Democracy and Freedom of the Press in Vietnam

Doan Viet Hoat
Speech Given At The National Press Club, Washington, DC
November 20, 1998

Ladies and gentlemen,

This year is the 50th Anniversary of the UDHR. Fifty years ago on DEC 10 50 founding members of the United nations signed the UDHR. This historical document has outlined the standards and values common to all human beings. Since then, many other documents on HR have been promulgated. These documents form the foundations for the promotion of International Legal stipulations and structures instrumental to the humanization and globalization of human life on our earth. Since then, our world has also changed from a world of hatred, oppression and barbarism to a world of discussion, cooperation and civilization. It is normal that we shall always have problems and conflicts, but the chance for dialogue, agreement and cooperation have become more and more available for all people around the world.

Today, on this special opportunity, I feel honored to address to you, representatives of the fourth power of the political system of democracy. I want to call your attention to the HR situation in my country. As you know, I have just been deported directly from the prison to the airport not more than 3 months ago. Just three months ago I am still in jail, imprisoned for the sole reason of advocating freedom and respect of human rights. Of course, the Communist government of Vietnam has never accepted the term ? political prisoner?, not to say of ? prisoner of conscience?. For the communist government of Vietnam, like all other totalitarian regimes, we are only ?law violators? or even worse, ?delinquents?.

Ten years ago they also rejected the existence of human rights issues in Vietnam. Nowadays, under pressure of international community and of the worsening socio-economic situation in Vietnam itself, the communist government has to accept dialogue and even an agreement on Human rights issues. The reason released of some prominent religious leaders and political prisoners is the positive event welcomed by many governments and all human rights organizations. However, I would like to call your attention to three questions. First, most recently released detainees are beneficiaries of world-wide intervention, which implies that international pressure on human rights issues in Vietnam have attained heartfelt results, and as such, should be continued on other unsolved HR issues. Second, there are still hundreds of oppressed political and religious dissidents in Vietnam who are either imprisoned or harassed and/ or house arrest. Most of them are unknown by the world. The detainees suffer miserable and arduous prison condition, with forced labor and humiliation. For those house arrested or under administrative detention, police harassment, infringement of privacy, violation of fundamental human rights, disregard and contempt of human dignity?or those barbarous acts committed by the government and police officials?occurred every day and everywhere around the country. Third, the fact that the communist government of Vietnam still denies the existence of political prisoners causes great alarm among all those who are working for freedom and respect of human rights in Vietnam. Under the pretext of law enforcement and of social order and stability the communist government of Vietnam continues to suppress dissidents with various methods. I particularly call your attention to the Administrative Detention Decree 31/CP effective from April 1997. This Decree allows government officials down to village levels to put anyone considered ? detrimental to national security? under custody for 6 months to 2 years without trial. They may be house- arrested or forced to move to an assigned location to be re-educated. This Decree does not only violate universal standards of human rights and human dignity, but worse challenges daringly all efforts to struggle for a free and democratic Vietnam.

What I have just presented to you highlights the need for a closer look on the human rights situation in Vietnam. I strongly believe that the recent release of some well-known political detainees mark the first, and not the last successful step toward liberalization and democratization in Vietnam. I think that Vietnam is now ripe for an evolution from dictatorship to democracy, as it was ripe for the transformation from monopoly economy to free market economy ten years ago. In the beginning of the 1990?s Vietnam is on the fringe of total collapse, socially and economically. The acceptance of free market economy had given the people new opportunity for survival. However, totalitarianism in politic and culture against jeopardizes stable and speedy economic development so needed for a long- exhausted Vietnam. With GDP presently about $US 340:00 after ten years of economic renovation, the prospect for a developed Vietnam is still rather deem even in purely economic outlook. I believe that economic development cannot be carried out successfully without a paralleled existence of a free civil society. Transparency and openness are sine-qua-non condition of efficiency and progress in all aspects of social activities. They are enemies of corruption and power abuse too. And yet, transparency and openness cannot be come through without freedom of the press and freedom of expression. They are also the first step toward democratization. However, the communist party of Vietnam still keeps the monopoly of power and control over all aspects of social life. The communist leaders still affirm that they have the historical responsibility and rights to ?direct? their people. Being an advocate of freedom and democracy I campaign for equality of opportunity for every citizen no matter what party he belongs to and what ideology he supports. I believe, and I think you all share my beliefs, that no one, no matter how wise and how powerful he may be, has the rights to tell others what they should do and what they should not do, what they should believe and what they should not believe. I also think that this conviction lays the foundation not for the Universal Declaration of HR, but also for human civilization.

To conclude my presentation, I would like to confirm today of my continued struggle for a free, democratic Vietnam where the people will have the rights to master their own lives and the life of their country. I shall continue to work for the realization of the following four concrete objectives: the release of all political prisoners still in jail, the abolition of Administrative Detention Decree 31/CP and of all other oppression measures of the communist government in Vietnam, freedom of the press, and termination of religious persecution in Vietnam. I call upon international community and American public to support the Vietnamese people?s struggle for freedom and democracy in Vietnam. I strongly believe that with international and American support our campaign for a democratic and prosperous Vietnam will become reality in the near future.