What did VOICE accomplish in 2017 and 2018?

See the pictures below that highlight what we achieved in the past two years, from four main activities: Training, Civil Society, Advocacy and Refugee Resettlement.

We achieved this not only by the efforts of VOICE members but also through the support of volunteers, VOICE affiliates, partners and especially our enthusiastic supporters in Vietnam and around the world. Thank you to all of you who have made this success possible!

Read More

Anna Nguyen: “It is much more intelligent to try, rather than not to try.”

The following article is the sharing of Anna Nguyen, VOICE’s Director of Programs, on the occasion of the trip to advocate the human rights of the Vietnamese delegation in Europe.

“Surely, in the light of history, it is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not to try. For one thing we know beyond all doubt: Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, ‘It can’t be done.'” – Eleanor Roosevelt

On the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), I reflect back on my week in Brussels. This week was definitely a learning experience for me, after an intense week of back to back meetings with Members of the European Parliament and European Commission, talking about the importance of human rights concessions that need to be made by the Vietnamese government prior to the ratification of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) and the leverage the EVFTA can be used to demand for an improved human rights situation in Vietnam.


The EVFTA is a trade agreement between the EU and Vietnam, with hopes that once it’s signed, the EU will boost its trade and investment ties with Vietnam. ‘The EVFTA is an important stepping stone to a wider EU-Southeast Asia trade deal, something which the EU has been striving towards for almost 10 years. Vietnam, a fast-growing and competitive economy whose bilateral trade with the EU has quintupled over the past ten years, is equally keen on the deal, which according to the European Commission could potentially boost its GDP by 15%.’ (*)

Despite being 70 years since the UDHR was signed, human rights has taken a step back and our presence is still required to advocate for simple improvements in human rights. However, in each of my meetings this week, I was reminded how small of a fish we really are, in this huge ocean of diplomacy, trade deals, and agreements. We can talk for hours about the worsening human rights situation in Vietnam, and the staggering number of human rights defenders that have been sent to prison for their peaceful civil and political rights work (165 according to https://vietnamprisoners.info). We can go on and on about how much the EVFTA is needed by the Vietnamese government, not only because it could potentially boost their GDP, but also in order to be seen as balancing the interests between Conglomerate China and the West. We could continue to stress the power the EU has in pushing for the release of political prisoners and amendment to laws that infringe upon rights such as freedom of expression, and that if the EU wants to be seen seriously, they need to secure, at the very least, these demands before an agreement is signed.

Whether our voices actually amounts to real change is the real test. At times, I really wonder whether these meetings actually make a dent in any diplomatic negotiations. Whether the voice of civil society actors can really make an impact on how a country will be in the next 5, 10, or 100 years, and whether our input can shape how human rights and civil society organisations are able to safely and freely operate in a repressive country like Vietnam. After all, my voice is literally and metaphorically so small compared to this big arena of agreements and diplomacy, how much difference would I actually be able to make?!

But in the words of Mrs. Roosevelt, ”nothing has been achieved by the person who says, ‘it can’t be done.’” It is important to hope, to fight, even in the light of despair and deterioration. And surely, it is much more intelligent to try, rather than not to try.

(*) https://www.europarl.europa.eu/legislative-train/theme-a-balanced-and-progressive-trade-policy-to-harness-globalisation/file-eu-vietnam-fta?fbclid=IwAR2jIFGYxI5BbofGhHGmuaEp-0KM2tOfWLse6l4yvPhzE-35UAG0dr9om9k

Source from Anna’s Facebook:

”Surely, in the light of history, it is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not to try. For…

Posted by Anna Nguyen on Sunday, December 9, 2018

VOICE in conjunction with other NGOs submitted contributions to the Universal Periodic Review

On July 12, 2018, VOICE in conjunction with CIVICUS, Human Rights Foundation, VOICE Vietnam, and the Civil Society Forum submitted contributions to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR). This report draws attention to the human rights violations occurring in Vietnam with particular focus on civil society, freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, and unwarranted restrictions on human rights defenders (HRDs) since its 2nd UPR examination in January 2014.

The report can be found here: UPR Submisson – Vietnam

The UPR is a unique process, which involves a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States. The UPR is a significant innovation of the Human Rights Council, which is based on equal treatment for all countries. It provides an opportunity for all States to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to overcome challenges to the enjoyment of human rights. The UPR also includes a sharing of best human rights practices around the globe. Currently, no other mechanism of this kind exists.

VOICE in conjunction with other NGOs submitted contributions to the Universal Periodic Review
VOICE in conjunction with other NGOs submitted contributions to the Universal Periodic Review

During the last UPR cycle, the Government of Vietnam received 37 recommendations relating to civic space. Of these recommendations, 29 were accepted and eight were noted. An evaluation of a range of legal sources and human rights documentation addressed in subsequent sections of this submission demonstrates that the Government of Vietnam has partially implemented six recommendations relating to civil society space and not implemented the remaining 31. The government has persistently failed to address unwarranted restrictions on civic space since its last UPR examination and acute implementation gaps were found with regard to the rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression and the protection of HRDs and bloggers.

The United Nations’ Human Rights Council is scheduled to review Vietnam’s human rights obligations on January 22, 2019.

More information about the UPR process can be found here:


Mùa hè không yên ả – Cuộc đàn áp người bất đồng chính kiến lớn nhất trong nhiều năm qua – The Guardian

At least 11 activists have been arrested, charged or convicted over the past few months, while another was stripped of his citizenship and deported to France

Ho Thi Chau, 25, was left alone and blacklisted after her husband was returned to jail for “attempting to overthrow the [Vietnamese] government” last week.

An activist from the north central province of Nghe An, Nguyen Van Oai was arrested on 18 September on charges of violating the conditions of his 2015 release from prison.

Oai, an anti-government dissident, is a citizen journalist and co-founder of the Association of Catholic Former Prisoners of Conscience.

Following his conviction, he will serve a five-year prison sentence plus four years of house arrest.

Chau, a former garment factory worker, does not know how to support their newborn daughter. As she is the wife of a man branded a “reactionary” by Vietnam’s single party communist state, employers are reluctant to hire her.

“When we were preparing for our wedding I was sacked because of our engagement and they didn’t hire me any more,” she said.

Vietnam’s summer has been particularly harsh for dissidents, with at least 11 having been arrested, charged or convicted, while another was stripped of his citizenship and deported to France.

Human Rights Watch has described it as an “all-out effort” to clamp down on criticism, while Amnesty International has expressed fears that imprisoned dissidents are being tortured. The US embassy and EU delegation in Hanoi have repeatedly expressed their alarm.

‘I have my way of living in a difficult situation’

Those who remain out of prison ponder if they will be the next detained.

Mai Khoi, a former pop star who was banished from the Vietnamese music industry when she began expressing pro-democracy views in 2016, was surprised on 22 July when dozens of police arrived at her private show in Hanoi’s Tay Ho district.

Ca Si Mai Khoi - Mùa hè không yên ả – Cuộc đàn áp người bất đồng chính kiến lớn nhất trong nhiều năm qua - Musician Mai Khoi at a Hanoi cafe on 19 August
 Musician Mai Khoi at a Hanoi cafe on 19 August Photograph: Sasha Arefieva

The authorities had a complaint: the studio hosting Khoi did not have a permit for the show and it must be stopped.

While no one was arrested, Khoi, whose band Mai Khoi and the Dissidents have lyrics peppered with criticisms of the government, was evicted the next day by her landlord, who told her he was breaking the lease due to police pressure.

Since the raid Khoi has been forced to stop playing her shows, which fuse traditional Vietnamese music with American-style blues.

She is now living in a secret location in Hanoi in a flat leased under a friend’s name as she tries to work out her next move.

“It doesn’t really scare me, because I have my way of living in a difficult situation,” said Khoi.

“Ai Weiwei was in jail and he’s still doing his thing,” she added, referring to the Chinese visual artist turned dissident who spent 81 days in jail in 2011 for alleged economic crimes.

While Khoi remains free, members of the Brotherhood for Democracy, a loose association of anti-government activists that exists primarily in cyberspace, have born the brunt of the crackdown.

Nguyen Thi Kim Thanh said she was with her husband, Truong Minh Duc, when he was abruptly snatched off the street the morning of 30 July. He is accused of being a member of the Brotherhood, though his wife said she has no knowledge of his participation.

While driving to a pharmacy to buy heart medication, Duc, vice-president of the unregistered Free Viet Labour Federation – which advocates for workers’ rights in the absence of independent unions in Vietnam – was pulled over along with Thanh.

He was thrown into a car and transported to Hanoi, where he is being detained on charges of attempting to overthrow the government. Thanh denies her husband is guilty, adding he merely criticised government policy.

“He was just helping workers who were experiencing unjust behaviour,” she said, adding she worried that Duc, who has a history of heart attacks, won’t survive his incarceration.

Three other activists who were arrested separately across the country on the same day also received the same charge along with human rights lawyer and Brotherhood for Democracy founder Nguyen Van Dai, who has been in prison since 2015 awaiting trial, and his colleague Le Thu Ha.

ông Nguyễn Tường Thụy và bà Nguyễn Thúy Hạnh - Mùa hè không yên ả – Cuộc đàn áp người bất đồng chính kiến lớn nhất trong nhiều năm qua
Nguyen Tuong Thuy (right) and Nguyen Thuy Hanh, members of the Brotherhood for Democracy, in a Hanoi flat. Photograph: Bennett Murray

If found guilty they could face the death penalty.

“We prepare inside our minds for arrest, and talk to our family members, and I ask for advice from former prisoners of conscience about the life inside the prison,” said Nguyen Tuong Thuy, the 65-year-old vice-chairman of the Independent Journalist Association and a Brotherhood member.

Nguyen Thuy Hanh, a 54-year-old member who works as a public relations manger for an Indian company, said most of the group’s key functionaries were arrested in July.

“It’s the biggest challenge we’ve had since the birth of the Brotherhood for Democracy in 2013 until now,” she said.

While the Brotherhood for Democracy has no formal membership roll, it boasts almost 37,000 followers on Facebook. Causes represented by its members range from environmental activism to anti-China nationalism.

But while the Brotherhood has been hit the hardest by the crackdown, targets have included activists from across the spectrum of Vietnamese dissidence.

Some, such as Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, the activist also known as Mother Mushroom who was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in June, were prominent bloggers, while others, including Oai, were members of the Viet Tan, a banned self-described political party based in California.

Khoi, who avoids formal associations and public concerts, said the police will have a hard time building a legal case against her.

She added, however, that it would not take much for her to be imprisoned.

“If I want to be in jail for two days or three days, I’d just go into the street and sing my songs,” she said.


Source from:  The Guardian: Vietnam’s harsh summer: state launches largest crackdown on dissidents in years

Amnesty International: Viet Nam: activists held incommunicado may face life in prison

Three Vietnamese activists, Trương Minh Đức, Nguyễn Trung Tôn, and Phạm Văn Trội, are being held incommunicado at B14 prison in Hà Nội after their arrests on 30 July 2017. They have a range of pre-existing health conditions that require treatment and face a sentence of up to life imprisonment or capital punishment.

Trương Minh Đức, Nguyễn Trung Tôn, and Phạm Văn Trội are members of the Brotherhood for Democracy, a group formed by human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài in 2013 to peacefully advocate for democracy in Viet Nam. They were arrested separately on 30 July 2017 and are accused of “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s Administration” under Article 79 of the 1999 Penal Code. The vaguely-worded offence,which falls under the overbroad “national security” section of the Code, provides for a sentence of up to life imprisonment or capital punishment.All three men suffer from pre-existing health conditions that require access to medication and medical care. Trương Minh Đức has a heart disease and high blood pressure. Following a stroke in mid-May, he needs daily access to a number of medications in order to safely control his condition and help prevent another stroke or a heart attack. Nguyễn Trung Tôn suffers from kidney and prostate problems for which he takes medication. In addition, he has badly injured knees after he was abducted and beaten by unknown men in February 2017. Phạm Văn Trội has stomach ulcers for which he takes medication. Although their wives have attempted to pass on medicine via prison authorities, they are unsure whether it has been delivered, since they have not been able to visit their husbands.

All three men suffer from pre-existing health conditions that require access to medication and medical care. Trương Minh Đức has a heart disease and high blood pressure. Following a stroke in mid-May, he needs daily access to a number of medications in order to safely control his condition and help prevent another stroke or a heart attack. Nguyễn Trung Tôn suffers from kidney and prostate problems for which he takes medication. In addition, he has badly injured knees after he was abducted and beaten by unknown men in February 2017. Phạm Văn Trội has stomach ulcers for which he takes medication. Although their wives have attempted to pass on medicine via prison authorities, they are unsure whether it has been delivered, since they have not been able to visit their husbands.Incommunicado detention can facilitate torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and when prolonged can itself amount to such practices under international human rights law and standards. In addition, the right to promptly communicate with a lawyer and prepare a

Incommunicado detention can facilitate torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and when prolonged can itself amount to such practices under international human rights law and standards. In addition, the right to promptly communicate with a lawyer and prepare a defence is an essential part of the right to a fair trial.Please write immediately in Vietnamese, English, or your own language urging Vietnamese authorities to:

Please write immediately in Vietnamese, English, or your own language urging Vietnamese authorities to:- Release Trương Minh Đức, Nguyễn Trung Tôn, and Phạm Văn Trội immediately and unconditionally as they have been deprived of their liberty solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association;

– Release Trương Minh Đức, Nguyễn Trung Tôn, and Phạm Văn Trội immediately and unconditionally as they have been deprived of their liberty solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association;- Pending their release, ensure that they are protected from torture and other ill-treatment and are allowed access to their family, a lawyer of their choice, and adequate medical care; and

– Pending their release, ensure that they are protected from torture and other ill-treatment and are allowed access to their family, a lawyer of their choice, and adequate medical care; and- Ensure an immediate end to the arbitrary arrests and harassment of members of the Brotherhood for Democracy and other activists who peacefully express their views.

– Ensure an immediate end to the arbitrary arrests and harassment of members of the Brotherhood for Democracy and other activists who peacefully express their views.PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 20 OCTOBER 2017 TO:


Prime Minister
Nguyễn Xuân Phúc
Prime Minister’s Office
Hà Nội, Việt Nam
Salutation: Your Excellency

Minister of Public Security
To Lam
44 Yết Kiêu St. Hoàn Kiếm District Hà
Nội, Việt Nam
Fax: + 844 3823 1872
c/o Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Email: ttll.mfa@mofa.gov.vn
Salutation: Dear Minister

And copies to:

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy
Prime Minister
Phạm Bình Minh
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
1 Ton That Dam Street, Ba Dinh district
Hà Nội, Việt Nam
Fax: + 844 3823 1872

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please insert local diplomatic addresses below:
Name Address 1 Address 2 Address 3 Fax Fax number Email Email address Salutation Salutation
Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.


On the morning of 30 July 2017, Trương Minh Đức and his wife were stopped on a street in Hà Nội by Vietnamese officials in plain clothes and forcibly escorted to a local police station where an arrest warrant was read. The same morning Phạm Văn Trội and Nguyễn Trung Tôn were arrested by police at their homes in Hà Nội and Thanh Hoa province, respectively, where arrest warrants were also read out. A fourth individual, Nguyễn Bắc Truyển, was forcibly disappeared on the same morning (see https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa41/6964/2017/en/%20for%20further%20information/). According to State-run media, all four men are alleged to have connections to human rights lawyer Nguyễn Văn Đài who was himself arrested in Hà Nội on 16 December 2015 and, along with his colleague Le Thu Ha, is charged with “committing propaganda” against the State under Article 88 of the Penal Code and “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s Administration” under Article 79.

Trương Minh Đức is a former journalist and prisoner of conscience. Prior to his arrest he worked as an administrator for the Brotherhood for Democracy and as an advocate in the Viet Labour movement, educating workers about their human rights. He was arrested in 2007 and imprisoned for five years after being convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State” under Article 258 of the Penal Code for reporting on land grabs in a number of Vietnamese publications. In May 2009, his detention was found to be arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (Opinion 1/2009), however he remained in prison until the end of his sentence. Since his release from prison in 2012, authorities have frequently raided his home, making it difficult for his family to earn a living from renting spare rooms at the back of their property. His adult children have been repeatedly questioned by officials about his activities and he has been badly beaten on a number of occasions by men in plain clothes whom he recognized as security officials.

Nguyễn Trung Tôn is a Protestant pastor and former prisoner of conscience who has written about and promoted freedom of religion in Viet Nam. He was arrested in January 2011 in connection with his writings and imprisoned for two years after being convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the State under Article 88 of the Penal Code. Nguyễn Trung Tôn and his family have been harassed for many years by authorities and unidentified assailants. Human waste, oil, and dirt have been thrown at both a market stall operated by his wife and their family home on a number of occasions. In February 2017, Nguyễn Trung Tôn and a friend were abducted in Quang Binh province by unidentified men and badly beaten. He was hospitalized and required surgery to repair injuries to his knees.

Phạm Văn Trội is a writer, activist, and former prisoner of conscience. He has provided advice to workers and land grab victims and written about human rights and democracy. He was arrested in September 2008 for his writings promoting multi-party democracy and imprisoned for four years, including six months in solitary confinement, after being convicted of “conducting propaganda” against the State under Article 88 of the Penal Code. In May 2009, his detention was found to be arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (Opinion 1/2009), however, he remained in prison until the end of his sentence.
Viet Nam is in the midst of a sustained crackdown on human rights which has resulted in the arrest and arbitrary detention of at least fifteen peaceful activists and government critics since January 2017. Prison conditions in Viet Nam are harsh, with inadequate food and health care, falling far short of the minimum requirements set out in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) and other international standards.

Name: Trương Minh Đức , Nguyễn Trung Tôn, and Phạm Văn Trội
Gender: male

UA: 204/17 Index: ASA 41/7059/2017 Issue Date: 8 September 2017

The Washington Post: Apparent crackdown in Vietnam on social media, but many users undeterred

Vietnamese activist Anh Chi searches the Internet at Tu Do (Freedom) cafe in Hanoi. REUTERS/Kham (Kham/Reuters)

By Vincent Bevins

HANOI — The police in ­communist-led Vietnam have been cracking down especially hard on free expression over social media for the past few months.

Or, at least as far as experts, regular users and dissident bloggers can tell, that seems to be the case.

“Even activists in Vietnam struggle to say how many people are actually caught and arrested” for online activity, said Janice Beanland, a campaigner at Amnesty International. “But one striking thing is that Vietnamese activists seem not to be deterred.”

Vietnam doesn’t have the resources of its big neighbor to the north to maintain a “great firewall” or its own social media platforms. So Facebook and other global social networks are popular here. They are filled daily with all kinds of political speech, including quite direct attacks on the government. Vocal users wonder whether their output is being watched, and rumors swirl about shutdowns or hacking.

It’s not clear to anyone on the Web here exactly what the rules are, leading some to question whether Vietnamese censorship is haphazard and counterproductive or part of a more considered strategy to create an efficient chilling effect.

Those who take free speech too far risk harassment or arrest. But how far is too far?

“It’s getting more difficult for us. Why? Some people say that Donald Trump doesn’t care about human rights, and so the [Vietnamese] Communist Party feels more free. I don’t think that is the full answer,” said Nguyen Chi Tuyen, known as “Anh Chi” online, one of the country’s most prominent dissidents now that two of his peers have been handed long prison sentences. “They also want to threaten a younger group which is thinking of following us.”

He was sitting in downtown Hanoi, at a self-declared ­“hipster” cafe decorated with tongue-in-cheek celebrations of the North Vietnamese communist forces that defeated the United States 40-some years ago. Downstairs, well-dressed Vietnamese youth clacked away on Apple products.

“I am safe at this cafe now,” he said, looking around. “But I have been arrested more times than I can count and could go to jail anytime.”

There are many users, nonetheless, who have not been slowed by the uncertainty.

“I used to be a little afraid [of getting in trouble], but not anymore,” said Luke Nguyen, a real estate investor, sitting in an upscale Ho Chi Minh City cafe. He showed a piece of sexually explicit satire he recently posted publicly about the case of Trinh Xuan Thanh, a former Vietnamese oil executive Germany said was abducted by his own country in Berlin. “Because I’m just a little guy, not even an activist, just a citizen exchanging ideas.”

This sentiment — you can probably say what you want, as long as you aren’t famous – can be heard often in Vietnam. But Beanland said that even if most of the arrests that get attention are of high-profile dissidents, there may be much more going on that does not make headlines.

“It appears that there have been more arrests recently. But what we hear about may just be the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

This year so far, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known as “Mother Mushroom,” and Tran Thi Nga, often called Thuy Nga, were given long sentences. Mother Mushroom got 10 years, while Thuy Nga got nine.

Facebook is the social network most often used to express political opinions here, and for many other daily activities as well. New SIM cards in Vietnam often come bundled with free Facebook usage, and many citizens use its Messenger app in lieu of text messages. But it wasn’t always clear that Mark Zuckerberg’s company would play such an important role in the world’s 14th-largest country.

In 2013, then-Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung announced the goal of building a homegrown social network for young Vietnamese people. But in early 2015, he acknowledged that it would be impossible to ban social media platforms such as Facebook. “You here have all joined social networks, you’ve all got Facebook up on your phones to read information. We cannot ban it,” Dung told his cabinet members. “We must publish accurate information online immediately.”

Instead, the government has set up its own Facebook page, to keep the public in the loop on new policies or to live-stream monthly cabinet meetings.

“The Communist Party of Vietnam is in a bind,” said Zachary Abuza, a professor researching Southeast Asian politics at the National War College in Washington. “It is committed to maintaining its monopoly of power and, as such, feels threatened by unfettered social media. Yet its Internet is relatively open, and they have nothing like the Great Firewall of China.”

Vietnam’s intermittent censorship doesn’t exist only online; it often appears that the state acts in cyberspace the same way it operates elsewhere. In the capital, it’s quite easy to come across almost clumsy or comical surveillance. At the recent opening night of an art exhibition in Hanoi, a slightly overweight man in casual clothes walked in. “Oh, that’s the spy, he comes to every opening,” said the artists to a group of visitors. “He just eats all our snacks and drinks all the wine and then leaves.”

He proceeded to do exactly that. But censorship is not always a joke for Vietnam’s artists, who say they can have exhibitions shut down for reasons that are never explained to them.

The surveillance extends to sports, as well. The dissident soccer team No-U FC plans the location of its weekly games — on Facebook — just before kickoff to avoid having cops show up to disrupt them. The team’s name is a rejection of the U-shaped delineation of China’s claim in the South China Sea. For dissidents, nationalist opposition to Chinese aggression is their biggest issue.

“I’d like to see electoral democracy, but not everyone I know agrees. But almost everyone I know opposes China. China is less popular than communism,” said Pham Anh Cuong, a member of No-U FC. As he was talking over lunch, he got a Facebook message and burst out laughing. “A friend just saw something I posted criticizing a local official and is asking me to take it down.”

Would he? He laughed louder. “Of course not! Why would I?”


Source from The Washington Post

Civil society across Asia is flowering but fragile

The proliferation of civil society organizations (CSOs) throughout Asia is having a significant impact on relations between the state and citizens, on the institutions of the state and on prevailing norms and values. At a recent conference organized by Akihiro Ogawa, professor of Japanese studies at the University of Melbourne, scholars from around the region gathered to assess civil society and the forces that support and threaten it. This gathering testifies to the expansion and deepening of civil society across Asia. While the flowering of civil society across the region is undeniable, the gains that have been made are fragile.

In recent decades the range of Asian CSOs has expanded rapidly, and their concerns now run the gamut from welfare, the environment, refugees, legal services and gender to counseling, trafficking, entrepreneurship, education and beyond. Most of these nongovernmental groups are small, understaffed and underfunded, but they persist because they must, and draw on the passion of the committed. There is no shortage of needs and public demands for the various activities CSOs engage in, yet they are also constrained by regulatory hurdles and wary, intolerant governments.

From Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka to Cambodia and Vietnam, illiberal democracies and authoritarian governments are targeting foreign funding because they suspect that CSOs are agents of globalization spreading Western values, ideologies and practices. These suspicions are fueled by concerns that CSOs are undermining and discrediting the state by engaging in advocacy for people and causes that have been marginalized and mistreated — for example, to further human rights, and on behalf of LGBT people or ethnic and religious minorities. By empowering people, CSOs challenge and subvert the state’s monopoly on power.

There are two major trends influencing the 21st century operating environment for CSOs in Asia: the spread of neoliberal economic policies and the rise and consolidation of illiberal democracies. Neoliberal economic reforms are varied, but they usually involve reducing the role of the state and cutting taxes and government budgets. The impact on vulnerable people in society can be catastrophic as programs aimed at mitigating poverty, improving living standards and addressing health and educational problems are slashed. Such reforms create a niche for CSOs as they respond to what is effectively an outsourcing of government services.

Problematically, neoliberal reforms tend to accentuate disparities and polarize society. Across the globe we are witnessing the marginalized respond to the broken promises of globalization and the gloomy omens they face. Pankaj Mishra, in “The Age of Anger: A History of the Present” (2017), captures the zeitgeist, explaining how the neoliberal democratic model is under siege because it is not delivering. The internet enables widespread awareness of what only some can attain. Envy, disappointment and anxiety are alienating even the relatively privileged in developing nations because they find limited opportunities and can only climb so high before they realize their dreams have been thwarted. It is this hothouse of discontent that fuels populist politics and breeds radicalism.

The other significant trend shaping the CSO ecosystem in Asia is the spread of authoritarian governance. Illiberal democracies such as Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Malaysia hold elections, often feature prolonged one-party rule and embrace the rule of law only when convenient, while drawing on authoritarian practices to ensure that democracy stays tightly tethered. Cronyism, corruption and a lack of transparency are defining features of illiberal democracy, and in this age of anger, repression is the favored means of retaining power. The grass-roots wildfire of frustration sparked by neoliberal reforms and heightened disparities have drawn illiberal political responses from the ruling classes.

There is no single model of illiberal democracy, but in general they stifle political debate, engage in media censorship, resort to intimidation and limit space for political contestation. They breed intolerance, encourage bigotry, engage in “othering” minorities and create a hostile climate for CSOs. This is because civil society groups disseminate liberal values antithetical to reactionary agendas. In Asia, the winds of illiberalism are gathering momentum, shrinking the space for CSOs to operate at a time when they are more needed than ever due to neoliberal reforms.

Illiberal democracies also encourage uncivil hatemongering groups that are often connected with powerful political forces that benefit from their activism. The rise of extremist religious organizations is a transnational phenomenon in South and Southeast Asia. Moderate religious groups appear to have lost ground to less-tolerant ones that promote religious chauvinism. These benefit from powerful political patrons who see them as weapons to sideline opponents and foster an uncivil society.

The emergence of a vibrant civil society in many Asian societies is not an onward and upward process, depending not only on sustained citizens’ support and participation but also on shifting political winds. In some cases, partnerships between the state and CSOs have flourished and they have helped mitigate socioeconomic problems. For example, in terms of natural disasters, in the 2000s CSOs have come into their own, playing an indispensable role in disaster relief and recovery and contributing significantly to promoting disaster resilience in vulnerable communities, with Japan being a prime example. Their vital role is recognized by states across the region, and as such they have gained social legitimacy.

Yet governments across Asia remain ambivalent about CSOs, seeing them as a combination of political threat, partner and talisman of globalization. This means closer government scrutiny and tighter regulatory monitoring because the state doesn’t trust them and wants to know what they are doing and at whose behest.

The political sensitivities of the authorities means there are no-go zones and taboo topics where CSOs are not welcome or can only operate under duress and within tightly circumscribed bounds. Even in authoritarian societies, CSOs manage to carve out space, but their activities and impact are limited so as to avoid undesired consequences. China, for example, is allowing environmental activism even as it incarcerates journalists, lawyers and other activists who venture into sensitive political issues involving repression, human rights, nepotism and corruption.

Even in nations like Indonesia that have navigated democratic transitions, civil society is not always what it seems, as some groups that enjoy the support of international donors are controlled by local elites representing legacy power networks antithetical to liberal agendas, thus thwarting good intentions. Existing power networks shape the operating environment across Asia, where CSOs are flexibly navigating an evolving space in which hazards and needs abound. And they need your generous support.

Jeff Kingston is the director of Asian Studies, Temple University Japan.

Resource: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2017/04/29/commentary/civil-society-across-asia-flowering-fragile/

UNDP Engagement With Civil Society

UNDP seeks to engage with civil society to promote the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Engagement with civil society is critical to national ownership of development processes, democratic governance, and the quality and relevance of official development programmes. Given the growing role and influence of civil society in development, UNDP seeks to draw on and contribute to its strengths in order to maximize the potential of civic engagement for development.

What We Do

UNDP focuses on three goals for strengthening civil society:

· First, we invest in civil society and civic engagement by facilitating an enabling environment for civil society, supporting and partnering with civil society for policy impact and revitalizing UN(DP) capacity and environment to engage with a fuller range of civil society actors that could contribute to a positive social change and foster civic engagement.

· Second, we facilitate citizen action for democratic governance and development by supporting democratic governance through collective civic action for accountability, drawing on the expertise and experience of others in this arena to facilitate more productive state-society and mutually respectful interactions in national processes; and scaling up community actions for local development and upstream impact.

· Third, we strengthen civic engagement for multilateralism and human development by promoting UNDP-civil society partnerships for human development as well as UN(DP)-civil society dialogue mechanisms at national, regional and global levels to promote inclusive participation in development processes; and facilitating multi-stakeholder platforms and networks to address global development priorities.

These goals are supported through partnerships with civil society at country offices and at the global level. UNDP engagement with civil society is guided by two policy documents: the UNDP Corporate Strategy on Civil Society and Civic Engagement (2012) and the UNDP and Civil Society Organizations: A Policy of Engagement (2001).

Why We Work With Civil Society
Civil society actors at national and global levels have developed substantive capacity and influence in a range of development issues. Partnering with them can help contribute to the effectiveness of development interventions, especially with respect to marginalized and vulnerable groups.

The success of development and participatory governance depends on both a robust state and an active civil society with healthy levels of civic engagement. Civic engagement is key to the work of UNDP in strengthening responsive governing institutions and practices – accountability, good governance, democratization of development co-operation, and the quality and relevance of official development programmes. Civil society also has an important role to play in development and aid effectiveness. It has been a strong advocate of changes in the way donors provide development assistance, and is an active partner around the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action.

Many civil society organizations (CSOs) have a proven capacity for broad-based mobilization and creating bottom-up demand that fosters responsive governance. Civil society advocacy can facilitate the participation of poor and vulnerable populations in the design and implementation of development policies and programmes. This can enhance the delivery of basic social services, such as health and education. Civil society organizations also play a critical watchdog role in public life. Last but not least, members of civil society organizations volunteer their time, skills, and expertise to development.

Who We Work With

For UNDP, civil society constitutes the full range of formal and informal organizations that are outside the state and market. This includes social movements, volunteer organizations, indigenous peoples’ organizations, mass-based membership organizations, non-governmental organizations, and community-based organizations, as well as communities and citizens acting individually and collectively.

To foster policy dialogue with civil society, UNDP has in recent years promoted the establishment of Civil Society Advisory Committees to United Nations Country Teams as forums for strategic engagement by civil society in the work of the UN at the national level. At headquarters, the Civil Society Advisory Committee provides UNDP with policy advice.

UNDP partners with a wide cross-section of local, regional and global CSOs in programme implementation and policy advocacy. At the country level, this often means working with them to provide basic services in the areas of health, education, water delivery, agricultural extension and micro-credit provision.

In addition, recognizing that CSOs often serve as both a driving force in guiding development policies and as a watchdog to make sure policies get implemented, UNDP facilitates civil society participation in poverty reduction strategy processes, advocacy for the MDGs, and in advancing gender equality.

Resource: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/ourwork/funding/partners/civil_society_organizations.html

Vietnam’s Quiet Human Rights Crisis

A dearth of coverage, competing global interests, and an omnipresent police state render violations largely unnoticed.

Nguyen Chi Tuyen, a 43-year-old from Hanoi, was driving home after dropping his son off at school when he was attacked by thugs.

Tuyen, a dissident blogger who makes his living translating books into Vietnamese at a local publishing house, said around half a dozen men in plainclothes forced him off his motorbike before beating him to the ground. He didn’t know the attackers, nor did they rob him.

“At least two motorbikes stopped me on the way, one just before and one behind my back, and I heard one man say, ‘Ah! It’s him!’” said Tuyen, whose pen name is Anh Chi, describing the May 2015 incident.

While Tuyen was never able to confirm the attackers’ identity, he has no doubt that they were working for the government.

“We know they were organized by the security forces,” he said.

Rights monitors say Tuyen’s story is par the course within Vietnam’s secretive single party communist state. According to most metrics commonly used to measure level of human rights abuses, Vietnam boasts one of the world’s most authoritarian police states. But activists say that far too little attention is paid to Vietnam even as other Southeast Asian countries are routinely condemned by the international community.

“It’s quite clear that Vietnam is getting much more of a free pass on human rights than their poor record deserves, partly because of the government’s resilience and willingness to push back on international criticism,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.

Khủng hoảng nhân quyền trong thầm lặng tại Việt Nam

Dissident blogger Nguyen Chi Tuyen, 43, known in Vietnam by his pen name Anh Chi, at a Hanoi coffee shop July 2016. Photo by Aleksandra Arefieva.

Amnesty International counted 91 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam in its 2016 yearly report, the highest number in Southeast Asia, while eight of the 13 journalists imprisoned in the region are in Vietnam, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The local press and civil society, which virtually never strays from the party line, brands dissidents as “reactionaries.” Foreign correspondents, who are required by law to be based in Hanoi, have their movements and reporting closely tracked.

“Vietnam makes it hard to follow cases of dissidents facing repression, keeps its proceedings in courts and treatment in prisons as secret as possible, and restricts its media,” said Robertson.

“So it’s not surprising that there is comparatively less news of such abuses than bodies turning up every day on the streets in Duterte’s Philippines,” he said, referring to referring to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.

Systematically Snubbed

Dao Thi Huong, 30, lives the cosmopolitan white collar lifestyle unheard of in northern Vietnam before the 1990s. A financial modeler for a Singaporean firm, she was of the first generation of Hanoians to have a shot at a middle-class existence following centuries of dynastic cycles, French colonialism, and hardline Marxist-Leninism.

Although a beneficiary of the recent economic boom fostered by the Communist Party, Huong has decided that multiparty democracy is the way forward.

“Five years ago, I believed in communism, I believed in the government, and Uncle Ho,” said Huong, referring to modern Vietnam’s revolutionary founder Ho Chi Minh, at an upscale coffee shop near Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem lake.

The arrest of dissident lawyer Le Quoc Quan in 2012, who served 30 months in prison on a tax evasion conviction that his supporters argue was politically motivated, changed her mind.

“People kept talking about him, and I realized he was not as bad as what the newspapers said about him, and I started thinking about why the government hides the information from the citizens?”

Khủng hoảng nhân quyền trong thầm lặng tại Việt Nam

Dao Thi Huong, 30, holding a sign of imprisoned blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh, better known as Anh Ba Sam, at a small protest outside a Hanoi courthouse on the day of his trial, March 23, 2016. Photograph by Bennett Murray

Huong calls herself as a “half activist,” a fellow traveler of the dissident cause who shows up at Hanoi’s rare public demonstrations, which get quickly shut down by police.

Despite her small role in the movement, police were quick to make a house call to her parents as she started to become a familiar face at protests.

“They came to my family and said something was wrong about me,” she said, adding that such methods were often effective at convincing even the smallest activists to get back in line.

Had her employer not been based in Singapore, Huong said the police would have likely put pressure on her boss to discipline her at work.

When harassment doesn’t approve effective, authorities use penal code provisions that broadly criminalize “conducting propaganda” against the state and “abusing democratic freedoms.” Blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh, better known as Anh Ba Sam, is serving five years in prison for his dissident website, while Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who blogged under the pen name Mother Mushroom, awaits trial following her October arrest.

Can Thi Theu, a farmer who since 2008 has been fighting forced evictions in her neighborhood on the outskirts of Hanoi, is serving a 20 month prison sentence for “disrupting public order” at protests. It is her second prison sentence for activism. Her husband, Trinh Ba Tu, has also served time.

“The government used all of the police, the court, anything they have, and they accuse my mother of any crime they want,” said Trinh Ba Phuong, Theu’s 32-year-old son.

“I’m not afraid of anything, because I have support from many villagers, and my parents suffer from the hard verdict from the court, and I’m ready to sacrifice to anything that can help my community, my neighbors, the farmers who lost the land to the government,” he said.

Khủng hoảng nhân quyền trong thầm lặng tại Việt Nam

Trinh Ba Phuong, 32, son of jailed land activist Can Thi Theu, at a Hanoi restaurant February 2017. Photo by Aleksandra Arefieva.

Why the Apathy?

Vietnam’s recent history has catapulted the nation from international pariah fighting against the United States to an important strategic partner of the West. Economic opportunities abound in one of the world’s fastest growing economies, while politicians from Washington to Tokyo also see Hanoi as a potential ally in the South China Sea disputes.

U.S. President Donald Trump has apparently been friendly with Hanoi. According to the Vietnamese government, he had an amiable phone conversation with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in December. In a letter dated February 23, Trump also wrote to President Tran Dai Quang urging cooperation to “ensure peace and prosperity in Asia-Pacific on the basis of international law.”

“Now with Trump in charge, our worry is human rights concerns in Vietnam will be diminished even further,” said Roberston.

Yet concerns of American apathy toward the Vietnamese dissident movement predate the Trump administration. Musician and activist Mai Khoi said her May 2016 meeting with President Barack Obama in Hanoi left her with mixed impressions.

Once one of Vietnam’s most famous pop stars – she was the 2010 winner of Vietnam Television’s Album of the Year award – her quashed attempt to run for parliament in 2016 as an independent candidate rendered her a pariah in the Vietnamese entertainment industry.

“I think the fact that President Obama met me was symbolically very important,” she said, adding that the former president extended a planned 20-minute meeting to a full hour. “Unfortunately, promoting human rights never seems to be the top priority of foreign governments engaging with Vietnam,” she added.

Four police officers came to her house the day after the meeting in what she said was an attempt to intimidate her. “It was then I realized that I have no guaranteed rights in Vietnam, not even after meeting with the most powerful person in the world.”

Foreign governments, said Robertson, only provide a limited amount of support as they pursue their national interests.

“Various governments say that they conduct private, behind closed doors, advocacy on rights with Hanoi, but what we hear time and time again from dissidents is the people of Vietnam really want stronger public affirmations by other governments that Vietnam must respect rights,” he said.

The European Union concluded a free trade agreement with the government with Vietnam in 2015. However, the chair of European Parliament‘s human rights subcommittee, Pier Antonio Panzeri, said at a February press conference in Hanoi that it will be “extremely hard” for the treaty to be ratified without improvements in human rights.

The local United Nations offices, say local dissidents, are even less helpful.

“I would say that the UN in Vietnam is very active when it comes to the less sensitive issues, for example HIV prevention, but when it comes to political rights, for example freedom of expressions, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, they are less active,” said Nguyen Anh Tuan, a 27-year-old Hanoi activist.

Tuan’s unregistered NGO, Voice, aims to indirectly challenge the party by educating youth in the ways of independent civil society. But under Vietnamese law, all social organizations, from sports teams to churches, must be member groups of the Vietnamese Fatherland Front (VFF), an umbrella organization controlled by the party. As non-communist controlled organizations are effectively outlawed, UN regulations prevent its agencies from working with dissident groups.

Sunita Giri, head of the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office in Hanoi, acknowledged that their operations must be in line with Vietnamese law.

“The UN does work with registered civil society organizations, and for any financial transactions or partnerships ensures that a beneficiary organization is registered and is in compliance with national law,” she said, adding that the UN “works with all stakeholders in Vietnam”.

But the legal limitations, according to dissidents, renders the U.N. ineffective in tackling human rights.

The blogger Tuyen said that while he has met with visiting officials from the Bangkok branch of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (it has no Hanoi office), the local UN agencies are of no help.

“The offices in Hanoi, they have another mission, they don’t pay attention to human rights or democracy,” said Tuyen.

On Their Own

With the Vietnamese government’s single party rule effectively normalized in the global arena, activists agree that they are on their own to bring about a multi-party democracy.

“I always tell my colleagues, we appreciate the support of the outside, but we cannot rely on the support of the international [community],” said Nguyen Quang A.

A retired businessman turned dissident, Quang A, 71, is among Vietnam’s most prolific activists. In 2016, he was a finalist for the Netherland’s Human Rights Tulip award. Like the singer Mai Khoi, he also attempted to run for parliament in the 2016 elections. While he welcomes support from abroad, Quang A said he understands the complicated geopolitics that prevent a full-scale endorsement of his cause.

“It depends on the political mood of the big guy over there,” he said, jokingly referring to Trump.

Quang A said he was understanding of Trump’s “America first” stance. “You can see a network in the West of so many interests, and they have to serve their interests first, and that is understandable,” he said.

Yun Sun, a senior associate with the East Asia Program at the Stimson Center think tank in Washington D.C., said that it’s inaccurate to say that America hasn’t exerted any pressure. To some extent, she said, Hanoi has been responsive.

“This is a case where Vietnam’s strategic interests and national security vis-a-vis China in the South China Sea runs into conflict with the CPV’s [Communist Party of Vietnam’s] political interests to maintain the one-party authoritarian government in the country,” she said.

Vietnam has granted some human rights concessions in recent years. LGBT rights are increasingly recognized by the state, and a 2016 law affirmed freedom of religion. The government even agreed to independent labor unions when it signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, although the the treaty’s rejection by the Trump administration makes the reforms unlikely in the near future.

Tuan, the civil society organizer, said the future of Vietnamese activism would come from within.

“I know [foreign governments] try to put the pressure on the Vietnamese government, but it’s not easy to deal with the Vietnamese government and they are good at dealing with the international actors,” he said.

But any logistical or technical help for civil society organizers, he said, would be much appreciated.

“They should focus on domestic pressure, civil society underground on the grass root level. At first they can’t provide support directly, but they can provide more training, more events, seminars, and workshops to make Vietnam more international,” he said.

Representatives from the Vietnamese government didn’t comment in time for publication.

Resource: http://thediplomat.com/2017/04/vietnams-quiet-human-rights-crisis/

EU’s lawyers’ letter to VN’s PM on Nguyen Van Dai’s case

Full version

Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc
Office of the Prime Minister
1, Hoang Hoa Tham
Hanoi Socialist
Republic of Viet Nam

Brussels, 9 June 2016

Re: Concerns regarding Vietnamese lawyer Nguyen Van Dai

Your Excellency,

I am writing to you on behalf of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), which, through the national Bars and Law Societies of the Member States of the European Union and the European Economic Area, represents more than 1 million European lawyers. In addition to membership from EU bars, it also has observer representatives from a further thirteen European countries’ bars. The CCBE places great emphasis on respect for human rights and the rule of law, and is particularly concerned with the situation of human rights defenders around the world.

The CCBE wishes to express its serious concern over the situation of Nguyen Van Dai, a human rights lawyer who founded the Vietnam Human Rights Centre and the Brotherhood for Democracy. Mr. Van Dai has been in detention for nearly six months.

We understand that, on 6 December 2015, as he was on his way back from leading a human rights workshop, Mr. Van Dai was beaten with metal bars by men identified as plainclothes police officers. Ten days later, he was arrested just before he was going to meet representatives of the European Union in Hanoi. His house was searched and officers confiscated his computers, USB sticks, cameras, and savings account’s bank book. He was subsequently charged with “spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 88 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code, which has been ruled in violation of international law by the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Mr. Van Dai has been in detention ever since, awaiting trial. If convicted, he faces three to 20 years in prison.

In this context, the CCBE wishes to draw to your attention the Principle of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (attached), in particular Principles 16 and 22 on Guarantees for the functioning of lawyers, and Principle 23 on Freedom of expression and association.

In view of the above, the CCBE respectfully urges your Excellency to take effective steps to ensure that the charges against Mr. Van Dai are dropped and that he is released, and to guarantee his safety and security. In addition, the CCBE asks you to guarantee in all circumstances that all lawyers in Viet Nam are able to express their opinions and perform their professional duties without fear of reprisal, hindrance, intimidation, or harassment.

Yours sincerely,

Michel Benichou

Thông Cáo Về Tin Đồn VOICE Là Tổ Chức Của Việt Tân

Tải bản PDF tại đây.


Thời gian qua, một số cá nhân và cơ quan an ninh Việt Nam đưa tin đồn rằng VOICE là một tổ chức của đảng Việt Tân và ông Trịnh Hội, Giám đốc điều hành của VOICE, là một thành viên của Việt Tân.

Để phản hồi trước những tin đồn vô căn cứ này cũng như xác định vai trò của VOICE trong tiến trình xây dựng xã hội dân sự Việt Nam nhằm thúc đẩy và bảo vệ nhân quyền, Hội Đồng Quản Trị của VOICE xin làm rõ như sau:

1. VOICE không có mối quan hệ nào về mặt tổ chức với Việt Tân hay bất kỳ đảng phái chính trị nào khác trong quá khứ cũng như hiện tại. VOICE là một tổ chức phi chính phủ, phi lợi nhuận và hoàn toàn độc lập, được đăng ký tại tiểu bang California theo quy chế 501(c)(3) của pháp luật Hoa Kỳ vốn không cho phép việc tham gia các hoạt động chính trị đảng phái.

2. Không có thành viên Hội Đồng Quản Trị nào của VOICE hiện nay, bao gồm cả Giám đốc điều hành Trịnh Hội, là thành viên của Việt Tân hay của bất kỳ đảng phái chính trị Việt Nam nào khác, trong quá khứ cũng như hiện tại.

3. Việc ông Hoàng Tứ Duy, đảng viên kiêm phát ngôn viên của Việt Tân hiện nay, từng là thành viên Hội Đồng Quản Trị của VOICE từ năm 2007 đến năm 2010 không tạo ra mối quan hệ nào về mặt tổ chức giữa VOICE và Việt Tân. Ông Hoàng Tứ Duy tham gia Hội Đồng Quản Trị của VOICE khi đó với tư cách cá nhân, không phải với tư cách đại diện của Việt Tân.

Tuyên bố này không đồng nghĩa với việc VOICE chống lại bất kỳ đảng phái chính trị nào. VOICE tái khẳng định lập trường ủng hộ một nền dân chủ cho Việt Nam với sự tham gia mạnh mẽ và hiệu quả của người dân, trong đó có các đảng phái chính trị, vốn là điều kiện để phát triển một xã hội dân sự lành mạnh.

Các thành viên Hội đồng quản trị của VOICE (đã ký):

Chủ tịch: Đoàn Việt Trung
Thành viên: Jaclyn Fabre/Maxwell Vo/Jessica Soto/Trịnh Hội

— Hết thông cáo —

Joint Statement Calling for the Release of Vietnamese Activists: Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thu Ha

On 16 December 2015, prominent human rights lawyer, Mr. Nguyen Van Dai, 46, and his colleague, Ms. Le Thu Ha, 33, were arrested at their home and office in Hanoi, Vietnam, respectively. Both have been charged with “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 88 of the Vietnamese Penal Code, a law that has been routinely and arbitrarily invoked by the government to suppress critical voices.

Human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai

Mr. Nguyen and Ms. Le are being held in B14 prison in Hanoi. Requests by activists to visit them have been rejected and there are concerns that they are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment. If convicted, Mr. Nguyen and Ms. Le could face up to 20 years in prison.

We appeal to the Vietnamese government to honor its international and domestic obligations and to release Mr. Nguyen and Ms. Le immediately and unconditionally.

We also call on the international community to act and put pressure on the Vietnamese government regarding these cases which have a severe chilling effect on freedom of expression in Vietnam.

During Mr. Nguyen’s arrest, his home was searched thoroughly by approximately 20 police officers. His laptops, bank documents and many other personal items were confiscated, while his apartment remains under tight surveillance.

Mr. Nguyen is a well-known peaceful campaigner for a multi-party democracy and the protection of human rights in Vietnam. He has devoted his life to providing legal assistance to the most vulnerable and marginalized people in society.

Mr. Nguyen has repeatedly been subjected to unwarranted persecution for undertaking his legitimate work. In 2007, he was convicted under Article 88 of the Penal Code (employing propaganda against the state) and sentenced to 4 years in prison and placed under 4 years of house arrest. At the time, he had been holding seminars to teach students about the fundamentals of a free society and the rule of law.

Activist Le Thu Ha

Since Mr. Nguyen’s release from prison in 2011, he had been subjected to countless incidents of harassment and surveillance by police officers. He was still recovering from injuries sustained from a vicious assault by masked assailants on 6 December 2015, after he had attended a meeting to mark International Human Rights Day. He was badly beaten, robbed and thrown on the street.

Vietnam has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, (ICCPR), which protects the right to freedom of opinion and expression (Article 19), and the right to liberty and security of a person, which includes the right to not be subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention (Article 9).

The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers specifically affirm that lawyers are “entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly” and that, “they shall have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights”. The Basic Principles also set out a number of guarantees to ensure that lawyers are able to fulfill their professional roles without undue interference.

Furthermore, Vietnam’s Constitution protects the right to freedom of opinion and speech (Article 25) and guarantees that no citizen may be arrested without a warrant and that the arrest and detention must be in accordance with the law (Article 20).

We therefore strongly urge the Vietnamese authorities to comply with Vietnam’s human rights obligations, and drop all charges against Mr. Nguyen and Ms. Le, who have been peacefully carrying out activities to promote and protect human rights.

We further urge the international community to strongly intervene at the highest possible levels to support the expeditious release of both human rights defenders.


  1. Amnesty International – ENGLAND
  2. Christian Solidarity Worldwide – ENGLAND
  3. Front Line Defenders – IRELAND
  4. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation – SOUTH AFRICA
  5. Civil Rights Defenders – SWEDEN
  6. International Service for Human Rights – SWITZERLAND
  7. International Commission of Jurists – SWITZERLAND
  8. Freedom House – USA
  9. Human Rights Foundation – USA
  10. Humanitarian China – USA
  11. National Congress of Vietnamese Americans – USA
  12. People In Need – CZECH REPUBLIC
  13. Van Lang – CZECH REPUBLIC
  14. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) – THAILAND
  15. Foundation for Community Educational Media – THAILAND
  17. Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) – INDONESIA
  18. The Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) – INDONESIA
  19. Legal Aid Center for the Press (LBH Pers) – INDONESIA
  21. Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment (VOICE) – USA, AUSTRALIA, CANADA & EUROPE
  22. Brotherhood for Democracy – VIETNAM
  23. Civil Society Forum – VIETNAM
  24. No-U Mien Trung – VIETNAM
  25. Vietnam Path Movement – VIETNAM
  26. Vietnamese Political & Religious Prisoners Friendship Association – VIETNAM

Civil Society and the TPP Negotiations

VOICE, together with civil society leaders from Vietnam, visited the Washington Post in D.C. to give their thoughts on the current situation in Vietnam and how “Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal presents both peril and opportunity.” As noted, “journalist Nguyen Van Hai, one of the political prisoners released last year after six years behind bars, told us, Vietnam’s communists also relaxed their grip a decade ago while pursuing membership in the World Trade Organization — only to crack down again when the United States and other nations moved their attention elsewhere.”

The rest of the article can be read here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-more-open-vietnam/2015/08/23/f6bff4ac-4846-11e5-8e7d-9c033e6745d8_story.html

Voice from our Homeland

Please join VOICE in supporting Tiếng Nước Tôi (“Voice from our Homeland”) a charity night hosted by us –  the Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment. VOICE is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization working to develop civil society in Vietnam and to resettle the last remaining boat-people left stateless in Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines.

This night will feature an 8-course dinner and show hosted by human rights lawyer Trinh Hoi. The show will include performances by well-known singers such as Lam Thuy Van, Do Tien Dung, Kimo Huynh Khuu, Nguyen Dinh Cat and Khanh Di, who will be accompanied by the May Trang band.

The event will be hosted at Phu Lam Restaurant (3082 Story Rd. in San Jose, CA 95127) on Saturday, August 15 from 7PM to 11PM.

General admission tickets are $50. VIP tickets, which include a free drink and front row seats, are $75. Tickets for this event are online (http://voice.ticketleap.com/voice-sj-fundraiser/) or at the following retail locations:

  • Pho Viet, 1751 N 1st St San Jose, California 95112
  • Pho Viet, 2557 N 1st St San Jose, California 95131
  • Co Hong Music, Grand Century Mall – 1111 Story Road #1002, San Jose, CA 95122

If you have any questions please contact Amy Nguyen at ntvyhanh@gmail.com.