Vietnam Publication Aims to Counter Human Rights Criticism From ‘Hostile Forces’

By Patrick Goodenough | July 15, 2010 | 5:07 AM EDT

The official logo for events marking the 15th anniversary of the normalization of U.S.-Vietnam diplomatic ties (Image: U.S. Embassy, Hanoi)

( – As the U.S. and Vietnam mark the 15th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties, Hanoi has published its first “human rights magazine” at a time when some in the U.S. are demanding that concerns about human rights abuses in the communist-ruled state get greater attention.
The publication released on Wednesday purportedly sets forth the Communist Party’s “guidelines and standpoints” on human rights and provides a forum for discussion, the official Vietnam News Agency reported.
But there is another aim too: “It also helps inform people about the plots of hostile forces who use democracy and human rights issues to sabotage national construction and development,” VNA said. “The magazine will raise a strong voice against their misleading arguments.”
On Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem was quoted as telling a ceremony marking the publication that despite “great achievements in the country’s renovation process,” hostile forces continued to use democracy, human rights, religion and ethnic issues to slander Vietnam and hinder its development.
The Vietnamese people should therefore both protect human rights and be determined to fight against the hostile plots and arguments, added Khiem, who heads a government steering committee on human rights.
Despite significantly improved relations between the former foes over the past 15 years, Vietnam’s human rights record continues to trouble members of the Vietnamese-American community, human rights and religious freedom groups, and sympathetic members of Congress.
Advocacy groups and supportive lawmakers frequently urge administrations in Washington to move human rights up the agenda in bilateral diplomacy, citing in particular the detention of pro-democracy activist, restrictions on religious freedom, and Internet censorship and monitoring.
Hanoi bristles at the criticism, which it sees as part of a campaign by groups posing as rights activists but whose actual goal is to denigrate the state.
The government labels the threat “peaceful evolution,” defined in a Voice of Vietnam report as an “important part of hostile forces’ global counter-revolutionary strategy aimed at combating socialist nations.”

A Vietnamese military officer inspects an honor guard before the arrival in Hanoi of New Zealand Prime Minister John Key on Monday July 12, 2010. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit the country early next week. (AP Photo/Tran Van Minh)

'Integrate rights into bilateral policy'

This year Vietnam chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will early next week attend an ASEAN Regional Forum ministerial meeting in Hanoi.
She will also hold talks with senior Vietnamese leaders on “key bilateral and regional issues” and attend a luncheon marking the 15th anniversary of bilateral relations, the State Department announced Wednesday
In a letter to Clinton Thursday, 19 lawmakers from both parties urged her to use the opportunity to raise concerns about political prisoners and also to “integrate human rights issues into the core of U.S.-Vietnam bilateral policy.”

It cites cases of specific prisoners including writer and activist Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, who was detained last October, assaulted while police looked on, and then herself charged with assault, convicted and sentenced in February to three-and-a-half years’ imprisonment.

The letter also raises concerns about what it called “a sophisticated and sustained attack against online dissent” – a new directive requiring all retail Internet locations to install software that tracks user activity and blocks access to some Web sites.

Signatories to the letter included House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Howard Berman and the committee’s ranking Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party), a pro-democracy party banned in Vietnam, said Thursday it strongly endorsed the bipartisan call and “concurs with the members of Congress that human rights is essential for Vietnam’s development.”

Viet Tan says its mission “is to overcome dictatorship, build the foundation for a sustainable democracy and demand justice and human rights for the Vietnamese people through a nonviolent struggle based on civic participation.”

Hanoi considers it to be a terrorist organization.
After the normalization of bilateral relations in July 1995, President Clinton in November 2000 became the first American president to visit since the end of the Vietnam War.
President Bush traveled there in 2006, and Hanoi has invited President Obama to visit during its term as ASEAN chair.
Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow