Vietnam continues to pay a disheartening lack of attention to human rights violations despite continuing promises that the situation would improve with passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which contains language covering abuses, as the ordeal of a Hanoi-based human rights lawyer and his associates demonstrates.
On Dec. 6, Nguyen Van Dai, a human rights lawyer and three friends were attacked by as many as 20 plainclothes policemen while they were returning home to Hanoi after leading a forum in Nghe An Province after facilitating a human rights forum in Nam Dan district, 300 km. south near the Laotian border.
The US has promised improved military and economic relations with Vietnam but has used inclusion in the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a cudgel to try to force Vietnam into improving its human rights record, to little avail, although there are signs that the leadership is gradually growing more responsive to representative government even though it remains a one-party system.
The question is whether the Obama administration in Washington, DC will allow its aspirations to complete the TPP as a counterweight and component of its “tilt” to Asia to China’s growing hegemonism over East Asia to overcome its queasiness over treatment of basic human rights.
The US State Department, for instance, reported in its 2014 report on abuses that “Specific…abuses included arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of life; police attacks and corporal punishment; arbitrary arrest and detention for political activities; continued police mistreatment of suspects during arrest and detention, including the use of lethal force and austere prison conditions; and denial of the right to a fair and expeditious trial.”
Certainly, the one area where Vietnam spares no quarter is in the treatment of individual human rights campaigners. For instance, as Asia Sentinel reported on Nov. 16, the newly released human rights activist Tran Minh Nhat was threatened and physically attacked by police outside Lam Ha Hospital. He had also been beaten and detained for 12 hours the previous week by plainclothes police while making his way home from Saigon.
Such confrontations are hardly rare. The current incident started when Dai and his friends organized the forum discussing the rights of the people as covered by the 2013 Constitution. With some 60 people in the audience, district police ordered the forum closed.
“As the attendees were opposed to the order, they sat down and attended the forum,” Dai said in an email to Asia Sentinel. “Once the forum ended at about 4 pm, we headed to the city of Quan Hanh when we were stopped by approximately 20 plainclothes police who set upon us and beat us with wooden sticks.”