers to them, not the other way around. Free people everywhere must give voice to the voiceless oppressed in their own lands. America must stand by the people of Vietnam in calling for a return of the basic human rights to which every human being is entitled and which will serve as the necessary building blocks to a free society.



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