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Vietnam: Minorities Face Torture in a Country that “Loves Human Rights”

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Religious and ethnic minorities in Vietnam are dying from prison abuse. The death of a young man comes shortly after the Vietnamese president asserted: “we love human rights.”
Last week, sufficient evidence emerged that Vin Y Het from the Hroi minority in Vietnam died in April 2007 from injuries received in prison. He reportedly died as a result of being beaten because he refused to renounce his faith, even though he was a member of the officially recognised Evangelical Church of Vietnam (ECVN).1 Shortly after his conversion to Christianity in September 2006, authorities attempted to have Mr. Het sign a document to renounce his faith, of which he refused, leading to his subsequent beating. Even though the practice of forcing individuals to renounce their faith has been banned in Vietnam, it still continues, particularly in rural areas among ethnic minorities.

Unfortunately, this beating is not an isolated incident. In the past year there have been a number of reported cases of Degar Christians (Indigenous peoples of Vietnam) who have died as a result of torture in prison. Most recent is the case of Dieu Suoi who was tortured in front of his village before being taken to prison and sentenced to two years for refusing to leave his unregistered church for a church that was officially recognised by the Vietnamese government. On 30 May 2007, Dieu Suoi died as a result of the torture that continued in prison. 2

In Vietnam, Protestant churches were amalgamated into the ECVN in 1975 by the government. The ECVN is one of the few registered religious organisations in country. In the last twenty years, an unregistered, and therefore illegal, house-church movement has continued to grow despite crackdowns by the government. New and unregistered religious organisations in Vietnam are viewed with great suspicion as they are often associated with western ideology and minority separatism. Ethnic minorities in Vietnam make up a large proportion of new converts as missionaries tend to focus their efforts on minority groups.3

In a recent visit to the United States, the Vietnamese president worked very hard to create the image of Vietnam as a good place for investment with one of Asia’s fastest growing economies. The country is also seeking support for accession into the World Trade Organisation. But if Vietnam wants to gain credibility with the international community, it must also improve its human rights record. In an interview with CNN, President Nguyen Minh Triet said, “more than anybody else, we love human rights. We respect them." The president’s comments seem to only to invoke cynicism.

Vietnam is not a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, although they are bound by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 5, “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” For Vietnam, living up to this standard has taken the back seat to economic concerns while the minorities of the country suffer the consequences.

1 Vietnam: Ethnic Christian Dies from Torture Injuries:
2 Three More Degar Montagnards Die from Torture and Abuse:
3 Vietnam: Montagnards Face Religious, Political Persecution: