Vietnam’s Ex-Diplomat Seeks Swiss Asylum Ahead of Rights Review

A former diplomat at Vietnam’s consulate in Geneva said he has requested political asylum in Switzerland, according to a report Monday, two days ahead of a U.N. review of his country’s rights record.
Dang Xuong Hung, who served as consul from 2008 to 2012 until he withdrew from the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party, told Geneva TV station Leman Bleu on Sunday that he had applied for Swiss asylum last October, Agence France-Presse reported.
"The Berlin wall fell 25 years ago, but Vietnam is still under a communist regime," he told the station.
"The Vietnamese Communist Party persists with its aim to continue the dictatorship, to continue with a one-party regime."
His announcement came after he sent an open letter to the Vietnamese delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva, set for Wednesday, in which he urged the group to lay bare the facts about human rights abuses in Vietnam.
“Many people in the official delegation are my friends and I respect them. I only wanted to analyze the situation [through my letter] to persuade them to change their attitude,” Hung told RFA’s Vietnamese Service a week ago.
“This is important because they need to understand why the international community wants this UPR for each and every country in the world, just like with Vietnam,” he said.
“Human rights are very important in this civilized world. This is the goal of civilization as a whole, not only for Vietnam … If they keep doing the same thing they have done in the past—trying to cover up human right abuses in Vietnam—that is unacceptable.”
The four-yearly UPR is based on information from three reports—Vietnam’s country report, a compilation of information from U.N. treaty bodies and Special Rapporteurs, and a “stakeholders’ report” of concerns raised by nongovernmental organizations and civil society.
The review consists of an interactive discussion in which U.N. members may pose questions and make specific recommendations to advance human rights in Vietnam.
Hung praised his colleagues at Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as being “well-educated people” who “know the world and … understand the absurdity of Marxism and Leninism,” but said they face a “difficult situation” about whether they should continue to adhere to the party line.
He explained his rationale behind leaving the party and his job as consul despite having worked for the Vietnamese foreign ministry since 1983.
“I am an insider—I was Vietnam’s consul in Geneva and I know what is going on, especially after [the party] insisted on keeping Article 4 of the constitution,” Hung said, referring to a clause in the recently renewed charter that ensures the party’s role in government.
“They turned our country into a party cell and that was why I thought I should leave. My decision to quit was against the party, not the people.”
Open letter
Agence France-Presse quoted his letter to the delegation as expressing empathy with diplomats who “care about Vietnam, but are shackled by invisible bonds.”
“Once we dare speak the truth, we won't have to waste time dishonestly concealing the facts,” he wrote in the letter which went viral online in Vietnam, urging the delegation to come clean about rights abuses in the country.
Speaking to RFA, Hung praised Vietnamese activists for traveling to Geneva to present evidence about rights violations, but said whether their efforts were effective would depend on “the attitude of the official Vietnamese delegation.”
“If possible, we should approach [the delegation] and explain to them that what they are doing is only to cover up the human right abuses of the Communist Party and will not help the people of Vietnam,” he said.
“This only prolongs the waiting time for people who want to see democracy and human rights in the country.”
Under pressure
The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), a Paris-based rights group, called on U.N. member states to “press Vietnam to commit to concrete, measurable improvements” during the UPR this week.
“The UPR process presents a rare opportunity to engage Vietnam in a constructive critical dialogue on its human rights record,” said Vo Van Ai, VCHR president.
“However, we are concerned that Vietnam is using it as a stage to play out a cynical scenario before the international community and mask its gross abuses of human rights.”
Vietnam pledged to improve human rights at its last UPR in 2009, accepting 93 recommendations by U.N. member states, but VCHR said that the country not only failed to uphold its promises but launched intensive crackdowns on freedom of expression, religion, and assembly.
VCHR condemned the jailing of some 160 people based on vague “national security” provisions in the criminal code since Vietnam’s last review and said that activists and rights defenders had been subjected to “unprecedented police brutality” and harassment.
It also cited the introduction of new legal measures to restrict the exercise of human rights, a recent crackdown on the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, and concerns on women’s rights.
In an open letter, Vo asked the Vietnamese official delegation to the UPR review to “publicly tear up the government’s report.”
“[A]sk the Human Rights Council to devote the full session to identifying persistent human rights abuses in Vietnam and making concrete recommendations to help Vietnam improve its human rights situation and respect the international human rights treaties to which it is a state party,” the letter said.
Taking responsibility
New York-based Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson blasted Vietnam for blocking journalist and activist Pham Chi Dung from boarding a flight to Geneva on Saturday to attend a conference on the sidelines of the U.N. review.
“Vietnam's authorities should not interfere in any way with its citizens seeking to go to Geneva to play a role in the upcoming discussion of the government's poor rights record,” he said.
“Persons should not be detained for seeking to participate in the UPR session, so Vietnam's actions here are a very serious violation of its promise to respect the Human Rights Council’s procedures.”
Robertson welcomed Hanoi’s decision to sign the U.N. Convention Against Torture, but said Vietnam must promptly ratify the convention and implement it by ensuring that policemen in the country end the practice of abuse of suspects in custody.
Dung, who publicly quit the Communist Party last December, had been invited to Geneva by U.N. Watch and Vietnamese pro-democracy group Viet Tan to discuss Vietnam's responsibilities as a new member of the Human Rights Council.
Instead, authorities seized his passport, indicating that his presence in Geneva during the U.N. review would be “harmful to the human rights image of Vietnam,” Dung said.
The journalist said that he had planned to discuss the progress of civil society in his country at Tuesday’s conference.
“We [planned to] suggest some recommendations to the international NGOs, especially the larger ones with the U.N., to set up a network to connect themselves with domestic NGOs,” he told RFA.
Conference organizers say Dung's message would be conveyed at the event even if he could not attend physically.