SOURCE: Office of the Clerk in U.S. House of Representatives
Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations (Committee on Foreign Affairs)
Thursday, May 25, 2017 (12:30 PM)
Washington, D.C. 20515-6128
Quan Q. Nguyen, M.D.
Chairman, Rallying for Democracy
Witness Statement [PDF]
Added 05/23/2017 at 02:25 PM
Testimony of Quan Q. Nguyen, M.D.
Chairman of Rallying For Democracy in Vietnam
Before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs
Subcommittee on Africa, Golbal Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations
on May 25th, 2017
Regarding: “Vietnam: Why religious freedom and human rights are critical to US national
Human Rights Situation In Vietnam
With Emphasis On Religious Freedom”
Honorable Chairman Chris Smith and Distinguished Members of the Subcommittee:
42 years ago, when the communist forces began to occupy South Vietnam, I left my country on a small boat, and escaped to America. I have been lucky to be able to rebuild my life here, and it is truly an honor to testify before this distinguished Subcommittee about the long struggles of the Vietnamese people. Thank you for holding this hearing and allowing me to share some important issues that I believe should be brought to light.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the Vietnamese people are still suffering from a totalitarian
regime. Vietnam is a one party system where there is no separation of administrative, judiciary, and legislative branches. The Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) strictly controls the government at all levels, manipulates the National Assembly, controls all mass media, and deprives the Vietnamese people of all basic human rights. There are no free and fair elections, and no independent unions to protect the millions of Vietnamese workers. People who disagree and express their own opinions in a peaceful way are imprisoned.
The VCP and their cruel offspring have driven Vietnam to the brink of bankruptcy through a centrally oriented economy and wasteful, inefficient investments. Incredible wealth is in the hands of corrupted apparatchiks, while the majority of people live in poverty. The cost of living is soaring; the price of electricity, water, and gasoline are rising day by day; the Vietnamese “dong” is losing its value while wages and salaries are stagnant. Workers have to toil day and night, yet cannot make a decent living. The situation in Vietnam is ripe for transformation. The people in Vietnam deserve support for their quest for freedom and democracy from the international community, particularly the U.S. In that spirit, I would like to draw attention to the following important issues:
To the communists, “religion is opium” and they strictly follow that crazy idea! The Hanoi government’s policy has always been to repress religious freedom. There is an unfortunate misconception from the West that the mere existence of churches and temples in Vietnam implies that there is freedom of religion. This is far from the truth. Per the latest report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, religious freedom in Vietnam has deteriorated significantly. The Vietnamese Communist uses Decree 92 issued in August 2012 to strictly control all religions in Vietnam. All Churches need to be registered and accepted by the government. The registration procedure is very complicated and allows the government to refuse applications of Churches considered as non friendly to the government. For years now, the communist government has refused to recognize The Unified Buddhist Church. If you want to
become a monk, nun, or priest, you have to notify and get permission from the local government. All promotions or appointments inside the Church have to be accepted by the government. Even if the Vatican wants to appoint a new Cardinal, Archbishop, or Bishop, it needs to inform and get approval from the Vietnamese government.
At the end of every year, each Church is required to notify the local government of its detailed plans for the next year, such as the dates and times of events being held, what are the purposes, and how many people will attend. Bishop of Kontum Patriarch Hoang Duc Oanh was actually refused permission to organize a Christmas Mass. The government of Vietnam uses force and imprisonment to keep priests and monks following the party line. Father Nguyen Van Ly, The Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh and several leaders of local indigenous Cao Dai & Hoa Hoa Churches are all examples of how religious leaders who advocate religious freedom or criticize the government on it serious violations are imprisoned or placed under house arrest.
The overnight death of Mr. Nguyen Huu Tan, a Hoa Hao Buddhist followers in a police station in Vinh Long, and the violent attacks of Vietnamese security forces on peaceful manifestations of Catholics in Central Vietnam against the destruction of the environment have caused people’s anger and upset.
The government continues to seize several properties belonging to the Catholic and Buddhist Churches. Last year, they pressured Lien Tri Temple to stop its activities and to sell its land to the local government for a development project. The local government also pressured the Fathers of the The Redemptorists Vietnam (Dòng Chúa Cứu Thế Việt Nam) to stop its healthcare program for the veterans of the South. In light of these religious freedom violations, the U.S. government should push for the following actions:
1. The Vietnamese government should implement the UN principles on religious freedom, including the release of those imprisoned for beliefs and practices, and fully restore their rights of citizenship, property, and residence permits.
2. The Vietnamese government should stop repressing indigenous religious groups such as Hoa Hao and Cao Dai. They should also stop promoting its state church to interfere with the Buddhist and Catholic religions.
3. The Vietnamese government should allow religious freedom, otherwise, they will be placed back on the CPC, be punished, and suffer damaging consequences. On November 18, the National Assembly finally ratified the Law on Belief and Religion amid extensive criticism from human rights and religious groups. They are worried that the law restricts religious freedoms rather than protects them. In an open letter to the Vietnamese government prior to the ratification of the law, several organizations and lawmakers rejected a clause stating that “religious groups must be registered and approved by the government in order to practice”. This clause should be omitted as it gives the government the power to continue to
oppress the people. The law will go into effect starting January 2018.
Freedom of Information & Expression
The Vietnamese government strictly controls all mass media including the internet, and censors all information to the people. According to 2017 Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, Vietnam ranks 175/180 countries. The Committee to Protect Journalists, also ranked Vietnam among the 10 worst countries worldwide. Several dissidents and human rights activists have been harassed, arrested, and tried over the last 5 years on criminal charges including espionage and other vague crimes against “national security” for peaceful expression of their opinions on the internet. Vietnam’s authorities rely on a combination of restrictive laws, Internet controls, and outright repression to block the free flow of information, but thanks to social media, Vietnamese citizens are increasingly gaining access to independent sources of news. Vietnam is second in the world only to China in the number of jailed netizens. The cases of Lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, “Mother Mushroom” Me Nam, Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, and
Tran Huynh Duy Thuc are good examples. They have committed no crime, and have only expressed their own opinions in a peaceful way. They should be released immediately without any conditions.
There are no independent unions to protect the millions of workers in Vietnam. Vietnamese workers have no health insurance, no worker compensation, no rights to go on strikes, nor collective bargaining. Most of the workers have to resort to bribery to get jobs. They are required to work overtime without pay, while frequently being subjected to abuse and maltreatment. The unique Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL) is strictly controlled by the Communist Party. It represents the party and employers, but not the workers. Prominent worker leader, Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung, who tried to form an independent union outside of the VGCL is currently in jail. I am glad to hear that President Trump scrapped the TPP, because
if it were to remain, Vietnam certainly does not meet the requirements to become a member.
After the US-VN Human Rights Dialogue in April 2013, the State has been very quiet on the Civil Society front. It was only after State President Truong Tan Sang’s meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in July 2013 that Civil Society began to be referred to as “having a feedback characteristic.” By the end of 2013, people started to talk about the contributing voice of Civil Society and “Civil Society with Vietnamese Characteristic.” Activists started to form organizations, groups, societies, etc. without being disbanded. Recently, a new proposition was advanced — that Civil Society exists not just in capitalism, but in socialism as well. However, this new viewpoint has yet to be included in textbooks on socialism. It is highly recommend that the U.S. delegation push more for the freedom to form NGOs. Furthermore, the Vietnamese government should officially recognize them and allow them to function appropriately.
Bilateral Human Rights Dialogue :
A 2-day bilateral human rights dialogue with the Communist was recently concluded. Bilateral dialogues can play an important role in increasing understanding and narrowing differences. However, dialogue without concrete progress is not just an empty exercise, but counterproductive. By making concrete progress on human rights, the Vietnamese government will pave the way to becoming a major partner to the U.S., and play an important role in bringing stability and prosperity to the region.
The Coming Visit Of Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc
So far, The Vietnamese government has not made any significant strides in improving on human rights issues. Mr. Phuc’s invitation to visit the U.S. at this moment will send a wrong signal to the Vietnamese Communist regime that they have the nod from our government to arrest and attack dissidents without legitimate cause.
Steps to Improve The Human Rights Condition In Vietnam
Vietnam is suffering an ill economy, trade deficit, discontent, and anger from the people, as well as serious threat from China. In that context, Hanoi is looking to the USA and other Western countries to save its tattered economy and sagging regime. However, the current situation in Vietnam on human rights, labor rights, transparency, intellectual property rights, etc. DO NOT meet the requirements from the USA. We are looking to Congress to emphasize that Vietnam needs to carry out fundamental reforms in these areas, and to make sure they become reality before Vietnam is considered a true strategic partner of the US in the region. There should be no waivers or delays implementing the requirements. International monitors need to strictly enforce treaty provisions beyond written or verbal agreements with Vietnam (since the Vietnamese communist leaders are known for breaking their commitment and promises, as exhibited after entering the WTO).
The reforms that Vietnam must carry out will ultimately help to democratize Vietnam. Only a democratic Vietnam can be U.S.’s true reliable strategic partner in Asia. Therefore, this is a golden opportunity for the U.S. to convince the Hanoi government to embark on this win-win journey for all, which would allow Vietnam to become a democratic country and to simultaneously secure a comprehensive strategic partnership with the United States. This will prosper Vietnam, bring peace and stability to the region, and neutralize the pressure from China. Vietnam should seize this opportunity and react positively by ensuring more human rights. A comprehensive road map for Vietnam to follow would be helpful.
Mr. Chairman & distinguished members of Congress:
I have been lucky to live in America’s free society where I can express my own opinions without
being intimidated or harassed. Therefore, I believe that it is my responsibility to speak for my
compatriots back home who do not have these privileges. Thank you for giving me the
opportunity to do so today.
Quan Nguyen, M.D.
Chairman, Rallying For Democracy in Vietnam
Witness Truth in Testimony [PDF]
Added 05/23/2017 at 02:25 PM
Witness Biography [PDF]
Added 05/23/2017 at 02:25 PM
Biography of Dr. Quan Q. Nguyen
Chairman, Rallying for Democracy
Dr Quan Nguyen was born on November 22nd, 1940 in Hung Yen, North Vietnam.
His family moved south to Saigon in 1954 after the Geneva Accord . He grew up in Saigon, attended the Saigon Medical School and graduated in 1968 with a National Medical Doctor Degree.
From 1968 to 1975 he served in the South Vietnamese Army with the rank of Captain in the Medical Corp. When South Vietnam fell into the hand of the Communists in April 1975, he escaped by boat and became a refugee in the US.
In 1981 he attended and completed the residency program in Internal Medicine at Georgetown University Medical Service, Washington DC. He has been practicing internal medicine in Northern Virginia ever since.
In addition to his medical practice, Dr. Quan Nguyen has been actively involved in advocating freedom, democracy and human rights in Vietnam for over 25 years. He has campaigned continuously with the US Congress, the State Department and the International Organizations for Human Rights, and the AFL-CIO to pressure the Vietnamese government on improving human rights in Vietnam. Dr. Nguyen and his organization have played a major role in the unanimous passage of the Joint Resolution SJ 168 in the US Congress in May 1994 which President Clinton subsequently signed it into Public Law 103-258 designating May 11th as Vietnam Human Rights Day.
Dr. Quan Nguyen has been invited to testify before the Foreign Relations Committee of the US Senate on 7-21-1993 on “human rights and US policy toward Vietnam”and several times before the various committees of The House of Representatives on issues related to human rights condition in Vietnam. He was also invited to speak before the Italian Parliament on 10-10-2002 about: “Human Rights violations in Vietnam in particular the violations of religious freedom”.
He was invited to speak on human rights and democracy for Vietnam at Georgetown University, John F. Kennedy School of Government Of Harvard University as well as before several other international human rights organizations, among them are The Robert F. Kennedy Center For Human Rights, Physicians For Human Rights, The Human Rights Committee of New York Academy and The Committee on Human Rights of The National Academies.
Dr. Nguyen also is the author of a number of articles on human rights in Vietnamese and in English among them “ Prisoner of conscience” on the Far Eastern Economic Review, 5th Column on 2-25-1993, “ Vietnam through rose-tinted glasses” on the Asian Wall Street Journal on 3-25-1997 and “ Freedom for Vietnam, freedom for my brother” on the National Review on the line 3-17-2004.
Dr. Nguyen is Chairman of the Board of the Rallying For Democracy For Vietnam , and also President of The International Committee to Support the Non-violent Movement for Human Rights in Vietnam.
Nguyen Dinh Thang, Ph.D.
President and Chief Executive Officer, Boat People SOS
Witness Statement [PDF]
Added 05/24/2017 at 02:06 PM
Dr. Nguyen Dinh Thang
CEO & President, Boat People SOS
Statement at Hearing on
Vietnam: Why Religious Freedom and Human Rights are Critical to
U.S. National Interests
Before the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International
Organizations, House Committee on Foreign Affairs
May 25, 2017
Mr. Chairman and distinguished Committee members,
Vietnam’s new leadership in the Communist Party and in government has finally shown its true and brutal nature. Over the past twelve months we have observed a major backsliding in the overall human rights conditions in Vietnam. Of particular concern to us is the worsening situation of independent religious communities and the government’s increasing use of torture and land expropriation to target such communities.
I would like to start with the case of Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh and his wife, Mrs. Tran Thi Hong. Pastor Chinh was sentenced to 11-years in prison for his pastoral services to Montagnard Christians in the Central Highlands. In prison, he was subjected to different forms of torture, including solitary confinement, beatings, and denial of medical treatment. Prison guards even mixed pieces of broken glass and fragments of lead wire in his daily food rations.
His wife, Mrs. Hong, has to take care of the couple’s four children and an adopted son. A very petite and frail woman, every month she treks 600 km each way to visit Pastor Chinh in prison. Still she never missed an opportunity to advocate for her husband’s freedom. On March 30 last year, she met with then-Ambassador-At-Large David Saperstein during his visit to the Central Highlands; she asked for urgent intervention as her husband’s health rapidly deteriorated. Fifteen days later she was taken in for interrogation by the public security. They wanted to know what she had told the U.S. Ambassador-At-Large. As she refused to satisfy their demand, they tortured her. The police later dumped her in front of her home. She was unable to walk and had to be carried into her house by neighbors. She suffered injuries to her head, knees, legs, hands, and feet. She experiences pain and difficulty moving her arms. Here is a picture of Mrs. Hong after the interrogation.
The interrogation session went on, almost every day for a month and a half, except for a week’s interruption around President Obama’s state visit to Vietnam. It miraculously stopped in early June after Ambassador At Large Saperstein called the Vietnamese embassy in the U.S. and the UN Special Rapporteurs on FORB and on Torture issued a stern public statement.
The persecution aimed at Pastor Chinh and Mrs. Hong is not the random act of renegade public security agents. It reflects the consistent policy of the leadership of the Communist Party and the central government: to eradicate all independent Christian house churches in the Central Highlands. In July 2002, the Communist Party created the Central Highlands Steering Committee to oversee the implementation of this policy. In 2004, the Ministry of Public Security established its Central Highlands Security Bureau (PA90) to execute the plans set by the said Steering Committee. The Ordinance on Belief and Religion of 2004 did not change that policy. That only thing that changed was the tactics used by the government of Vietnam in order to get off the CPC list.
On February 27, 2015, the website of General Tran Dai Quang, then Minister of Public Security, published an article extolling the exploits of the public security forces in the Central Highlands: “…When I arrived in the Central Highlands, our task of rescuing the people from the evil Hà Mòn cult was
accomplished only recently. The Security Team of the Police Force of the Town of Kontum performed
deeds that were representative of the indefatigable efforts of security forces throughout the Central
Highlands in our fight against reactionary enemy forces disguised as ethnic religious groups… Unlike the
clear front line facing the regular police when it fights crimes related to drugs, financial misdeeds, and typical crimes, the security front is not clearly delineated. It is not easy to tell who our enemies are…” General Quang is now Vietnam’s President.
Over the past three and a half years we have systematically documented incidents of torture, forced renouncement of faith, arrest and imprisonment and extrajudicial killings targeting ethnic Christians in the Central Highlands. According to our latest information, there are currently at least 53 Montagnard Christians in prison because of their faith. We have also documented 94 incidents of forced renouncement of faith, 11 incidents of torture, and 3 cases of extrajudicial killing. In 2016 and the first five months of this year, there have been 9 new prison sentences. The most recent one involves Pastor A Dao of the Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ in Kontum Province. He was arrested soon after returning from the Conference on FORB in Southeast Asia, which BPSOS co-organized, in Dili, East Timor last August. On April 28, he was sentenced to 5 years in prison on the fabricated charge of aiding Montagnards to
illegally flee Vietnam. During the eight months pre-trial detention, his interrogators cruelly tortured him as he rejected their false allegations. After his arrest, public security agents in the provinces of Dak Nong, Dak Lak, Gia Lai, Kontum and Quang Ngai threatened and detained many members of his church, forcing them to renounce their faith. Facing threats of imprisonment and torture, two thirds of this church’s 1,500 members have reluctantly joined government-controlled Mennonite and Baptist churches. The Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ has practically been eliminated in Quang Ngai and Kontum Provinces.
We have also documented at least 2 cases of extrajudicial killings of Montagnard Christians. Pastor Ksor Xiem of the Dega Church in Gia Lai Province was taken to the police station on Christmas eve of 2015. He refused to recant his faith and got brutally beaten by his interrogators; 15 days later he died of fatal injuries caused by torture. The public security then proceeded to force Pastor Xiem’s assistant, Preacher Ksor Phuong, to disband the Dega Church.
Two days after last year’s Christmas, Y Ku Knul, member of a Montagnard house church that belongs to Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) in Dak Lak Province, did not return home after his regular farming work. Two days later his wife found his body hung on a tree. There were bruises on his chest and marks on his lower body and legs similar to those left by police electric batons. The public security prohibited his family from seeking autopsy by an independent medical professional. The public security had targeted his family since 2014, when the victim’s youngest son, 21 years old, started doing missionary work in Cambodia. On December 4-7 of last year, this young man participated in a training seminar on freedom of religion or belief and human rights in general, which BPSOS organized in Bangkok, Thailand with the support of international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International,
Christian Solidarity Worldwide, International Committee of Jurists, FORUM-ASIA, etc. He is now
seeking asylum in Thailand.
As you may remember, Mr. Chairman, these two cases are reminiscent of the case of Deacon Hoang Van Ngai, a Hmong Christian in Dak Nong Province in the Central Highlands. In March 2013 he was beaten to death in police custody, but the police informed his families that he committed suicide by electrocution – he reportedly inserted his finger into an electric outlet.
The problem was, there was no electric outlet in the cell where he was held. In April 2014, his cousin, Hoang Van Sung, in Cao Bang Province was taken to the police for being behind a petition demanding investigation into Ngai’s death. Ten days later Sung’s corpse was delivered to his family in a coffin. The police ordered his family not to open his coffin and stood watch until it was buried. They threatened all members of these two victims’ extended family that they would suffer the same fate if they ever speak about the victims’ death in police custody.
This brings us to the recent case of a young Hoa Hao Buddhist who died earlier this month in the custody of the public security of Vinh Long Province. On May 2, Nguyen Huu Tan was abducted by the police and taken to the Provincial Public Security Department. That evening, some 70-80 public security agents escorted him home to search his home, without a search warrant. They found receipts of money transfer from the U.S. and a small piece of yellow cloth. The public security accused him of receiving money from reactionary forces in the U.S. and planning to display the flag of the defunct Republic of Vietnam (aka South Vietnam) and took him away without arrest warrant. It was 2:00 am on May 3. At 7am the police called Tan’s family members to the detention center of the provincial public security department. At
around 11am they saw people carrying a coffin walking in. Shortly thereafter, Tan’s father and wife were taken inside the detention center and shown the corpse of Tan – his throat was thoroughly slit. The public security authorities explained that Tan had committed suicide with a letter opener, at 11:03am. If that story were to be believed, then the Vietnamese authorities must have displayed uncanny prescience: They had already ordered the coffin before Tan’s suicide. Very much like the case of Hoang Van Sung, Tan’s body was delivered to his home in a coffin. His family’s request for an independent autopsy was denied. The family was told to immediately bury the victim and not to invite any neighbors or relatives to the funeral. The Vietnamese authorities now threaten to arrest two surviving brothers of Tan unless Tan’s family drops their demand for investigation.
According to Tan’s surviving wife, the piece of yellow cloth found by the public security was actually the lining of a gift box; the receipts that they found were for remittance sent to the family by Tan’s older sister who lives in Savannah, Georgia. This sister is here, in the audience. Accompanied by her husband, Mrs. Nguyen Thi My-Phuong arrived last night to be at this hearing. I would like to acknowledge her presence.
The use of torture remains rampant in Vietnam despite the UN Convention Against Torture in 2013, which Vietnam signed in 2013.
The other form of persecution against religious and indigenous communities often used by the Vietnamese authorities is expropriation of their lands, temples, churches and other real properties. The Vietnamese government has expropriated 95% of the over 532 original religious properties of the Cao Dai Religion. The government continues to expropriate the few remaining facilities such as Tuy An Temple in Phu Yen Province in April 2015, An Ninh Tây Temple in Long An Province in March 2016, and Phu Thanh A Temple also in Long An Province in March of this year.
Similarly, 90% of all pagodas belonging to Unified Buddhist Church have been expropriated; last year the government demolished Lien Tri Pagoda near Saigon and is threatening to take over Phuoc Buu Pagoda, Phat Quang Pagoda, Phap Bien Pagoda in Ba Ria-Vung Tau; Ba La Mat Pagoda and Long Tho Pagoda in Dong Nai; An Cu Pagoda in Danang City.
Of the thousands of facilities belonging to the Hoa Hao Buddhist Church, only one temple remains: The Quang Minh Tu Temple in An Giang Province – it has been under attack by the police for years. Its clergy members served long-term prison sentences. Their followers have been blocked from attending important religious ceremonies.
Entire Catholic parishes have been targeted. Last week, Thong Nguyen, a young Catholic activist from the Diocese of Vinh, presented to Mr. Chairman the situation of Dong Yen Parish, an all Catholic fishing community. In 2011 the government of Ky Anh District in Ha Tinh Province ordered the relocation of all parishioners to make way for the Formosa Steel Plant. Of the original 4,000 parishioners, 800 have refused to move; they are determined to fight for the preservation of their century-old parish. On March 17, 2015, the government sent in its mobile police to seize land, destroy homes, and bring down religious edifices, turning a once thriving community into a desolate sight. As the demolition team cordoned off the Dong Yen church for destruction, female parishioners used themselves as human shields to protect the most important symbol of their community and faith. The police brutally attacked them causing injuries to several parishioners, including four women – one of them being pregnant – and a Catholic nun. As punishment, 153 children were barred from education for more than two years.
As you remember, Mr. Chairman, your Sub-Committee has held many hearings on the case of Con Dau Parish in Danang City. Seven years ago, the government of Danang City sent in hundreds of anti-riot police officers to brutally break up the funeral of a 93-year old parishioner, steal the casket and beat up the mourners. More than 100 parishioners were injured, including children, pregnant women and the elderly. Sixty-two parishioners were arrested and brought to the police station, where they were all subjected to torture, some for two weeks. Six of them were later sentenced to prison terms. One parishioner who escaped
arrest was later caught and tortured to death. Over 130 parishioners fled to Thailand and Malaysia to seek refugee protection.
The Danang City government has since handed the 110 acres of land that belonged to Con Dau Parish to Sun Group Corporation. This private developer divides up the 142-years old Con Dau Parish into small lots to sell to individual investors for a total worth estimated at 1.2 billion US dollars. Among the victims of this massive land expropriation are many U.S. citizens who inherited real properties in Con Dau from their parents. Of the original 400 families, 93 are still fighting for their parish.
Ironically, the 2017 APEC Summit will be hosted later this year by the government of Danang City, known to have blood on its hands. The Chair of Danang City People’s Committee, who in his former capacity of Director of Department of Planning and Investment delivered Con Dau Parish to Sun Group, would most likely be the one welcoming President Trump at the Summit’s opening ceremony. Sun Group Corporation is priding itself, through public ads, that its InterContinental Peninsula Sun Danang Resort has been selected as the main venue for summit activities.
In view of President Trump’s meeting with Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc at the
White House next week and attendance of the APEC Summit in Vietnam later this year, I offer
the following recommendations:
(1) At the meeting with the Prime Minister of Vietnam, our President should deliver a very strong and clear message that expansion of trade and other areas of cooperation with the U.S. is contingent upon Vietnam’s commitment to:
a. End its use of torture against members of independent religious communities, dissidents, bloggers, journalists and human rights advocates;
b. Cease all attempts to force people of faith to renounce their faith or abandon their religious affiliation; and
c. Move the APEC Summit away from Danang City and summit activities away from any facility owned or operated by Sun Group.
(2) Our State Department should:
a. Verify the list of religious prisoners that I am providing to this Sub-Committee and report their conditions to Congress;
b. Investigate close to 200 Vietnamese government officials implicated in gross violations of human rights that we have documented in over 100 incident reports submitted to UN Special Procedures; and
c. Place those found to be responsible for such gross violations on the sanctions list under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and/or on the Designated Persons List under the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act.
(3) Concerned members of the U.S. Congress should select a number of typical persecution cases to test the Vietnamese government’s good faith in complying with international human rights treaties that it has signed, including the UN Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Vietnamese government should demonstrate such compliance by investigating all reported incidents and prosecuting government officials who violate the basic human rights of others.
Witness Truth in Testimony [PDF]
Added 05/24/2017 at 02:06 PM
Witness Biography [PDF]
Added 05/24/2017 at 02:06 PM
Nguyen Dinh Thang, PhD, left Vietnam with his family as a boat person in 1978 and arrived in
the United States in 1979 after seven months in a refugee camp in Malaysia. He graduated with a
PhD in Mechanical Engineering in 1986 and worked for 15 years at a research lab of the U.S.
Navy. For the past 35 years he has been involved in community services, refugee protection and
human rights advocacy in the United States and Asia. Under his leadership, BPSOS has grown
into an international organization with operations in 14 locations in the United States and Asia.
In 2008 he co-founded Coalition to Abolish Modern-day Slavery in Asia (CAMSA), which has
so far rescued and/or assisted over five thousand victims of labor and sex trafficking. He travels
extensively to Asia and closely monitors the human rights conditions in Vietnam. In 2011 he
received, on behalf of BPSOS and CAMSA, the Asia Human Rights and Democracy Award
from Taiwan President and Speaker of the House
Mr. T. Kumar
Director of International Advocacy, Amnesty International
Witness Statement [PDF]
Added 05/24/2017 at 02:43 PM
Amnesty International Testimony
Human Rights in Vietnam
Committee on Foreign Affairs
U.S. House of Representatives
Asia, Europe and United Nations
Amnesty International USA
May 18, 2017
Thank you Chair and distinguished members of this committee. Amnesty International ispleased to testify at this important hearing.
This hearing is taking place on the eve of the Vietnamese President’s visit to the White House and just over a month before President Trump’s visit Vietnam in June to attend the annual APEC Conference.
These two opportunities are important openings for President Trump to raise concerns about human rights issues in Vietnam and to urge the Vietnamese government to release prisoners of conscience. We urge President Trump not to miss these opportunities.
The human rights situation in Vietnam has been of concern to Amnesty International for years. We have published reports, news releases, and Urgent Actions to highlight our concerns. We also testified last year before this Committee after former President Obama’s visit to Vietnam.
Main Human Rights Concerns:
Restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association;
The continuing imprisonment of political prisoners;
The use of national security legislation and the criminal code to suppress criticism of the government, including in relation to the Internet;
The application of the death penalty.
The continuation of repressive practices in some ethnic minority areas – notably the
The state of the independence of judiciary;
Restrictions on religious freedoms – continued intolerance of non-state sanctioned
religions and denominations;
During 2016 severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, of association and of peaceful assembly continued. The media and the judiciary, as well as political and religious institutions, remained under state control. Prisoners of conscience were tortured and otherwise ill-treated, and subjected to unfair trials. Physical attacks against human rights defenders continued, and prominent activists awere subjected to daily surveillance and harassment. Peaceful dissidents and government critics were arrested and convicted on national security charges. Demonstrations were repressed, with
participants and organizers arrested and tortured. The death penalty was retained.
The five-year leadership change took place in January at the congress of the Communist Party of Viet Nam. In May, a general election for the 500 seats in the National Assembly was contested by 900 Communist Party members nominated by central or local authorities and 11 independent candidates. Over 100 non-party
candidates who attempted to register, including prominent government critics such as Nguyễn Quang A, were disqualified on tenuous administrative grounds. Some were subject to harassment and intimidation.
The implementation of key new laws, scheduled for July, was postponed due to flaws in the amended Penal Code. They included the Criminal Procedure Code, the Law on the Organization of Criminal Investigation Agencies, the Law on the Implementation of Custody and Temporary Detention, and the amended Penal Code itself.
Repression of dissent
Peaceful criticism of government policies continued to be silenced through judicial and extra-legal means. There was extensive surveillance and harassment of activists, including those who demonstrated against the Formosa ecological disaster which affected the lives of an estimated 270,000 people. Attacks against human rights defenders were commonplace.1
The authorities continued to use vaguely worded legislation to convict peaceful activists under the national security section of the 1999 Penal Code, in particular: Article 258 “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens”; Article 88 “spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam”; and Article 79 “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration”.
In an eight-day period in March, seven activists and government critics were convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for the peaceful expression of their views. They included Nguyễn Hữu Vinh, founder of the popular blog site Anh Ba Sàm, and his assistant Nguyễn Thi Minh Thúy who were convicted under Article 258 and given fiveand three-year prison sentences respectively.2 They had spent nearly two years in pretrial
Prominent human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài and his assistant Lê Thu Hà remained in incommunicado detention following their arrest on charges under Article 88 in December 2015.3
In October, well-known activist Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh, known as blogger Mẹ Nấm (Mother Mushroom), was arrested on charges under Article 88 in connection with her blog postings criticizing the government.4
The Article carries a three- to 20-year prison sentence.
Routine beatings of human rights defenders and their relatives continued. In April, Trần Thị Hồng, wife of prisoner of conscience Pastor Nguyễn Công Chính, was arrested and severely beaten in custody soon after she met with a US delegation visiting Viet Nam.5
Freedom of assembly
Large peaceful demonstrations over the Formosa disaster were frequent. Weekly demonstrations in urban centers around the country in April and May resulted in mass arrests and attacks against participants by police and individuals in plain clothes believed to be police or working under police orders. Many of those detained were tortured or otherwise ill-treated, including with beatings and the use of electric shocks.6 Demonstrations continued throughout the year, with those in provinces affected by the
Formosa disaster gathering momentum. There were reports that 30,000 people demonstrated in August in Vinh City, Nghệ An province.
In July, a demonstration of around 400 ethnic minority Ede villagers in Buôn Ma Thuột, Đắk Lắk province protesting against the sale of 100 hectares of the community’s ancestral land to a private company was violently repressed by security forces; at least seven demonstrators were arrested and held in incommunicado detention.7
In August, land activist Cấn Thị Thêu was convicted under Article 245 of “causing public disorder” by a court in the capital Ha Noi and sentenced to 20 months’ imprisonment.8 She was accused of inciting protests against reclamation of land in Hà Đông district, Ha Noi, by posting photographs online.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Torture and other ill-treatment, including incommunicado detention, prolonged solitary confinement, beatings, withholding of medical treatment, and punitive transfers between facilities were practiced on prisoners of conscience throughout the country.9 At least 88 prisoners of conscience were held in harsh conditions after unfair trials, some of whom were subjected to beatings, prolonged solitary confinement, deprivation of medical treatment and electric shocks. They included bloggers, labor and land rights activists, political activists, religious followers, members of ethnic groups and advocates for
human rights and social justice.
Land rights activist Bùi Thị Minh Hằng, and Hòa Hảo Buddhist Trần Thị Thúy continued to be denied adequate medical treatment since 2015; Catholic activist Đặng Xuân Diệu was held in solitary confinement for prolonged periods and tortured; and Trần Huỳnh Duy Thức had been transferred between several prisons since 2009, apparently as a punishment or to intimidate him.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
In April and May, in two separate cases, eight asylum-seekers among groups intercepted en route to Australia and forcibly returned to Viet Nam were sentenced to between two and four years’ imprisonment under Article 275 of the Penal Code for “organizing and/or coercing other persons to flee abroad or to stay abroad illegally”.10
Right to an adequate standard of living
An ecological disaster in early April killed huge numbers of fish stocks along the coast of Nghệ An, Hà Tĩnh, Quảng Bình, Quảng Trị and Thừa Thiên-Huế provinces, affecting the livelihoods of 270,000 people. After a two-month investigation, the authorities confirmed allegations by the public that a steel plant owned by the Taiwanese Formosa Plastics Group had caused toxic waste discharges. At the end of June, Formosa publicly acknowledged responsibility and announced that it would provide compensation of US$500 million. In October, a court in Hà Tĩnh rejected 506 cases filed by those affected. The plaintiffs were calling for increased compensation in damages for the impact on their livelihoods.
Death penalty: Death sentences continued to be imposed, including for drug-related offences. Official statistics remained classified as a state secret. Death sentences were reported in the media but no information was available about executions.
Viet Nam’s draft Law on Belief and Religion
Viet Nam’s draft Law on Belief and Religion undermines basic guarantees of the right to freedom of religion or belief by imposing difficult registration requirements and facilitating excessive state interference in the activities of religious organizations.. Amnesty was one of the signatories in an October 2016 Open Letter from civil society organizations which called for the draft Law to be revised, in consultation with religious community representatives, including those of non-recognized religious communities, and experts in international human rights law, to ensure that the law protects the right to
freedom of religion or belief in line with article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights.
The National Assembly ratified the Law in November 2016. Among the concerns groups outlined in the open letter were:
1. The definition of a religion should be made consistent with Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In the current draft, a religious organization has been defined as “a group of people … which is recognized by the government” (Article 2.13). This leaves members of religious organizations who cannot or choose not to register with the authorities in a legal limbo, with no legal safeguards for conducting religious activities.
2. Registration with the government should not be made a pre-requisite for the exercise of freedom of religion or belief. The onerous and complex registration process requires approval from the authorities for religious activities, operations and status as an organization. The guarantees outlined in Article 18 of the ICCPR are independent of and cannot be conditioned on any domestic process of notification, authorization, recognition or registration.
3. The law must not allow officials to arbitrarily interfere in the internal affairs of religious organizations. Provisions in the law allow the authorities to interfere excessively in the internal decisions, appointments, training, teachings and programs of religious organizations. Limitations on the manifestation of freedom of religion or belief must never exceed in either purpose or scope those permitted in article 18(3) of the ICCPR. As the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Dr. Heiner Bielefeltd, said after his visit to Vietnam in 2014, “…registration should be an offer by the State but not a compulsory legal requirement.”
4. Ambiguous and potentially discriminatory language should be removed. The draft law contains ambiguous language regarding “good traditional cultural values” (Article 10.1) and “sowing division” (Article 5.4), that could be used to discriminate against ethnic and indigenous minorities, independent groups and those whose religion or belief is seen as “foreign” (Article 2.12). 5. Provisions should be made to establish legal channels and mechanisms for people to file complaints, and have those complaints
independently investigated and acted on, in cases of alleged violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief.
Vietnamese officials continue to force Montagnard Christians to sign pledges renouncing their religion, and these minorities have been fleeing to other South East Asian countries seeking asylum.
In July 2014, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt visited Vietnam on an official mission. During this visit, police intimidated and put many lowland dissidents and religious activists under house arrest so they could not meet him. Fearing for the safety of other activists, Bielefeldt cut short his planned visits to three locations, including the Central
Highland provinces of Gia Lai and Kon Tum. He concluded that the “tight control that the Government exercises on religious communities” means that the “autonomy and activities of independent religious or belief communities, that is, unrecognized communities, remain restricted and unsafe, with the rights to
freedom of religion or belief of such communities grossly violated.”
In February of 2017, hundreds of peaceful marchers were attacked by police as they marched to file complaints against Formosa Plastics, a company responsible for an ecological disaster in Viet Nam. Most of the marchers were Catholic. In addition to this, Father Đặng Hữu Nam, Nguyễn Văn Tráng and Paulus Lê Văn Sơn have been involved in organizing activities calling for transparency and accountability in relation to the disaster, including compensation for those affected. Father Đặng Hữu Nam, a Catholic priest has been helping to organize mass protests.
The three men have also faced severe harassment which has intensified after their activities linked to the ecological catastrophe: Father Nam has been subjected to surveillance, death threats, arrests and beatings by security police and individuals in plain clothes.
In January of 2017, 3 unrelated Human Rights defenders were held incommunicado, including Nguyễn Văn Oai, a former prisoner of conscience and Catholic social activist, was arrested on his way home from a fishing trip in Hoàng Mai town, central Viet Nam late on 19 January 2017. His family were informed the following day that he was being accused of resisting officials on duty under Article 257 of the Penal Code. Nguyễn Văn Oai is currently serving a three year probation period after he was released in August 2015 following a four year prison sentence. He is being held at Nghệ An provincial prison, and faces a
possible seven year sentence if convicted. He is in weak health after his previousimprisonment.
Cấn Thị Thêu, a well-known land rights activist, was tried and convicted by a court in Hà Nội in September 2016 and sentenced to 20 months’ imprisonment on charges of “disturbing public order” under Article 245 of the 1999 Penal Code.
Human rights defender Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh, known as blogger Mẹ Nấm (Mother Mushroom) was arrested in October 2016 and has been charged with “conducting propaganda” against the state under Article 88 of Viet Nam’s Penal Code. She is at risk of torture and ill-treatment. It is not known where she is
Two examples of Prisoners of Conscience:
The Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, head of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Viet Nam (UBCV), is a leading advocate of religious freedom, human rights and democracy. He is confined to the Thanh Minh Zen monastery in Ho Chi Minh City, as a prisoner of conscience. He has protested peacefully against repressive government policies in Viet Nam since the 1950s, and has spent almost three decades either in
prison, detained without trial or under house arrest in “internal exile,” far from his home. The UBCV was founded in 1964, but has been banned since 1975. Its members have come under varying degrees of repression for their peaceful activities, including imprisonment for terms of eight years or more, arbitrary detention and house arrest. Thich Quang Do opposed the establishment of the state-controlled Viet Nam Buddhist Church in 1981, which was created to lessen the influence of the UBCV. He resisted government efforts to force the UBCV to join this body. As a result, he was arrested in February 1982 and kept under house arrest for 10 years in internal exile. In February 2001, Thich Quang Do wrote an eight-point plan for peaceful democratic change, Appeal for Democracy in Viet Nam, addressed to senior members of the government. The appeal received support both inside Viet Nam, where it was circulated secretly, and from some Members of the European Parliament, and US Congress, after it was smuggled overseas. This prompted the authorities to arrest him again, and in June 2001 he was sentenced to two years’ administrative detention. He was held incommunicado for two years at Thanh Minh Zen monastery, and released on 27 June 2003.He was arrested again in October 2003, while returning to Ho Chi Minh City with
other Buddhist monks from a UBCV meeting in another province. Security officials told him that he had been placed in administrative detention for an indefinite period. He was not told why he had been arrested, or whether he had been charged with any offence. He is still confined to the Thanh Minh Zen monastery.In May 2005 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention decided that his “deprivation of liberty” was arbitrary, in contravention of Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Viet Nam is a state party.
Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, a successful entrepreneur, was sentenced to 16 years’
imprisonment followed by five years’ house arrest on 20 January 2010 for blogging
about political and economic issues in Viet Nam. He declared during his trial that he
was tortured while in detention to force him into making a confession. Tran Huynh Duy
Thuc was initially accused of “theft of telephone lines” before being prosecuted under
Article 88 of the Criminal Code for “conducting propaganda against the State”. However,
he was later charged with “attempting to overthrow the people’s administration” under
Article 79 of Viet Nam’s Criminal Code through his establishment of the “Chan research
group” and his connection with so-called reactionary individuals abroad. Tran Huynh
Duy Thuc was transferred to Xuan Moc prison, Ba Ria – Vung Tau province in early July
2013, along with four other dissident prisoners. It is not known why he was moved and
his family only found out when they went to visit him at the detention facility where he
was previously held. He is currently in a cell on his own in a section of the prison for
political prisoners. In May 2013, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc was held for 10 days in solitary
confinement in a small, dark and dirty cell.
President Trump should:
1) Personally urge President of Vietnam to release all prisoners of conscience
immediately and unconditionally.
2) Urge that the draft Law on Belief and Religion be revised, in consultation with
religious community representatives, including those of non-recognized religious
communities, and experts in international human rights law, to ensure that the
law protects the right to freedom of religion or belief in line with article 18 of the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
3) Urge the government to stop the practice of forced renunciation of religion.
4) Publicly call for the respect for and protection of human rights during his press
interactions after the meeting, including during the joint press conference.
5) Meet with the families of prisoners of conscience during his visit to Vietnam
Thank you for inviting Amnesty International to Testify.
Asia, Europe and United Nations
Amnesty International USA
Witness Biography [PDF]
Added 05/24/2017 at 02:43 PM
T. Kumar is the Director for International Advocacy at Amnesty International USA. He has
served as a human rights monitor and as director of refugee camps around the world. He often
testifies before the US Congress and lectures at the Foreign Service Institute where US diplomats
are trained. He also served as a Professor at Washington College of Law’s Humanitarian &
Human Rights Academy. He has monitored elections with former President Carter around the
world and served as Judge of Elections in Philadelphia. He also served as a consultant to the UN
Quaker Mission. Kumar was a political prisoner for over five years in Sri Lanka for his peaceful
human rights activities. He started his legal studies in prison and eventually became an Attorneyat-Law
and devoted his entire practice to defend political prisoners
Hearing notice [PDF]