“Human rights not merely a Western ideology” in Vietnam

Diana Huynh (Norway/Vietnam, AC 09-11)

As October approached it was time for a week with focus on Human Rights at AC. Needless to say, Human Rights is an ongoing issue in our world, and the Amnesty International Group put an exceptional effort into reminding us about that. Among the events were films, petitions and discussions. This article will shed light on Vietnam in particular, and the dilemma and issues it raise about developing countries; how to successfully evolve as a nation without compromising the human rights in the process?

The Economist wrote at the end of 2007 that the developing country was one of the ‘up and coming’ to watch out for. Vietnam is currently making immense progress in terms of economic growth and poverty reduction. Similar to China, Vietnam is slowly transforming from a state controlled economy to a market based one. Nevertheless, the human rights protection is still lacking severely. When the Outcome Report for the Universal Periodic Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Vietnam came out about three weeks ago, it raised doubts about the country’s commitments to the Human Rights regulations suggested by the UN.

In the beginning of September several peaceful pro-democracy activists were arrested after hanging up anti-government posters. Among them was Nguyen Xuan Nghia, a novelist that has been publishing articles criticizing the government – a big risk to take in a place were freedom of speech is limited. The activists are still being detained in prison.  Despite the international criticism of the arrests, the police keep imprisoning anybody they believe is in opposition to the government and their one party-rule.

These incidents are only one of the few that are becoming more frequent in Vietnam. Only one month before, Le Cong Dinh, a well-known human rights lawyer, together with four others connected with his case, were arrested. Although the outside world is questioning why the prisoners are being arrested at all, the government responds claiming they are being kept in decent facilities. In addition to the attempt of taming the actions of the dissidents, the country is trying hard to put restraint on the religious movements as well.

Followed by the activists, the monks in Vietnam have also recently been in the spotlight of the international press. This happened after the disputes in the Lam Dong province, which took place in the end of September. More than 350 Buddhist monks and nuns have been driven out of the Bat Nha monastery, established by Zen-master and author, Thich Nhat Hanh. The reason behind the tension emerged from the proposal Nhat Hanh made to President Triet this summer; to abolish the state control of religion. However, official spokesmen deny this. The disturbance that has occurred is a setback from 2005, after Nhat Hanh was allowed to return to the country after 30 years in exile.

Vietnam is yet to lift the restriction on freedom of speech of the public to express their opinions; freedom of press and the prohibitions on the media; take measures to abolish capital punishment; release prisoners of conscience, and the freedom of religion that is state controlled.

How does “Social Republic” in the country’s official name justify the restrictions on how people express their views and choose to believe in? Human rights is not merely a Western ideology, it applies to all citizens of the world. A nation is not flourishing while the people are under oppression, because this does nothing apart from creating a great divide.

– United World College Student Magazine –


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