PARIS, 3 February 2014 (VIETNAM COMMITTEE) – In the run-up to the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Vietnam at the United Nation’s Human Rights Council on Wednesday 5 February, Open letters from very different personalities have called on the Vietnamese delegation to the UPR to candidly admit its widespread violations of human rights, take heed of recommendations made by civil society and call on the UN Human Rights Council to help work out a plan of concrete measures to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Vietnam.
Mr. Dang Xuong Hung, a former high official in Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry and Vietnamese Consul General in Geneva from 2008 until 2012, when he formally withdrew from Vietnamese Communist Party, sent an Open Letter to the Vietnamese delegation on 25 January 2014. He expressed empathy with Vietnamese diplomats who “care about Vietnam, but are shackled by invisible bonds” because they are allowed only to “think and act according to the dictates of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV)”. However, he said, they shoud be aware that the CPV is seeking only to cling on to power, whilst ignoring the people’s demands for democracy and human rights.
“If you really love your country” he wrote “you should show it through your attitude and action at the upcoming UPR session”. He urged the delegation to heed the criticisms and recommendations made by UN member states and civil society, and recognize Vietnam’s abysmal human rights record. At the previous UPR in 2009, he said,Vietnam systematically rejected all criticism, confining itself to “petty acts” such as “queuing up early to sign on for countries who would make speeches praising Vietnam, such as Laos or Cuba”, or “removing copies of speeches by NGO delegations, such as that of Vo Van Ai, and throwing them into the trash-can at the Embassy” to hide the facts from UN member states. “Once we dare speak the truth [and admit these violations], we won’t have to waste time dishonestly concealing the facts”. “This is especially important now that Vietnam is a member of the UN Human Rights Council”, he wrote.
Mr. Vo Van Ai, President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), in an Open Letter today, called on the Vietnamese delegation, lead by Deputy Minister Ha Kim Ngoc, to make an unprecedented gesture at the upcoming UPR session on Wednesday. Instead of reading out a lengthy report claiming Vietnam’s respect for human rights, the delegation should “publicly tear up the government’s report and ask 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.
Mr. Ai warned that Vietnam’s poor human rights performance had led to growing popular discontent, citing three salient phenomena in 2013-2014; (a) the withdrawal from the Communist Party of many prominent members, including former officials and veterans with over 40 and 50 years of service; (b) the massive public demand for abolition of Article 4 of the Constitution (on the CPV’s political monopoly) during the government’s opinion poll on Constitutional reform in 2013, and the strong disappointment that followed the adoption of the Constitution with no change in Article 4; (c) the continuing demonstrations by young activists in Saigon, Hanoi and all over Vietnam to denounce border disputes or celebrate International Human Rights Day, in spite of brutal repression by Police. These examples were “three warning bells that should awaken the government and Party to the growing dissatisfaction of the Vietnamese people”, wrote Vo Van Ai.
Since Mr. Ai began raising human rights abuses in Vietnam at the United Nations each year since 1986, Vietnam’s sole response had been to out-rightly reject all allegations (e.g. “there are no political prisoners in Vietnam, only people who violate the law: there is no repression of religious movements, only those who are political” etc.), or by trying to “shoot the messenger” by making person attacks on himself and his delegation.
The UPR provided a “golden opportunity” for the Vietnamese delegation to “leave your mark on history, and send a strong message to the government and the Party that this is how to win the people’s hearts, by standing beside them in their aspirations for democratic freedoms and human rights”, he said.
Mr. Ai admitted that he was asking the impossible of the Vietnamese delegation, but concluded: “Throughout our history, the Vietnamese people have achieved the impossible again and again. Human beings have an infinite capacity for transforming suffering into happiness, slavery into freedom. Where there is a will there is a way!”
On Tuesday 4 February, one day before Vietnam’s URP, Mr. Vo Van Ai will speak at an Information meeting organized by the FIDH (International Federation on Human Rights) and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, and co-sponsored by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch entitled “Banned Civil Society Voices”, with exclusive audio testimonies from Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam Patriarch Thich Quang Do and Buddhist Youth leader Le Cong Cau, both of whom are currently under house arrest. The meeting is in Room XXIV, Palais des Nations from 1.00pm until 2.30pm.