VIETNAM: by Anh NguyenNews Weekly
Hanoi's abysmal human rights record
, March 12, 2005
The Vietnamese Communist Party granted an amnesty to 8,323 prisoners on January 31, 2005, before the Lunar New Year celebrations of Tet.
Among those released at Bach Thao Gardens, Hanoi, were the prominent and outspoken figures Father Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly, Professor Nguyen Dinh Huy, Thich Thien Minh and Dr Nguyen Dan Que.
However, following the release of the political prisoners, three priests within Vietnam, in a letter addressed to the international community, warned that the recent amnesty wasn't a result of the government's "generosity and kindness", as was reported in the communist-controlled media.
Fr Chan Tin, Fr Huu Giai and Fr Van Loi wrote that, although the prisoners have been released, they are by no means free. They speak from their own experience of having being released from prison, but then still being persecuted in other ways afterwards.
The priests added that the amnesty was a result of "pressure from many forces" and their release was "involuntary". Events surrounding Vietnam in the last year seem to confirm their analysis.
The amnesty follows much international pressure on the Vietnamese Communist Party to address its abysmal human rights record. Vietnam has faced intense pressure owing to its impending accession in the World Trade Organization. The USA, the European Union and Japan have threatened economic sanctions and the freezing of foreign aid commitments. Already sanctions may have cost the Vietnamese around 1 to 1.5 billion dollars. Interestingly, Australia commits over $70 million in aid to Vietnam every year, but without demanding improvements in human rights in return.
In September 2004, the US State Department designated Vietnam as a "country of particular concern" and threatened it with drastic cuts to financial aid if certain conditions were not met by March 2005. These conditions included conducting proper investigations into murders allegedly committed by communist government officials and ensuring the release of Fr Thaddeus Van Ly.
In October 2004, at the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), 109 European-elected officials agreed that there were significant abuses in Vietnam and presented a list of dissidents whom they wished to see released from imprisonment. All the freed dissidents mentioned above were named on the list.Pressure applied
Various non-government organisations (NGOs) have worked tirelessly to apply pressure to Vietnam over its human-rights record. These groups include Amnesty International, the recently launched Viet Tan party (reported in News Weekly
, December 4, 2004), and the Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Committee (AVHRC).
The AVHRC's success in gaining the support of Australian politicians through the MPs for Vietnam
project (News Weekly
, May 8, 2004) has played a major part in the recent amnesty.
Supporters in the Victorian parliament include MPs Murray Thompson, Luke Donnellan, Tony Plowman, Robert Clark and Russell Savage, who have all made efforts to contact various political prisoners in Vietnam.
Mr Savage and Mr Donnellan have also made requests for visas to visit Fr Van Ly - both applications of which were rejected by Hanoi. Mr Savage described the letter he received declining his visa request as a "malicious character assassination" of Father Van Ly.
Despite the recent amnesty and the events surrounding it, the people of Vietnam are still living under a régime that ignores its people's rights.
The Hanoi government continues to persecute, torture and kill Christians living in the central highlands; allows people to be imprisoned without trial; and exercises a right of veto over any religious appointments. A massacre in the highlands in Easter 2004 has still not been properly investigated.
The international community needs to continue exposing the Hanoi régime's human rights abuses and to apply political and economic pressure to ensure improvement.
- Anh Nguyen is a member of the Australia Vietnam Human Rights Committee (AVHRC) of Victoria.