On May 21, 2000, Secretary General Le Kha Phieu of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) is scheduled to visit French President Jacques Chirac. France, the forefather of democracy, has repeatedly spearheaded efforts to promote human rights throughout the world. Although the Franco-Vietnamese relationship underwent dark periods, the Vietnamese people and their intelligentsia, in accordance with their national traditions, have always cherished the humanistic side of French culture and politics.

This notwithstanding, the Vietnamese Government, under the leadership of the VCP, has for years deprived the Vietnamese people of their most basic freedoms. These include freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and the freedom to engage in business and commerce. Current evidence is the silencing of dissenting voices coming from many quarters, including communists and non-communists, writers, journalists, academics, both Vietnamese and foreigners. Not even French journalists have been spared; a lady reporter was harassed by the Vietnamese authorities on the very eve of Secretary General Le Kha Phieu’s visit to their country. This interference in press freedom was an offense against the French people and government and ran counter to the cultural values and democratic traditions of France.

The French President’s decision to hold talks with the chief of the VCP, a party notorious for its human rights violations, is a deep disappointment, taken apparently for short-term gains. Recently, even the French Communist Party has modified its rhetoric in the direction of support for individual and citizen liberties and needed political changes. Indeed, it could turn out that the French government and, specially, the French Communists, who are arranging the Secretary General’s visit, might contribute to positive changes in Vietnam by inducing the Vietnamese Communists to follow their lead. This could turn Vietnam in a new and positive direction while enhancing French prestige and influence in Southeast Asia.

I appeal to the French people, with the political acuity for which they are known, to make their leadership understand that there is a difference between extending hospitality and condoning derogations of freedom and human rights. In this way, France will continue to maintain the respect it has long enjoyed among people of good will, in Vietnam and throughout the world.

With respect to the Vietnamese Communist Party, I urge its Secretary General and leadership to be open-minded and to take genuine steps towards democracy. Vietnam should become part of the global movement toward increased freedoms. It should move quickly to replace its obsolete political regime with one that is truly responsive to the Vietnamese people. Article 4 of the Vietnamese Constitution should be annulled.

In short, I demand that the Vietnamese people be allowed to choose their own political regime and national leaders through a free and fair general election with the equal participation of all individuals and political organizations, both communist and non-communist. Only then can the great potential of the Vietnamese people, at home and abroad, be unleashed. Only then will Vietnam truly develop. Only then will all Vietnamese be able to stand united in the face of instability and insecurity in Southeast Asia. The alternative is stagnation, instability and lack of development, for which history and the Vietnamese people will hold the current communist government responsible for the years to come.

Doan Viet Hoat

Washington DC
May 20, 2000