A U.S. human rights delegation met with representatives from Vietnam’s civil society on Wednesday to discuss issues related to human rights and democracy and gauge their support for a U.S.-led regional trade pact.
Blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy (who blogs for Radio Free Asia), one of the attendees, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the U.S. embassy invited civil society organizations to meet with the delegation to discuss the country’s human rights situation at the two-day conference in Hanoi.
“They wanted to meet with us before their dialogue with Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” he said. “They listened to us, and we had a lot of opinions but we did not have enough time.”
He said the meeting, which lasted about an hour and 20 minutes, was “too short” for the 14 Vietnamese who attended to cover the issue with the large U.S. delegation.
Attorney Le Thi Cong Nhan, who was also at the meeting, told RFA that the U.S. delegation paid a great deal of attention to the opinions of the Vietnamese civil society organizations with regards to whether or not the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) should be passed, given Vietnam’s current sociopolitical issues, especially when it comes to human rights.
A dozen countries, including the U.S. and Vietnam, have been holding negotiations for several years to create a multilateral free trade agreement in the Asia-pacific region. The TPP has been controversial in Vietnam, which is sensitive to the economic and trade predominance of China. Its implementation is one of the trade agenda goals of the Obama administration.
“They even asked us to raise our hands to vote yes or no,” Nhan said. “Of those representing Vietnamese civil society organizations at the meeting, half said no, and half said yes to the TPP’s passage.”
Nhan, who was among those who were not in favor of the TPP, said the U.S. delegation did not appear surprised by the result, which they said would influence the upcoming vote of U.S. senators about the TPP with Vietnam during the next legislative session, she said.
Police detain activists
The morning before the meeting, police detained some activists in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to prevent them from possibly attending the event.
Thao Teresa, an activist who was among those detained, told RFA that police stopped her as she was taking her child to school and took her to the district police station in Hanoi, but later released her.
“They used about 20 people to detain me, but they did not tell me what the reason was,” she said.” They only told me that they had sent an order to me to see them several times before, but because I never showed up, they now had to take me to the district police station.”
“I protested, but they had too many people,” she said. “They forced me to go, so I had to go.”
Likewise, Nguyen Dan Que, a pro-democracy activist in Ho Chi Minh City who has been imprisoned several times on state security charges related to his activism, said he was prevented from leaving his home.
Whenever national holidays or other notable events occur, police block and watch democracy activists very closely, he said.
“All that the government has said in its official documents and announcements or in mainstream media is that they always respect human rights, people’s opinions, and that they always ask people for opinions and get the support from the majority of people…Everybody inside Vietnam and around the world knows that those words are for their propaganda only.
“In reality, I see that they do the opposite things to the people. Media always show beautiful pictures of people’s life while in fact people are suffering.”
He went on to say that the government cracks down on activists by targeting people and trying to isolate them in various ways and make life more difficult for their family.
“There is no sign of any improvement in the human rights situation,” he said “When we talk about activists’ demands that the government needs to listen to people, respect their right to access information from the Internet… they [the government] takes revenge even on the Internet or Facebook.”
Reported by Mac Lam and Gia Minh of RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by the Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.