Despite the collapse of the Berlin Wall and Soviet Union, Vietnam remains one of the five communist countries left in the world. Much like other communist countries, the Vietnamese government suppresses freedom of religion, press, and association. Intellectuals, writers, reporters, and religious leaders who oppose the communist regime are often incarcerated and face degrading treatment. The Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) neither respects nor recognizes the basic human rights for its citizens. According to the British Standards Institution (BSI) and the Human Rights Watch Annual Report, Vietnam is among the five nations that commit the most human rights violations—ranging from arbitrary criminal justice systems to unmediated human trafficking markets
For those Vietnamese who are fed up with the country’s status quo, there are movements such as “We Are One.” Launched in March 2015 by 27 civil associations in Vietnam, the movement fights for freedom, democracy, and human rights in Vietnam. The movement’s first stage was to call on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to address human rights issues in the communist country. This was followed by a petition initiated by the Human Rights Relief Foundation in June that gathered 50,000 signatures to prompt the UNHRC to call on its member states to act in order to improve Vietnam’s human rights record.
Now in its second phase, the movement has set up several hunger strikes around the world to protest the CPV’s human rights abuses and the party’s disregard for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As part of the movement, “We Are One” established the “World Hunger Strike Day for Freedom of Conscience Prisoners in Vietnam” on July 25th. On the given date, the strike spread throughout the world including Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Finland, Germany, France, Finland, and the U.S.
In Sydney alone, eighty people sat quietly outside the city’s Town Hall for twelve hours without food, surrounded by pictures of Vietnam’s prisoners of conscience. One of the speakers at the strike was former Vietnamese Colonel Vo Dai Ton, a victim of the CPV’s brutality. Colonel Ton related how he had been tortured 96 times during his ten years of imprisonment, all because he attempted to create a resistance movement in 1982. Colonel Ton stated how all “citizens have been considered by the [Vietnamese] Communist regime as their slaves, their animals—not human beings.”
Stories like Colonel Ton’s are not a thing of the past. Currently many Vietnamese prisoners are tortured and killed . For example, blogger and former member of the CPV, Ta Phong Tan was imprisoned for publishing “anti-state propaganda.” Others such as Roman Catholic priest Father Nguyen Van Ly have been imprisoned for “opposing the Party and the state” and “inciting people…to stage demonstrations.” VOC awarded Father Ly the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom in 2013 in absentia for his unwavering struggle for democracy in Vietnam.
The movement’s next stage is to coordinate organizations to work together to lobby international support for human rights. And finally, to organize a rally in Vietnam’s major cities on International Human Rights Day—December 10th—this year.
The “We Are One” movement highlights important human rights issues in Vietnam, and inspires the rest of the world to stand in solidarity to help put an end to these violations. Despite the importance of the cause, there are still many world leaders who do not seem to think the same. Just last month President Barack Obama met with the head of the CPV, Nguyễn Phú Trọng, in the oval office, despite his lack of a formal title in the Vietnamese government. During the meeting, the most important issue discussed was China’s expansion in the South China Sea—there hasn’t been any public mention of Vietnam’s human rights record.
The CPV’s human rights record stands as a testament of the brutal nature of one-party states. Movements like “We Are One” are making a stand for democratic and political progress, calling for communist regimes to change their oppressive ways. As members of the free world we must stand with such movements to make Vietnam uphold the standards of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.