Vietnamese Writer Prevented from Going to Geneva Rights Meeting

A Vietnamese writer critical of government corruption and the lack of freedom in his country has been prevented by authorities from traveling to attend a conference in Geneva on the sidelines of a quadrennial U.N. review of Vietnam's human rights record, rights groups said Sunday.

Pham Chi Dung, who has a valid Vietnam passport and Swiss visa, said he was stopped by police from boarding his flight at the Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City on Saturday, ahead of the “Universal Periodic Review” (UPR) at the U.N. Human Rights Council on Feb. 5.

According to Dung, authorities seized his passport and indicated that his presence in the Swiss city during the U.N. review would be “harmful to the human rights image of Vietnam," which has come under sharp criticism from rights groups for cracking down on dissent and for not meeting its obligations as a new member of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Dung had been scheduled to speak at a Geneva conference entitled “With Membership Comes Responsibility: Ensuring Human Rights in Vietnam,” a day before the UPR event.

The conference, hosted by Vietnamese and international human rights organizations, was “to shine a spotlight on the most egregious human rights abuses in Vietnam today,” according to U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based human rights organization which monitors compliance with the principles of the global body’s charter.

“We are alarmed at the Hanoi government’s attempt to silence Pham Chi Dung,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, which had invited Dung, who made headlines when he publicly resigned from the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party in December 2013 and called for a multiparty system. 

“Vietnam is violating one of the stated principles of the U.N. review process, that of ensuring the participation of all relevant stakeholders, including non-governmental activists," Neuer said.

Viet Tan

Viet Tan, a banned Vietnamese pro-democracy group and co-host of the UPR side event, slammed Hanoi for preventing Dung from attending the conference, saying the action had further drawn international attention to the rights abuses in the one-party communist state.

“Only authoritarian governments deny citizens their freedom of travel and right to free expression. We expect the international community to be even more eager to hear Pham Chi Dung’s views on the challenges facing civil society in Vietnam,” Duy Hoang, spokesman for Viet Tan, said from Geneva.

"We urge the U.N. Human Rights Council to consider this incident as a further example of the condition of human rights in Vietnam and the urgency for corrective action,” he said.

He said that organizers were trying to arrange for Dung’s message to be presented at the United Nations even if he cannot physically attend.

Dung was held in incommunicado for five months in July 2012, under charges by the Vietnamese government of conspiring with “foreign reactionaries.”

All other Vietnamese speakers at the Geneva event are either on their way or have safely arrived, Duy Hoang said.

The other confirmed Vietnam-based participants are lawyer Ha Huy Son and journalist Tran Quang Thanh.

Son's law practice has taken on high-profile cases of human rights defenders and he has been a fierce critic of the Vietnamese government's crackdown on human rights defenders.

Thanh, an independent journalist and a campaigner for press freedom as a catalyst for anti-corruption, had been a victim of a vicious acid attack, resulting in extensive damage to his face, leaving him blind in his left eye.

Facing constant harassment and threats, he is currently residing in Slovakia and did not travel directly from Vietnam.

'Verifiable commitments'

Government critics imprisoned in Vietnam include members of newly formed civil society groups, many of which have been scrutinizing the country’s rights record through the UPR process, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement last week.

It called on U.N. member states to press Vietnam to make “verifiable commitments” to improving its conduct during the review, saying the country’s record on human rights has been “dismal” despite pledges to boost its performance.

Despite its election to the Human Rights Council, Vietnam has continued to violate its citizens’ rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, religion, labor rights, land tenure rights, right to and continued to imprison government critics, HRW said.  

“The U.N. Human Rights Council should stand with brave activists who are challenging a one-party state to end systematic abuses,” HRW’s Geneva advocacy director Juliette de Rivero said.

“Governments should publicly press Vietnam to engage constructively with civil society, fulfill its international human rights obligations, and allow Vietnamese people to peacefully demand fundamental change.”

“Now is the time for U.N. member states to make it clear that the current situation is unacceptable and to insist that Hanoi dramatically improve the way it treats own people.”

As part of the review, U.N. member states will submit recommendations for how Vietnam can improve its rights record.

Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.