Monday, November 29, 2004

Human Rights Act removed from House Omnibus bill

The House of Representatives removed the Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2004 from the omnibus bill H.R.4818, which makes appropriations for US governmental agencies in the 2005 fiscal year, before passing H.R. 4818 on November 20. The act, which has been approved overwhelmingly in the House but tabled in the Senate, would restrict non-humanitarian aid if Vietnam is judged not to have made satisfactory progress in human rights. But the bill provides a significant loophole by allowing the President to waive this punishment "..for any fiscal year if the President determines that the provision to the Government of Vietnam of increased United States nonhumanitarian assistance would promote the purposes of this Act or is otherwise in the national interest of the United States." The bill would also increase aid to Radio Free Asia in order to overcome jamming of the station in Vietnam. (Young People Nov 26 p2, Vietnam News Briefs, Nov. 29; text of Human Rights Act available online).

Vietnam threatened by 15 million tons of waste annually

Vietnam produces over 15 million tons of waste annually, most of which is not safely disposed, according to the Vietnam Environment Monitor 2004 just released, threatening public health and the environment. The report is the third in the Monitor series tracking environmentaltrends in Vietnam, jointly sponsored by Vietnam's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the World Bank (WB) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) through its Waste-Econ project. As summarized by Vietnam News Briefs, "Urban areas, which contain only 24% of the population of the country, generate over 6 million tons or 50% of the country's municipal waste. By 2010, municipal waste generation is expected to increase by over 60%, while industrial waste would increase by 50% and hazardous waste generation by over threefold." (World Bank Press Release Nov 24, Econet Nov 25 p5, Capital Security Nov 25 p5, People's Army Nov 25 p8, Vietnam Economic Times Nov 25 p1)

Nineteen sentenced in deforestation case

Deutsche Presse-Agentur Nov. 28 reports: "Nineteen people including 10 government officials were sentenced to between 4.5 and 16 years in prison in Vietnam's biggest ever deforestation case, a court official said Sunday. The defendants were convicted of a range of offences, including illegal logging and giving and receiving bribes, the court official said. Defendants included two former forestry managers, eight forest rangers, six directors of private companies and three drivers, according to a court official from Kon Tum province who requested anonymity."

Clergy protest trial of Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang

Three Catholic priests and 20 leading Protestant clergy wrote appeals protesting the trial of Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang, who was sentenced to three years imprisonment for "opposing officials who are carrying out their duty", after a half-day trial in HCM City Nov. 12 (see Nov. 17 entry below). Both statements were written to authorities before the trial.
The Nov. 10 Catholic appeal was written by Fr. Chan Tin, well known for his human rights activism since he began working for political prisoners in South Vietnam during the war, co-signed by Rev.Nguyen Huu Giai and Rev. Phan Van Loi. In the appeal, the priests expressed their concern over that the trial would be unfair, as in similar political trials, and that the family of Rev. Quang had not been allowed time to prepare a defense. The other appeal was signed Nov. 5 by 20 protestant pastors affiliated with the Vietnam Evangelical Fellowship, of which Rev. Quang headed its legal office. The pastors urged his immediate release and asked for an end to the government-directed media campaign against him. (English translation of both letters posted by Hy Tran to soc.culture.vietnamese usenet group Nov. 26).

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Ministry of Finance conference in Hanoi

Vietnam's Ministry of Finance (MoF) will focus on seven major financial measures to ensure economic growth of 8-8.5% in 2005, Minister Nguyen Sinh Hung said at the two-day conference (Nov. 25-26) in Hanoi He said that localities must try to collect VND200 trillion (US$12.7 billion) for the state budget next year, up 19.8% against the estimated figure for this year. The National Asembly recently approved budget estimates for 2005, with a planned deficit reaching VND40.75 trillion ($2.6 billion), up from VND34.75 trillion ($2.2 billion) targeted for this year. (Vietnam Financial Times Nov 26 p2, Labor Nov 26 p3, Investment Nov 26 p1, Family & Society Nov 26 p5; Vietnam News Briefs, Nov. 26)

Africa visit concluded

PM Khai and his entourage left South Africa Nov. 25, concluding a visit to three African countries, also including Algeria and Morocco. Trade and other issues were discussed. (Voice of Vietnam, Nov. 26).

Asian bird flu pandemic?

The Asian bird flu could become the world's next pandemic, causing as many as seven million deaths, said a World Health official at a regional conference in Hanoi: "The current outbreak (of avian influenza) in poultry is historically unprecedented in terms of geographical spread and impact," Shigeru Omi, Western Pacific regional director of WHO, said Friday. "This virus appears to be not only very resilient, but also extremely versatile."

Omi said that the region must reduce bird flu's threat to humans by changing farming practices. "This means a thorough overhaul of animal husbandry practices, and the way animals are raised for food in the region. I believe that anything less than that will only result in further threats to public health," he explained. (Associated Press, Nov. 26; see also World Health Organization's website: ).

National Assembly meets

Vietnam's National Assembly held a plenary session in Hanoi Nov. 25-Dec. 3, hearing reports on education, construction of the Ho Chi Minh Highway and on draft laws on international conventions and on the Vietnam railway industry. A resolution was also passed on state budget-funded investments for capital construction projects. (BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, Nov. 27, Nhan Dan, Dec. 3).

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Death penalty discussed

Vietnam's deputy FM Le Van Bang defended his country's use of the death penalty as necessary, during a three-day Hanoi conference co-sponsored by Vietnam's Foreign Ministry and the European Union. As reported by Xinhua, Bang "said the death penalty is applicable to special criminal cases with the aim of preventing and admonishing crimes, but not for those criminals who are juveniles, pregnant women or women nurturing under-three children." However, the Justice and Public Security ministries are considering changing the method of execution, currently carried out by firing squad. At least 70 people have been executed in Vietnam this year. (Xinhuanet, Nov. 24, AFP, Borneo Bulletin Nov. 25).

Flash floods kill 25 in central Vietnam

Flash floods triggered by Typhoon Muifa have killed at least 25 people submerged more than 10,000 houses in central Vietnam, according to state-run Vietnam Television. The rain and floods are expected to subside over the weekend. (Reuters, Nov. 27). Update: Xinhua reports Nov. 30 that 56 people are known dead and another 15 missing.

$3.1 billion in overseas remittances

Total money repatriated by overseas Vietnamese is projected to reach around $ 3.1 billion in 2004, compared to $2.7 billion in 2003. Of this amount, about $1.85 billion is expected to go to Vietnamese living in the HCMC area. In comparison, Vietnam received $3.5 billion in foreign direct investment during the first ten months of this year.

Overseas remittances have become an important part of the economy, significantly changing the role of commerical banks in the society who handle about 70% of the remittances, and increasing hard currency. Remittances jumped in 1999, with a decision by the Vietnamese Government to cancel all taxes on remittances to encourage such inflows. (Youth Nov 24 p11, Young People Nov 24, Liberated Saigon Nov 17 p1; Vietnam News Briefs Nov. 24)

Two singers denounced, banned

Vietnam's Ministry of Culture and Information on November 22, issued a temporary ban on the broadcast of any songs performed and written by two overseas singers who defected to the U.S. last year, for supposedly distorting Vietnam's situation. As summarized by Vietnam News Briefs, "all songs sung by former musical stars in Vietnam, Thu Phuong and Bang Kieu, and compositions written by Bang Kieu will also be excluded in all public performances and publications such as CDs, VCDs, and videos, the national cultural watchdog instructed."

Thu Phuong , 34, with her husband quit the Hanoi Youth Theater in Feb. 2003 and traveled to the U.S. without a permit. Once in the U.S. she criticized the political situation in Vietnam and declared herself to be a "freed bird". Bang Kieu, who came to the U.S. last year in order to marry an overseas Vietnamese singer, is accused of waving the flag and singing the national anthem of the former regime of South Vietnam during performances in the Philippines and Canada. (HCM City Police Nov 25 p13, Pioneer Nov 24 p2; Vietnam News Briefs Nov. 25).

U.S. ambassador on economic relations

The U.S. supports Vietnam's to push up its progress to enter into the World Trade Organization, said U.S. ambassador Michael Marine in a Nov. 24th press conference. He declined, however, to forecast the exact time that Vietnam can be admitted. Talks between the two countries on this issue took place Oct. 25-28. Marine said he had three priorities as ambassador: to inspect the effectiveness of the $60 million in ODA aid the U.S. has granted to Vietnam; as well as the effectiveness of the HIV/AIDS prevention program in Vietnam, the U.S. expected to increase its aid in this area from $18 million in 2004 to $25 million in 2005; and to work with Vietnam in other fields such as legal and army cooperation, narcotics prevention.

Marine has served for 29 years in various diplomatic posts, most recently as deputy ambassaador to China. This is his first role as U.S. ambassador, appointed to that position for Vietnam last September. (Youth Nov 25 p15, Pioneer Nov 25 p13; Vietnam News Briefs, Nov. 25).

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Vietnam aid for 2005 predicted

Vietnam will likely receive $2.8 billion from international donors in the coming year, close to the amount received last year, said a World Bank official in advance of the international donors conference to be held in Hanoi next week. Klaus Rohland , World Bank Vietnam director, added that fighting corruption should be at the top of the conference agenda. Vietnam received $22.5 billion in international aid between 1993-2002, largely used for the energy and transport sectors. (Reuters, Nov. 23).

German economic delegation visits

A 35-member German economic delegation, headed by Ernst Pfister, Governor of the Baden-Wuerttemberg State, is in Vietnam from Nov. 20-25, attending technological symposiums and meeting with Vietnamese officials. Germany is the leading European trade partner with Vietnam, according to German ambassador Ludwig Weber-Lortsch. (IPR Strategic Business Information Database, Nov. 24).

Thich Quang Do summoned

Buddhist leader Thich Quang Do has been summoned for a "working session" (interrogation) with the HCMC police at 8 am Wednesday, Nov. 24, according to a press release of the International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB), which says: "The convocation stated that he is summoned to discuss 'appropriation of state secrets.' The summons may be connected to a letter sent by Thich Quang Do to the Communist leadership on 25 October 2004 demanding that they lift the verbal 'administrative detention' sentence pronounced by the local authorities against UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and himself after the government crackdown on the UBCV in October 2003."

The order also comes in the midst of Thich Huyen Quang's failing health and the unwillingness of government authorities to allow Thich Quang Do to visit him.

Update: IBIB reports that Ven. Quang Do was subjected to an intense four-hour interogation on Nov. 24, to answer charges of "appropriating state secrets". He denied the accusations and and asked to go home so he could take his heart medicine. Authorities let him go but told him he would have to come back in the afternoon for more interrogation, but he refused to do so, stating that they would have to imprison him instead.

Meanwhile, the new U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, Michael W. Marine, who met with Ven. Huyen Quang earlier in the week, told reporters of his concerns: "We are aware of the fact that his (Thich Huyen Quang's) deputy Thich Quang Do has not been allowed to visit him. We have made it clear in various conversations that this is very hard to understand." On the charges of the monks violating "state secrecy", Marine said: "Were the government to press charges, we would call for transparency in the process so that we and others can understand what the charges are all about and so that these individuals can receive whatever legal protections are possible under Vietnamese law." The U.S. State Dept. designated Vietnam in September a "country of particular concern" (CPC) for its record on religious freedom.

Meanwhile, at a Nov. 25 press conference, Vietnam FM spokesman Le Dung said that Thich Huyen Quang is recoveering well in the hospital, and is allowed visits from Buddhist clergy (although he did not mention Thich Quang Do in this context). He also said: "I would like to say that Buddhist Venerable Thich Huyen Quang and Venerable Thich Quang Do are always allowed to perform their religious duties at their pagodas as usual, and that they have not been put under official surveillance as reported. I would like also to say that the World Buddhist Association Information Office's recent report on Ho Chi Minh City Police blocking a van carrying Buddhist followers on their way to visit Venerable Thich Huyen Quang is a total fabrication."

(Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Agence France Presse, Nov. 26; BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific Nov. 26).

17 Montagnards sentenced for undermining security

As reported by Asia News/AP, Nov. 23:

"A court in Vietnam's restive Central Highlands has sentenced 17 hill tribe people up to 10 years in jail for undermining national security and unity during an Easter weekend protest, an official said Monday. In three separate trials in Dak Nong province last week, the provincial People's Court handed down jail terms from three to 10 years for members of the Ede ethnic minority group, the court official said on condition of anonymity. They were convicted of forcing ethnic minority people, collectively called Montagnards, to flee to neighboring Cambodia, luring people to join protests causing national security and public disorder, and distorting the policies of the Communist Party and government, he said."

The primary cause of the protest was expropriation of their land and religious persecution, most of whom are protestant Christians.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Vietnam dismisses Vatican criticism

Vietnam rejected veiled criticism from the Vatican of its religious policy. A foreign ministry spokesman said people are free to practice their religion, including Christians. The reference was to a speech made by the Pope in which he lamented the suffering of those who are not free to practice their religious beliefs. Although he did not mention it by name, it was clear he was referring to Vietnam and China, according to Agence France Presse.

Speaking on the church in Asia, the Pope said (Nov. 19):

"To announce the Gospel in depth in Asia, it is necessary for all believers to penetrate every aspect of life with their faith. ... Especially where they suffer and are not free to profess their faith, the Kingdom of God must be proclaimed with 'a silent witness of life', carrying the cross and following in the footsteps of the suffering and crucified Christ, waiting patiently for the day there will be full religious freedom."

Drug control with Laos and Cambodia discussed

The fourth tripartite meeting on cooperation in drug control between Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia was held in Cambodia on November 17-18. The next such meeting will be held in Laos next year. There is a high concentration of drug criminals operating along the border areas, according to Vietnam dep. minister of Public Security Le The Tiem. (VVN, BBC, Nov. 18).

NGO aid to Vietnam reported

More than $9 million from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has been poured into Can Tho City over the last decade to build medical clinics, schools and clean water wells, and have also supplied free medical equipment, according to Can Tho City authorities. This news follows a two-day conference in Can Tho to discuss NGO aid.

Speaking at the conference deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Le Van Bang said that between 1993 and 2003, overseas NGOs "gave Vietnam more than US$800 million in aid, offering significant assistance to poor people, ethnic minorities, and women and children who live in the country's rural and remote areas." (VNA Nov. 18).

Vietnam, Brazil sign trade pact

Vietnam and Brazil signed an agreement on most-favored-nation treatment during a two-day visit by President Tran Duc Luong (Nov. 16-17), signing for Brazil was President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. They agreed to cut tarriffs in bilateral trade and eliminate non-tarriff bariers. They also agreed on a partial abolition of visa requirements in order to simplify travel between the two countries, and discussed other issues such as cooperation in combatting AIDS and reforming the UN Security Council. Trade between Brazil and Vietnam this year has amounted to $53.3 million, compared to $47 million last year. (Xinhua, VNA Nov. 18).

Luong then visited Chile, where he signed with Chilean president Ricardo Lagos signed an agreement on
cooperation in the fisheries and science fields. Lagos expessed support for Vietnam becoming a member of the World Trade Organization. (AP Nov. 18).

Deputy Trade Minister Arrested

Vietnamese Deputy Trade Minister Mai Van Dau was arrested Nov. 18 "following an investigation into a cash-for-quota scandal over textile exports to the United States," reports Agence France Presse, Nov. 18:

"Dau, 62, the most senior of four deputy ministers, was charged with "abuse
of power" and taken into custody after a search of his office and home in
the capital, the Hanoi Investigative Police Department said.

"He is the highest ranking official to have been arrested following a police
inquiry into the alleged sale of quotas by ministry officials to
Vietnam-based companies wishing to export garments to the United States.

"Four other trade ministry officials, including Dau's son, and around a dozen
businessmen and state employees have already been arrested in connection
with the case."

Thich Huyen Quang seriously ill

Venerable Thich Huyen Quang, 87, considered the supreme patriarch of Buddhism in Vietnam, is reported to be seriously ill, suffering from a stomach hemorrhage. He is hospitalized in Binh Dinh General Hospital in central Vietnam. Vietnamese authorities allowed the U.S. ambassador and other embassy officials to visit Thich Huyen Quang and his associate monk in HCMC, Ven. Thich Quang Do, 76, but they would not allow Ven. Quang Do to travel to Binh Dinh to visit Ven. Huyen Quang. The Paris-based Que Me/Vietnam Committee for Human Rights has issued many reports in recent days about this situation.

Since 1977, these two monks have spent much of their time either in prison or under house arrest for protesting government restrictions on Buddhism and other human rights violations. They were first arrested in June 1977 along with other leading monks of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) after Ven. Huyen Quang sent a letter to the prime minister listing various forms of repression against the UBCV and requesting redress. They were released in Dec. 1978, but in 1982 they were arrested again after protesting the government's creation of a state-sponsored Buddhist church, which was declared to be the only legitimate Buddhist organization in the country, thus effectively outlawing all other Buddhist groups in the country. Towards the end of the 1980s, both monks began issuing a series of statements challenging the state on its continued religious repression and other human rights violations, causing both to be placed under isolation and house arrest.

The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam which they lead, although no longer recognized by government authorities, was prior to its banning the leading Buddhist church in Vietnam and had developed close ties with overseas peace activists during the war years.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Pastor sentenced to three years in prison

A Mennonite pastor, Reverend Nguyen Hong Quang, was sentenced to three years imprisonment for "opposing officials who are carrying out their duty", after a half-day trial in HCMC, a court official said Friday (Nov. 12). Five other defendants received sentences ranging between nine months and two years in prison. The Mennonite church is not recognized in Vietnam, and only officially recognized religious groups are allowed to operate under Vietnamese law. Observers say a recent religious ordinance will increase religious restrictions in the country. (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Nov. 12; see also for reports by Human Rights Watch on this trial and the new religious ordinance).

Man sentenced for human trafficking

Vu Duc Anh was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment by a HCMC court for recruiting Vietnamese women into prostitution and trafficking them to Malaysia to work as sex slaves. Five other accomplices received sentences ranging from two years to a suspended sentence of 11 years. "The human trafficking ring was brought to light when two of the victims who had been locked up in tiny rooms managed to escape and ask for help at the Vietnamese Embassy in Malaysia," reports Vietnam Panorama.

Human trafficking of impoverished and undereducated women and children from Vietnam has become a serious problems, the journal reports:

"Initial surveys by the Ministry of Police in 16 out of the total 64 cities and provinces across Vietnam detected 1,758 women and children trafficked abroad last year. Of these, 263 victims were of a very young age, including eleven children under the age of ten."

(Vietnam Panorama, Vietnam News Briefs, Nov. 12).

Vietnam and Thailand discuss security

Vietnamese and Thai officials met in Bangkok Nov. 9-10 to discuss political and security cooperation. The agreed on a new cooperation framework. A second meeting will be held in Vietnam next year. (Nhan Dan, VNB Nov. 12).


I have followed news in Vietnam for many years, since the Vietnam war, but have never been there. As much as I would like to visit the country now, personal health problems prevent me from doing so. Nevertheless, I do collect Vietnam news on a daily basis and hope to summarize some of the events here. Comments are welcome.