Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly July 18-24: Vietnam Legislators Raise Questions about Formosa Environmental Pollution in First Session of 14th Parliament

Vietnam Human Rights Defenders Weekly  |Jul 24, 2016

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Many Vietnamese legislator, including re-elected Chairwoman of the parliament Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan and President Nguyen Thien Nhan of the Vietnam Fatherland Front (VFF), raised concerns about the environmental pollution caused by the discharge of huge volume of toxic waste of the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant in the country’s sea water and other places.

At the ongoing first session of the parliament in the 14th tenure, Ho Chi Minh City-based lawmaker Tran Hoang Ngan said that Vietnam should not allow the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Group to operate its steel plant in the central province of Ha Tinh because its violations will cause long-term damage to Vietnam’s sea and marine economy.

VFF’s President Nhan said that the government needs to thoroughly solve the Formosa case to ease public indignation which has flared up following the obvious violations by the Taiwanese company while outspoken legislator Truong Trong Nghia said Vietnam should set up an independent agency to investigate the operation of Formosa to point out responsibilities of the main responsible parties.

Christian Aid Mission has reported that at least 108 pastors are currently imprisoned because they refused to register or merge their churches despite pressure from local officials. While in prison, pastors are subject to torture and harsh conditions. Failure to comply with all orders and regulations can bring lethal retribution.

On July 21, U.S. Acting Counsul General Charles Sellers in Ho Chi Minh City visited Lien Tri Pagoda located in Thu Thiem, District 2. The visit was made at a time when the authorities in District 2 want to appropriate the land on which the pagoda is located for building the Thu Thiem urban project despite strong protest of the pagoda’s leadership and hundreds of Buddhist followers.

And other important news

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===== July 18======

Vietnam Parliament Should Work on East Sea, Formosa Pollution: Outspoken Legislator

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s legislative body National Assembly (NA) needs to work on the territorial and maritime disputes in the East Sea (South China Sea) and the environmental disaster in the central coastal region caused by the Taiwanese Formosa steel plant, said Ho Chi Minh City-based senior lawyer Truong Trong Nghia, who is a member of the parliament in the 13th and 14th tenure.

Mr. Nghia, who is among 494 qualified legislators for the next term in 2016-2021, made this statement after the parliament unveiled the working program of the 14th parliament in its first session scheduled on July 20-29.

The East Sea issue has not been included in the program which has spared no time for the newly-elected legislators to discuss the environmental catastrophe in the central region, Mr. Nghia said, adding the parliament will only receive report on the Formosa case from the government.

The two issues are crucially important for Vietnam and the parliament should work carefully on them to find proper measures to deal with the catastrophe, he noted.

After the Permanent Court of Arbitration rejected China’s historic claims in the East Sea, Beijing may take more aggressive moves to violate Vietnam’s sovereignty in the sea so the Southeast Asian nation should be well prepared for that, he said.

In the past sessions of the 13th parliament, the East Sea issue was not discussed, he noted.

Meanwhile, foreign media reported the ongoing suppression of Vietnam’s government against local activists who have urged the government to take bolder acts to deal with China’s expansionism in the East Sea.

On Sunday, security forces in Hanoi violently detained dozens anti-China activists who planned to hold a peaceful demonstration to support the PCA’s ruling and request China to go out of the East Sea. Some activists were reportedly beaten during interrogation in police stations.

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Activists Visit Former Prisoners of Conscience in Central Highlands

On July 13, Huynh Phuong Ngoc and Tran Thi Hong representing the Fund for Prisoners of Conscience and the Vietnam Women for Human Rights visited formers prisoners of conscience and families of imprisoned human rights activists in the Central Highlands provinces of Gia Lai and Kon Tum.

Most of them are from ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands, fighting for religious freedom. Mrs. Hong, the wife of imprisoned Protestant pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, has been suppressed, intimidated and tortured by authorities in Gia Lai province.

The hosts said they face a number of difficulties, living in misery in remote areas with poor health conditions after years of bad treatment in prison. In addition, their families are blocked from doing businesses by local authorities who have also refused to allow ex-prisoners to go to hospitals for medical treatment.

On behalf of the two independent organizations, Ms. Ngoc and Mrs. Hong donated 16 former prisoners of conscience and families of imprisoned ones with a bottle of fish sauce and a bottle of cooking oil and VND1 million ($45) each.

According to a recent report from Christian Aid Mission, at least 108 pastors are currently imprisoned because they refused to register or merge their churches despite pressure from local officials.

CHUYẾN THĂM CÁC GIA ĐÌNH TÙ NHÂN Ở GIA LAI –KONTUM THÁNG 7/2016

===== July 19=====

Dozens of Pastors in Vietnam Imprisoned, Face Poisoning for Refusing to Register House Churches

The Gospel Herald: Dozens of Vietnamese pastors who refused to comply with government orders to consolidate their unregistered house churches into a single, officially approved church have been imprisoned for their faith and are at risk of being poisoned.

According to a report from Christian Aid Mission, at least 108 pastors are currently imprisoned because they refused to register or combine their churches despite pressure from local officials. Churches regulated by the government are prohibited from meeting in smaller groups: no Sunday school classes for children or adults, no youth groups or other gatherings apart from the congregational worship as a whole.

In addition, taking Communion and collecting offerings are forbidden, police monitor sermons to ensure nothing is said against communism, and plural leadership is prohibited; only one leader is allowed for each congregation. Children are also prohibited from learning about Jesus Christ except for in the privacy of their homes.

“The government wants to combine them to limit their growth and have more control,” a ministry leader known as “Su” told the outlet. “If the pastors refused to sign a paper saying they would combine and that their gatherings would not go over 500 people, they would be beaten or thrown into prison.”

In the Gia Lai Province, authorities forced 12,000 Christians in 20 unregistered churches to combine at a single facility accommodating 1,600 people, Su said. Rather than imprison those who resisted, however, authorities in Gia Lai Province imposed fines.

Last Easter, each church that refused to combine congregations into the one registered church was fined $60,” he said, an amount more than half the average monthly income of many Highland tribal people.

While in prison, pastors are subject to torture and harsh conditions. Failure to comply with all orders and regulations can bring lethal retribution, said Su, who was nearly killed himself while spending a total of seven years and two months in prison between 1975 and 1985.

“If you do not strictly follow the rules, they can put poison in your food,” he said. “So you take a little bit, and if you feel something or want to vomit, you stop eating. A few people have died.”

The 2016 World Watch List, a ranking from Open Doors of the countries that most persecute Christians, put Vietnam at No. 20, and gave the Communist country the maximum score in the violence category. Christians make up just 9.5% of the country’s population of 92.7 million.

Despite the government’s continued crackdown on Christianity, Su’s ministry team has continued to go to several areas to proclaim Christ and train church leaders. There are 22 tribes in the Central Highlands that have no strong Christian presence, and the ministry has reached out to 10 of them, he said.

Dozens of Pastors in Vietnam Imprisoned, Face Poisoning for Refusing to Register House Churches

===== July 20======

Vietnamese Worried about China’s Growing Aggressiveness in East Sea: Official

Defend the Defenders: Vietnamese people across the nation are worried about China’s land reclamation and military equipment deployment in Vietnam-claimed Hoang Sa (Paracels) and Truong Sa (Spratlys) in the East Sea (South China Sea), said Nguyen Thien Nhan, president of the mass organization Vietnam Fatherland Front and member of the parliament in the 13th and 14th tenure.

Speaking at the opening session of the ongoing ten-day session of Vietnam’s legislative body National Assembly (NA) in Hanoi on July 20, Nhan, who is also member of the Politburo of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam, said the Vietnamese voters are concerned over harassments of China’s authorities against Vietnamese fishermen when they are working in the country’s traditional fishing grounds in the East Sea.

The Chinese land reclamation and deployment of modern military equipment in the two Vietnamese archipelagos are serious violations of Vietnamese sovereignty in the East Sea, and the government needs to take urgent actions to cope with Chinese expansionism, Nhan said in his report to the parliament.

China’s acts escalate tensions in the East Sea and threaten freedom of navigation and overflight, violating the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Declaration of the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC), he said.

The VFF urged the ruling communist party and the government to review the implementation of the party’s resolution on Vietnam’s sea strategy.

Along with enhancing defense capacity, Vietnam’s government needs to carry out policies to support fishermen, Nhan said.

Nhan’s speech came one week after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that China’s U-shaped line claim in the East Sea is illegal.

Vietnam has suffered most from Chinese aggression in the East Sea, but Hanoi has yet to challenge Beijing at international courts because it prioritizes comprehensive strategic partnership with the giant communist nation.

Few days after the court released its final decision, Vietnamese activists tried to hold peaceful demonstrations to support the court’s ruling and demand China to leave the East Sea. However, Vietnam’s security forces violently detained many anti-China activists for interrogation and harassed others.

===== July 21=====

World Bank: Human Rights All But Absent in New Policy

Human Rights Watch: The World Bank has refused to acknowledge its human rights obligations in its new policy framework, Human Rights Watch said today. The bank’s third, and most likely final, draft of its new environmental and social framework, published on July 20, 2016, does not require the bank to respect human rights. Instead, it only references human rights in its non-binding “vision” statement.

A subcommittee of the bank’s Board of Executive Directors endorsed the framework on July 20, allowing for its publication. It is expected that the framework will be approved when the Board of Executive Directors meets on August 4.

“In refusing to acknowledge its rights obligations once again, the World Bank anticipates it will be able to violate human rights without consequence,” said Jessica Evans, senior international financial institutions researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Rather than using this review of key environment and social policies to advance human rights and cement its role as a leader in development, the World Bank has done the opposite.”

Sources inside the World Bank told Human Rights Watch that World Bank management opposed language that would require the bank itself to respect human rights throughout its operations.

The new framework was in development for four years and includes some important reforms, including commitments to avoid discrimination and protect labor standards. It also requires governments borrowing from the bank to obtain the free, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples who traditionally own, occupy, or use land or natural resources that will be adversely affected by a proposed project. But the World Bank snubbed calls from the United Nations, human rights groups, and many of its shareholder governments when it refused to include binding human rights requirements in its new policies.

China, an increasingly influential World Bank shareholder, was the primary opponent of binding human rights requirements that would apply to governments borrowing from the bank. Other key shareholders, including several European governments and the United States, have pushed for human rights requirements.

When the Board of Executive Directors meets to approve the framework, it should agree to an inclusive process for drafting a new and separate human rights policy, Human Rights Watch said. The board is made up of 25 government appointees representing the bank’s 189 member countries. Such a policy should embody a commitment from the World Bank to integrate human rights into its work by analyzing human rights issues that are relevant to development in the context of its country strategies, to work with governments to comply with their human rights commitments, and to identify and address human rights risks linked to its investments or advice.

The World Bank’s own research indicates that the majority of development agencies around the world had adopted or were adopting human rights policies by 2013. Few agencies had no human rights policies at all, a publication by the World Bank and the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development revealed. Many businesses and commercial banks also now recognize that they should respect human rights. The World Bank remains a laggard in human rights when it comes to its policies and practices, Human Rights Watch said.

The costs that people bear when the World Bank overlooks human rights are high. In Vietnam, the bank financed activities in drug detention centers where people were arbitrarily detained, forced to work, and subjected to punishments that sometimes amounted to torture if they refused to work. In Uzbekistan, the bank ignored, for several years, forced labor practices in agriculture, despite being the key financier of the government in that sector. Now, while the bank recognizes the problem of forced labor, it is continuing business as usual while the government threatens and detains human rights defenders seeking to expose ongoing labor abuses, including in World Bank project areas. And in Ethiopia, Pastor Omot Agwa, who worked with the bank’s independent accountability mechanism to expose a range of abuses linked to a bank project, has been in prison for more than a year facing baseless terrorism charges.

The World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, often quotes Martin Luther King Jr. In May, Kim suggested that King’s call for “vigorous and positive action” for civil rights could apply to climate change.

“The Bank has been quick to adopt the rhetoric of human rights while opposing it in practice,” Evans said. “Jim Yong Kim often quotes Martin Luther King Jr., but to quote King while leading the bank into another era of ignoring its rights obligations runs contrary to what King stood for.”

HRW: World Bank: Human Rights All But Absent in New Policy

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U.S. Acting Consul General in HCMC Visits Lien Tri Pagoda

On afternoon of July 21, U.S. Acting Consul General Charles Sellers in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) visited Lien Tri Pagoda located in Thu Thiem, District 2.

The visit was made at a time when the authorities in District 2 want to appropriate the land on which the pagoda is located for building the Thu Thiem urban project. The district People’s Committee issued a document vowing to seize the land despite strong protest of the pagoda’s leadership led by Venerable Thich Khong Tanh.

Speaking at a meeting with the pagoda’s leadership, Mr. Sellers, who is head of the Political division of the U.S. Consulate General in HCMC, said his government, the Department of State and many American Congress members are interested in the pagoda and concerned about the local authorities’ plan to take the pagoda’s land for urban development.

Earlier on July 20-21, he met authorities in HCMC and discussed issues related to Lien Tri Pagoda. He urged Vietnam’s government to respect human rights commitments.

He expressed his hope that the local authorities and the pagoda’s leadership can settle the issue through negotiation.

Audio: Ông Charles Sellers – Quyền Tổng Lãnh sự Hoa Kỳ đến chùa Liên Trì

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Hanoi Policeman Suspended for Knocking Down Two People on Motorbike

Defend the Defenders: A traffic policeman in Hanoi has been temporarily suspended after a video published online apparently showing him kicking two people off their motorbike when they were traveling the wrong way down a street.

The two-minute video was posted on YouTube and Facebook since July 19 afternoon, state media has reported.

In the clip, the police officer ran from the pavement to the median strip to stop a motorbike that is speeding in the wrong direction. The policeman’s well-timed kung fu-like kick caused the motorbike to crash into the median strip, leaving the two people on the road.

The case happened on Xa Dan Street in Dong Da district in the afternoon of July 18 and the police officer in the clip is Lieutenant Nguyen Hoang Anh from the city’s Traffic Police Team 3, the city’s Department of Police said.

The department announced that Anh was temporarily removed from his duty to verify the content of the clip. Anh has also been requested to write a report about what happened.

The city’s police said the two people on the motorbike were not wearing helmets, were driving down the wrong side of the road and failed to show their driving licenses and motorbike registration papers.

Attacks by traffic police against motorbike riders are not rare in Vietnam, and in many cases the victims have received severe injuries and some have even died. In few cases, the attackers were lightly disciplined.

===== July 2=====

Vietnam Should Consider Existence of Formosa Project: Lawmakers

Defend the Defenders: The government of Vietnam should reconsider the continuation of Taiwan-invested Formosa steel project to ensure no repeated environmental violations, according to a lawmaker.

Lawmaker Tran Hoang Ngan said on the sidelines of the first session of the country’s highest legislature National Assembly (NA)’s 14th tenure that Vietnam should not allow the Taiwanese Formosa Plastic Group to operate its steel plant in the central province of Ha Tinh because its violations will cause long-term damage to Vietnam’s sea and marine economy.

Vietnam’s lawmakers, including Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan of the NA, have raised concerns about long-term impacts on the environment and people’s livelihood after Formosa steel plant discharged huge volume of improperly-treated waste into Vietnam’s sea water and many other places in a number of provinces.

At the ongoing session of the parliament, the lawmakers have mentioned the Formosa’s discharging of untreated waste into the sea off Vietnam central coast from Ha Tinh to Thua Thien-Hue provinces and warned of serious consequences that may last for generations.

The NA’s chief mentioned in the speech of the opening session that the Formosa-caused environmental incident has resulted in immeasurable impact on the economy and people’s life.

President of the Vietnam Fatherland Front Nguyen Thien Nhan said that the government needs to thoroughly solve the Formosa case to ease public indignation which has flared up following the blatant violations by the Taiwanese company.

Outspoken legislator Truong Trong Nghia said on the sidelines of the NA’s ongoing session that Vietnam should set up an independent agency to investigate the operation of Formosa to identify the main responsible parties.

In the announcement of the Vietnam Annual Economic Report last week, Doctor Nguyen Duc Thanh, head of Vietnam Center for Economic and Policy Research (VEPR), said the Formosa case may cause shocks to Vietnam’s economy.

However, legislator Vo Kim Cu who licensed Formosa steel complex project and approved an 70-year land lease contract for Formosa has kept silent, evading all questions from local reporters.

The government of Vietnam has demanded Formosa to provide a compensation of $500 million for its sea poisoning but has yet to name individuals or organizations responsible for Formosa’s violations.