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Human Rights Charade in Vietnam

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Vietnam’s President arrived in New York City on 19 June 2007 for a six-day visit to facilitate enhanced trade between the two countries. Back home, the Vietnam government continues with its policy of releasing individual political prisoners in an attempt to feign progress on human rights.
On 10 June 2007, President Nguyen Minh Triet granted amnesty to Mr. Nguyen Vu Binh, a journalist who was imprisoned in September 2002 on charges of espionage.  As the country’s President visits the U.S. for free trade talks, this is clearly a gesture which is meant to demonstrate that Vietnam is moving towards a society that is forward-thinking with a commitment towards human rights and modernity. President Nguyen Minh Triet arrived in New York City on Tuesday, 19 June 2007, for the six-day visit, and met with U.S. President George W. Bush on 22 June 2007.  He is the first head of state of communist Vietnam to visit the U.S. since the end of the Vietnam War.

Again, the Vietnamese government is trying to beguile the international community with its charade. Mr. Nguyen Vu Binh, despite his much-touted “release”, will still have to serve three-years under house arrest, which essentially means that he is not allowed to travel outside his town of residence nor publish any of his works, with his movements being heavily monitored.  In spite of Mr. Nguyen Minh Triet being released from prison, therefore, he is still clearly being deprived of his liberty. 

Even with this attempted act of propaganda, Vietnam is still violating international human rights law.  Under Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “[e]veryone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.” This right is further enunciated in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a treaty which Vietnam has ratified, which provides that every person residing legally within a state has the right to choose his/her place of residence and has the right to move around freely. The Human Rights Committee’s General Comment 27 on Freedom of Movement explains that this freedom is very important as it is “indispensable for the free development of a person” and interacts with the other rights in the ICCPR.

Vietnam is apparently making it a practice of using its political prisoners as bargaining chips to incur favors from the international community or to keep diplomatic pressure at bay. Weeks before Vietnam hosted the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in 2006, it released several political prisoners. One of them was pro-democracy activist Pham Hong Son, who was originally sentenced to five years in prison for translating articles from the U.S. State Department website for an online journal. Vietnam also released prisoners while it was in the process of convincing the U.S. government to approve Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) and to support its bid for accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

It is clear that Vietnam is eager to be considered as an equal partner in trade and economic activity in the international community.  However, in order to achieve this it should cease from releasing political prisoners as a mere propaganda exercise and begin to make more sincere moves towards a society that respects and protects human rights for all.