When Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Van Dung visited Burma two years ago, he told government officials that Hanoi endorsed the country’s “road map” to democracy and subsequently told the 16th annual ASEAN Summit that Burma’s forthcoming “elections should be free and democratic with the participation of all parties,” notes a prominent rights advocate.
“It was a truly stunning statement, coming from the leader of a one-party government in which the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam enjoys a Constitutional role as ‘the force assuming leadership of the State and society’ and the government strictly controls elections,” says Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia Division at Human Rights Watch.
Two years on, while Burma is engaged in a tentative reform process, Vietnam “finds itself in a rapidly developing economic and human rights morass,” according to Race to the bottom: Burma and Vietnam head in opposite directions.
While Burma has loosened restrictions on freedom of association and witnessed a flourishing of independent labor unions, Vietnam’s Communist regime “focuses very clearly on ensuring that organizations operating in the country do so under the control of the government,” the report notes:
For this reason, exiled political parties, workers seeking to form trade unions outside the government-run Vietnam General Confederation of Labor, and bloggers like the Club for Free Journalists must run a gauntlet of harassment, arrests and imprisonment. ….The government has reserved particular attention and harassment for independent religious groups that remain outside government-registered and controlled religious institutions.
Vietnam’s recent detention of four pro-democracy activists is a violation of international law, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention announced this week.
The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights submitted the case of Le Cong Dinh, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Nguyen Tien Trung and Le Thang Long (above) to the UN Working Group in Geneva after they were arbitrarily detained and received prison sentences of five to sixteen years in prison followed by 3-5 years house arrest on charges of subversion. The Working Group called on Hanoi to release the four detainees and award compensation in accordance with the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Vietnam acceded in 1982.
“Vietnam and Myanmar started the decade being long-time allies schooled in the ASEAN mantra of ‘non-interference in internal affairs’ of member states and often facing critical comment from abroad on their human rights records,” the HRW report notes:
But now, the two governments increasingly look like ships passing each other at sea, going in opposite directions on human rights. Come 2015, when national elections in Myanmar will hold open the possibility of a real power shift coming from the ballot box, Prime Minister Dung might regret his 2010 oration aimed at encouraging Myanmar on the path toward democracy – especially when his own people may well wonder when Hanoi will follow suit.