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On June 16,2013 Vietnamese police defrocked/tortured Khmer-Krom monk Ven. Ly Chanda of Prey Chop Temple in Lai Hoa, Vinh Chau, Soc Trang province. June 20,2013 Venerable Thach Thuol and Abbot Temple Lieu Ny of Ta Set temple (Soc Trang-Khleang province) defrocked and imprisoned in Prey Nokor (Saigon) city by the Viet authorities. In Phnor Dach (Cau Ngang) district, Preah Trapang/Tra Vinh) Khmer Krom prohibited from watching Cambodian TV signals.

Vietnam's New Constitution Shows Limits of Reform

Source: Deutsche Welle Jan 6,2014


Vietnam has had a new constitution since the beginning of this year, after a near-unanimous vote by the National Assembly in November 2013. But it leaves much to be desired in terms of political and economic reform.

The Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) has been in power in the Southeast Asian nation for 68 years. That makes it one of the longest-ruling parties in the world. But the party's power is under threat. In order to save itself, it has imposed a new constitution.

With the slowdown of economic development following the global financial crisis of 2007-2008, the party lost one of its pillars of legitimacy. Le Hong Hiep of the University of Ho Chi Minh City believes the Communist Party of Vietnam is facing "an economic crisis, a leadership crisis, and a crisis of confidence in its rule."

And as a reaction, according to the foreign policy expert, it is now following a new strategy: "The CPV has adopted a dual approach to preserve its ability and right to govern. While stepping up repression of prominent pro-democracy activists, the Party also appears more tolerant of moderate criticisms, and has undertaken limited political reforms to calm critics and to address problems that the Party itself considers detrimental to its legitimacy."

For the revision of the constitution, the CPV created a Constitutional Drafting Committee. Last year, the committee called on the people - the country's citizens - to comment on the first draft. The group said it collected millions of comments and held a number of public gatherings and discussions.

This practice is nothing new in Vietnam. There have been public discussions since the last constitutional revision of 1992, explains Vietnam expert Carlyle Thayer of the University of New South Wales. "Seeking feedback is a way of legitimizing the authority of Vietnam's one-party state," he says. It makes it seem as if the people have a say in decision-making.

Calls to open

A petition signed by 72 intellectuals and politicians under the leadership of former Justice Minister Nguyen Dinh Loc has gained international attention. One of the central demands of the so-called "Petition 72" was the revision of Article 4 of the constitution, which stipulates the guarantee of the leadership of the CPV. Instead, they are demanding a multi-party system, and calling for the provision of human rights in accordance with the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In addition to demands for political freedom, the country is in need of economic reform if it wants to reach the growth rates it had before the economic crisis of 2007. That would be in the CPV's interest as well, as its legitimacy is based on a prosperous, growing economy. The country's institutional weaknesses can only be eliminated through far-reaching economic changes, according to Le Hong Hiep.

As examples for these weaknesses he cites "the inefficient and non-transparent management of state-owned enterprises (SOE), the discrimination against the private sector, red tape, corruption, and weak market-supporting institutions." However, the CPV "tends to be resistant to radical institutional reforms that may undermine its rule and vested interests."

The signatories of Petition 72 were able to demand an opening-up of the country, because the government could end up harming itself if it didn't do this, according to Thayer. "Their actions, if repressed, would undermine the government's rationale for conducting public consultations. […] This is a rare opportunity to push for major political reforms," he said.

Reformists disappointed

In many ways, however, the signatories of "Petition 72," along with other citizens, have been disappointed. Article 4 of the constitution was amended, but not in the way the reformers had hoped. Instead of creating more political freedom, the role of the Communist Party has been cemented: It is no longer the head of the working class, but rather of all Vietnamese citizens and the entire nation.

"New clauses in articles 16, 31, 102, and 103 appear to allow freedom of expression and other basic rights, and promise to end arbitrary arrests of critics and political trials on trumped-up charges," writes rights organization HRW on its website.

"But these provisions have effectively been negated by loopholes and weak guarantees in other provisions. Article 14 states that the authorities can override human rights guarantees in other passages if they deem it necessary for national defense, national security, public order, the security of society, or social morality."

"The amended constitution leaves the door wide open to the continued use of harsh laws and politically controlled courts to target activists and critics," said HRW's Brad Adams.

Reforms relating to the economic framework, especially in state-owned enterprises, have been broadly disregarded. However, the chairman of the Office of the National Assembly, Nguyen Hanh Phuc, emphasized in October last year that the state-owned enterprises would play a leading role in the future.

All in all, according to Le Hong Hiep, "the constitutional revision has been another case demonstrating the limits of the CPV's political reforms."
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CPJ: Vietnam Intensifies Crackdown on Journalists

By Tra Mi - VOA News Dec 18,2013

WASHINGTON — The Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ, says Vietnam is the fifth biggest jailer of journalists in the world, and second in the Asia-Pacific region after China.

The group Wednesday released its annual list of the world's top repressive regimes
as measured by press freedom. The CPJ report said “Vietnam was holding 18 journalists, up from 14 a year earlier, as authorities intensified a crackdown on bloggers, who represent the country’s only independent press.

Reporters Without Borders says Vietnam also has been hostile to bloggers.

Benjamin Ismail, head of the Asia Desk at Reporters Without Borders [RSF], told VOA's Vietnamese service that with Vietnam joining the U.N. Human Rights Council this year, it is appropriate to put the spotlight on Hanoi.

"We put them into the eye of the international community and we really pay close attention to their policy. And we'll be ready to denounce if there is no change at all in their repressive policy against bloggers, [or] if there is a worsening of the situation," said Ismail.

RSF ranks Vietnam as the second biggest jailer of online activists in the world after China, with 34 being held in prison.

Vietnamese blogger Hanh Nhan said many are starting to push back, however, against repressive policies.

“2013 witnessed more arrests and intensified suppression against independent bloggers compared to previous years. In return, however, there are more people overcoming their fears to speak up for rights and justice, more people expressing their viewpoints online, more civil movements, and more independent organizations established. Despite the government crackdown, these are positive, hopeful signs for a better society,” said Nhan.

Nhan expressed hope that these civil society movements would help better the situation in the years to come.

Vietnam's government has not commented on the CPJ report.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.
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US' Misbalanced Agenda in Vietnam

ASIA TIMES ONLINE- By Duvien Tran and Khanh Vu Duc - Dec 19,2013

US Secretary John Kerry Meets Vietcongs Leader Nguyen Tan Dung

When United States Secretary of State John Kerry attended Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral in the former Saigon, once capital of the US-backed South Vietnam, the message was clear and deliberate: Washington will continue to push for human rights reform in Vietnam, including greater allowances for freedom of religion.

Kerry's visit served as more than an advocacy campaign for civil liberty and human rights improvements by Vietnam's Communist Party-led authoritarian regime. Rather, it sought to bolster bilateral ties and reaffirm Washington's strategic commitments to Vietnam and the wider region to help counterbalance China's rising territorial assertiveness.

Kerry announced the US would provide US$18 million for five naval patrol vessels as part of America's growing maritime assistance to the country. The vessels will inevitably be deployed in the South China Sea, where Vietnam is locked in territorial disputes with China.

America's top diplomat also met with Vietnam's business community to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement, which if implemented will present new trade opportunities not only for the US in the Asia-Pacific but also for Vietnam exporters in lucrative US markets.

If Kerry had any concerns about his reception prior to his return to Vietnam, including to the Mekong Delta for the first time since 1969 when he was deployed there as a naval officer during the US-Vietnam War, they were eased by geopolitical events involving the US and China in the South China Sea days before his arrival.

On December 5, the USS Cowpens was tracking China's new Liaoning aircraft carrier when the Cowpens was ordered to stop by an intercepting Chinese vessel. Adamant that it was operating in international waters, the US vessel refused and was later forced to quickly change course after the Chinese ship cut in front of the Cowpens. Chinese state media later blamed the US for provoking the situation.

Regardless of which side was to blame, the incident underscored Vietnam's concern about China's increasingly assertive posturing in the South China Sea. While the US has maintained its neutrality over territorial disputes in the maritime area, Washington has irked Beijing in recent years by asserting freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is part of its "national interest".

By providing vessels for the Philippines' and Vietnam's respective Coast Guard, moves viewed as part of the US "pivot" policy to the Asia-Pacific, the US position in the disputes seems increasingly clear. The issue is drawing the US and Vietnam, once battlefield adversaries, into new strategic alignment.

While diplomatic ties have steadily improved since the two sides normalized relations, past and future efforts to expand the relationship have been and will continue to bog down in human rights concerns. Wary of American influence undermining it's authority, communist leaders continue to shrug off international criticism of its poor human rights record, often citing "cultural differences" as justification for crushing any dissent. This year, Hanoi has intensified a campaign of suppression aimed at democratic and human rights activists who speak out against the state, jailing scores on trumped up anti-state charges.

Since its entry to the World Trade Organization in 2007 and ongoing negotiations to enter the TPP, Vietnam has made almost no efforts to improve its abysmal rights record. Neither the US nor the international community can force Vietnam to move in a more democratic direction; that power lies solely with the people of Vietnam.

In Myanmar, where a transition from direct military to quasi-civilian rule has been strongly encouraged and widely lauded by the international community, change has been embraced at all levels, from the people to the leadership. Reform comes only when those who demand it move to seize it. However, where the people have spoken out, their leaders have perpetually failed to act - apart from detaining and punishing those who have spoken out for greater liberties.

The US will continually be challenged in dealing with a country that seemingly does not care about its rights-abusing image. It is one thing for Kerry to attend Mass at a Vietnamese church, symbolically demonstrating his and his country's commitment to religious freedom. It is quite another to advance human rights reform through a strategy of carrots and sticks.

So far, the US approach to Vietnam has featured more carrots than sticks. Kerry did not arrive in Vietnam empty-handed, witnessed in his offer of badly needed military assistance. While Kerry effectively engaged Vietnam's Communist Party leaders and aligned business community, less effort was given to advocating for the rights and liberties of the Vietnamese people.

Until the US predicates future engagement on improved human rights, Vietnam's leaders will see no reason to change their authoritarian ways.
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President Barack Obama's Eulogy at South Africa's former president Nelson Mandela

President Barack Obama's eulogy at South Africa's former president Nelson Mandela



Remarks by President Obama at Memorial Service for Former South African President Nelson Mandela

First National Bank Stadium
Johannesburg, South Africa

1:31 P.M. SAST

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Thank you. To Graça Machel and the Mandela family; to President Zuma and members of the government; to heads of states and government, past and present; distinguished guests -- it is a singular honor to be with you today, to celebrate a life like no other. To the people of South Africa -- (applause) -- people of every race and walk of life -- the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us. His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and your hope found expression in his life. And your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy.

It is hard to eulogize any man -- to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential truth of a person -- their private joys and sorrows; the quiet moments and unique qualities that illuminate someone’s soul. How much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved billions around the world.

Born during World War I, far from the corridors of power, a boy raised herding cattle and tutored by the elders of his Thembu tribe, Madiba would emerge as the last great liberator of the 20th century. Like Gandhi, he would lead a resistance movement -- a movement that at its start had little prospect for success. Like Dr. King, he would give potent voice to the claims of the oppressed and the moral necessity of racial justice. He would endure a brutal imprisonment that began in the time of Kennedy and Khrushchev, and reached the final days of the Cold War. Emerging from prison, without the force of arms, he would -- like Abraham Lincoln -- hold his country together when it threatened to break apart. And like America’s Founding Fathers, he would erect a constitutional order to preserve freedom for future generations -- a commitment to democracy and rule of law ratified not only by his election, but by his willingness to step down from power after only one term.

Given the sweep of his life, the scope of his accomplishments, the adoration that he so rightly earned, it’s tempting I think to remember Nelson Mandela as an icon, smiling and serene, detached from the tawdry affairs of lesser men. But Madiba himself strongly resisted such a lifeless portrait. (Applause.) Instead, Madiba insisted on sharing with us his doubts and his fears; his miscalculations along with his victories. “I am not a saint,” he said, “unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection -- because he could be so full of good humor, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens he carried -- that we loved him so. He was not a bust made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood -- a son and a husband, a father and a friend. And that’s why we learned so much from him, and that’s why we can learn from him still. For nothing he achieved was inevitable. In the arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle and shrewdness, and persistence and faith. He tells us what is possible not just in the pages of history books, but in our own lives as well.

Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals. Perhaps Madiba was right that he inherited, “a proud rebelliousness, a stubborn sense of fairness” from his father. And we know he shared with millions of black and colored South Africans the anger born of, “a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments…a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people,” he said.

But like other early giants of the ANC -- the Sisulus and Tambos -- Madiba disciplined his anger and channeled his desire to fight into organization, and platforms, and strategies for action, so men and women could stand up for their God-given dignity. Moreover, he accepted the consequences of his actions, knowing that standing up to powerful interests and injustice carries a price. “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I’ve cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and [with] equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” (Applause.)

Mandela taught us the power of action, but he also taught us the power of ideas; the importance of reason and arguments; the need to study not only those who you agree with, but also those who you don’t agree with. He understood that ideas cannot be contained by prison walls, or extinguished by a sniper’s bullet. He turned his trial into an indictment of apartheid because of his eloquence and his passion, but also because of his training as an advocate. He used decades in prison to sharpen his arguments, but also to spread his thirst for knowledge to others in the movement. And he learned the language and the customs of his oppressor so that one day he might better convey to them how their own freedom depend upon his. (Applause.)

Mandela demonstrated that action and ideas are not enough. No matter how right, they must be chiseled into law and institutions. He was practical, testing his beliefs against the hard surface of circumstance and history. On core principles he was unyielding, which is why he could rebuff offers of unconditional release, reminding the Apartheid regime that “prisoners cannot enter into contracts.”

But as he showed in painstaking negotiations to transfer power and draft new laws, he was not afraid to compromise for the sake of a larger goal. And because he was not only a leader of a movement but a skillful politician, the Constitution that emerged was worthy of this multiracial democracy, true to his vision of laws that protect minority as well as majority rights, and the precious freedoms of every South African.

And finally, Mandela understood the ties that bind the human spirit. There is a word in South Africa -- Ubuntu -- (applause) -- a word that captures Mandela’s greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us.

We can never know how much of this sense was innate in him, or how much was shaped in a dark and solitary cell. But we remember the gestures, large and small -- introducing his jailers as honored guests at his inauguration; taking a pitch in a Springbok uniform; turning his family’s heartbreak into a call to confront HIV/AIDS -- that revealed the depth of his empathy and his understanding. He not only embodied Ubuntu, he taught millions to find that truth within themselves.

It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well -- (applause) -- to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion and generosity and truth. He changed laws, but he also changed hearts.

For the people of South Africa, for those he inspired around the globe, Madiba’s passing is rightly a time of mourning, and a time to celebrate a heroic life. But I believe it should also prompt in each of us a time for self-reflection. With honesty, regardless of our station or our circumstance, we must ask: How well have I applied his lessons in my own life? It’s a question I ask myself, as a man and as a President.

We know that, like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation. As was true here, it took sacrifice -- the sacrifice of countless people, known and unknown, to see the dawn of a new day. Michelle and I are beneficiaries of that struggle. (Applause.) But in America, and in South Africa, and in countries all around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not yet done.

The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality or universal franchise may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity as those that came before, but they are no less important. For around the world today, we still see children suffering from hunger and disease. We still see run-down schools. We still see young people without prospects for the future. Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs, and are still persecuted for what they look like, and how they worship, and who they love. That is happening today. (Applause.)

And so we, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace. There are too many people who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. (Applause.) And there are too many of us on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.

The questions we face today -- how to promote equality and justice; how to uphold freedom and human rights; how to end conflict and sectarian war -- these things do not have easy answers. But there were no easy answers in front of that child born in World War I. Nelson Mandela reminds us that it always seems impossible until it is done. South Africa shows that is true. South Africa shows we can change, that we can choose a world defined not by our differences, but by our common hopes. We can choose a world defined not by conflict, but by peace and justice and opportunity.

We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. But let me say to the young people of Africa and the young people around the world -- you, too, can make his life’s work your own. Over 30 years ago, while still a student, I learned of Nelson Mandela and the struggles taking place in this beautiful land, and it stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities to others and to myself, and it set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today. And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be a better man. (Applause.) He speaks to what’s best inside us.

After this great liberator is laid to rest, and when we have returned to our cities and villages and rejoined our daily routines, let us search for his strength. Let us search for his largeness of spirit somewhere inside of ourselves. And when the night grows dark, when injustice weighs heavy on our hearts, when our best-laid plans seem beyond our reach, let us think of Madiba and the words that brought him comfort within the four walls of his cell: “It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

What a magnificent soul it was. We will miss him deeply. May God bless the memory of Nelson Mandela. May God bless the people of South Africa. (Applause.)

END
1:50 P.M. SAST
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Nelson Madiba Mandela's Life and Time

BBC News - 8 June 2013 Last updated at 14:23 ET

Nelson Mandela is one of the world's most revered statesmen, who led the struggle to replace the apartheid regime of South Africa with a multi-racial democracy.

The world's most revered statesmen Nelson Madiba Mandela
Jailed for 27 years, he emerged in 1990 to become the country's first black president four years later and to play a leading role in the drive for peace in other spheres of conflict. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

His charisma, self-deprecating sense of humour and lack of bitterness over his harsh treatment, as well as his amazing life story, partly explain his extraordinary global appeal.

"In prison, you come face to face with time. There is nothing more terrifying” Nelson Mandela

Since stepping down as president in 1999, Mr Mandela has become South Africa's highest-profile ambassador, campaigning against HIV/Aids and helping to secure his country's right to host the 2010 football World Cup.

Mr Mandela - who has had a series of health problems in recent years - was also involved in peace negotiations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and other countries in Africa and elsewhere.

In 2004, at the age of 85, Mr Mandela retired from public life to spend more time with his family and friends and engage in "quiet reflection".

"Don't call me, I'll call you," he warned anyone thinking of inviting him to future engagements.

The former president has made few public appearances since largely retiring from public life.

In November 2010, his office released photos of a meeting he had held with members of the US and South African football teams.

He has been treated in hospital several times in the past two years.

Nelson Mandela leaves court in 1958 during his first treason trial

In late January 2011 he was admitted to a Johannesburg hospital for "specialised tests" with the South African presidency reminding a concerned nation that Mr Mandela has had "previous respiratory infections".

While in jail on Robben Island in the 1980s, the former president contracted tuberculosis.

In early 2012 he was treated for what the president's office said was "a long-standing abdominal complaint".

But in recent months he has been troubled repeatedly by a lung infection.

Raised by royalty
He was born in 1918 into the Xhosa-speaking Thembu people in a small village in the eastern Cape of South Africa. In South Africa, he is often called by his clan name - "Madiba".

Born Rolihlahla Dalibhunga, he was given his English name, Nelson, by a teacher at his school.

Mandela's key dates
1918 - Born in the Eastern Cape
1944 - Joined African National Congress
1956 - Charged with high treason, but charges dropped
1962 - Arrested, convicted of sabotage, sentenced to five years in prison
1964 - Charged again, sentenced to life
1990 - Freed from prison
1993 - Wins Nobel Peace Prize
1994 - Elected president
1999 - Steps down as leader
2001 - Diagnosed with prostate cancer
2004 - Retires from public life
2005 - Announces his son has died of an HIV/Aids-related illness
2010 - Appears at football World Cup
BBC History: Mandela's defiant freedom speech
His father, a counsellor to the Thembu royal family, died when Nelson Mandela was nine, and he was placed in the care of the acting regent of the Thembu people, chief Jongintaba Dalindyebo.

In 1941, aged 23, he ran away from an arranged marriage and went to Johannesburg.

Two years later, he enrolled for a law degree at the mainly white Witswaterand University, where he met people from all races and backgrounds. He was exposed to liberal, radical and Africanist thought, as well as racism and discrimination, which fuelled his passion for politics.

The same year, he joined the African National Congress (ANC) and later co-founded the ANC Youth League.

He married his first wife, Evelyn Mase, in 1944. They were divorced in 1958 after having four children.

Mr Mandela qualified as a lawyer and in 1952 opened a law practice in Johannesburg with his partner, Oliver Tambo.

Together, Mr Mandela and Mr Tambo campaigned against apartheid, the system devised by the all-white National Party which oppressed the black majority.

In 1956, Mr Mandela was charged with high treason, along with 155 other activists, but the charges against him were dropped after a four-year trial.

Resistance to apartheid grew, mainly against the new Pass Laws, which dictated where black people were allowed to live and work.

Continue reading the main story
“Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts”,Nelson Mandela

In 1958, Mr Mandela married Winnie Madikizela, who was later to take an active role in the campaign to free her husband from prison.

The ANC was outlawed in 1960 and Mr Mandela went underground.

Tension with the apartheid regime grew, and soared to new heights in 1960 when 69 black people were shot dead by police in the Sharpeville massacre.

Life sentence
This marked the end of peaceful resistance and Mr Mandela, already national vice-president of the ANC, launched a campaign of economic sabotage.

He was eventually arrested and charged with sabotage and attempting to violently overthrow the government.


Speaking from the dock in the Rivonia court room, Mr Mandela used the stand to convey his beliefs about democracy, freedom and equality.

"I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities," he said.

"It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

In the winter of 1964 he was sentenced to life in prison.

In the space of 12 months between 1968 and 1969, Mr Mandela's mother died and his eldest son was killed in a car crash but he was not allowed to attend the funerals.

Man holding newspaper on the day Nelson Mandela was set free

He remained in prison on Robben Island for 18 years before being transferred to Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland in 1982.

As Mr Mandela and other ANC leaders languished in prison or lived in exile, the youths of South Africa's black townships did their best to fight white minority rule.

Hundreds were killed and thousands were injured before the schoolchildren's uprising was crushed.

In 1980, the ANC led by the exiled Mr Tambo, launched an international campaign against apartheid but ingeniously decided to focus it on one cause and one person - the demand to release Mr Mandela.

This culminated in the 1988 concert at Wembley stadium in London when some 72,000 people - and millions more watching on TV around the world - sang "Free Nelson Mandela".

Popular pressure led world leaders to tighten the sanctions first imposed on South Africa in 1967 against the apartheid regime.

The pressure produced results, and in 1990, President FW de Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC. Mr Mandela was released from prison and talks on forming a new multi-racial democracy for South Africa began.

Slum townships
In 1992 Mr Mandela separated from his wife, Winnie, on the grounds of her adultery. She had also been convicted on charges of kidnapping and accessory to assault.

In December 1993, Mr Mandela and Mr de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Five months later, for the first time in South Africa's history, all races voted in democratic elections and Mr Mandela was overwhelmingly elected president.

Mr Mandela's greatest problem as president was the housing shortage for the poor, and slum townships continued to blight major cities.

Nelson Mandela with his new wife, Graca Machel, next to his birthday cake, at a reception held at Gallagher Estate outside Johannesburg Sunday, 19 July 1998

He entrusted his deputy, Thabo Mbeki, with the day-to-day business of the government, while he concentrated on the ceremonial duties of a leader, building a new international image of South Africa.

In that context, he succeeded in persuading the country's multinational corporations to remain and invest in South Africa.

On his 80th birthday, Nelson Mandela married Graca Machel, the widow of the former president of Mozambique.

He continued travelling the world, meeting leaders, attending conferences and collecting awards after stepping down as president.

After his official retirement, his public appearances were mostly connected with the work of the Mandela Foundation, a charitable fund that he founded.

On his 89th birthday, he formed The Elders, a group of leading world figures, to offer their expertise and guidance "to tackle some of the world's toughest problems".

Possibly his most noteworthy intervention of recent years came early in 2005, following the death of his surviving son, Makgatho.

At a time when taboos still surrounded the Aids epidemic, Mr Mandela announced that his son had died of Aids, and urged South Africans to talk about Aids " to make it appear like a normal illness".

He also played a key role in the decision to let South Africa host the 2010 football World Cup and appeared at the closing ceremony.

The first South African banknotes featuring his face went into circulation in November 2012.
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Vietnamese Activists Stopped from Holding Rights Rallies

Tra Mi
December 09, 2013 - VOA News



Dissidents in Vietnam say authorities have stopped them from holding gatherings to mark International Human Rights Day.

In interviews with VOA's Vietnamese service, online activists say officials dispersed crowds in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday.

Activist Trang Loan said her group was treated roughly by police.

"They had members of Communist Youth Union yelling at us through loudspeakers ‘Assembling is not allowed,’ and asking us to leave the site. I was slapped in the face by a police officer in plain clothes. They beat me and the other participants, which showed they were frightened by our peaceful activities for human rights," said Loan.

But Phuong Dung says activists like her will not be intimidated.

“When organizing and participating in these activities we know beforehand that we are going to face with such harassment and repression from the government. However, we want to show to everybody that these advocacy acts are normal. We want our country to develop and we want our people to understand their basic rights. We will definitely continue such activities and keep going with what are beneficial to our society . We will not give up," said Dung.

The bloggers say they were only trying to discuss human rights, and hand out copies of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the U.N .Convention Against Torture and balloons with rights advocacy logos.

Vietnamese officials have not commented on the gatherings.

U.N. International Human Rights Day is Tuesday.
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In Vietnam, weary apparatchiks launch quiet revolution

BY MARTIN PETTY
HANOI Thu Nov 28, 2013

Vietnam's National Assembly's deputies press voting buttons to pass the new constitution during a meeting in Hanoi November 28, 2013.

(Reuters) - The Vietnam of today wasn't what Le Hieu Dang had hoped for when he joined the Communist Party 40 years ago to liberate and rebuild a country reeling from decades of war and French and U.S. occupation.

The socialist system of the late revolutionary Ho Chi Minh has been corrupted, he says, by a shift to a market economy tightly controlled by one political party that has given rise to a culture of graft and vested interests.

"I fought in the war for a better society, a fair life for people. But after the war, the country has worsened, the workers are poor, the farmers have lost their land," Dang told Reuters.

"It's unacceptable. We have a political monopoly and a dictatorship running this country."

Opinions like this might be normal in many countries. But in Vietnam, where politics is taboo, free speech is stifled and the image of unity in the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) sacrosanct, analysts say the significance of comrades speaking out publicly cannot be understated.

The CPV-dominated National Assembly on Thursday approved amendments to a 1992 constitution that, despite a public consultation campaign, entrench the party's grip on power at a time when discontent simmers over its handling of land disputes, corruption and an economy suffocated by toxic debt amassed by state-run firms.

Dang is vehemently against the amendments, and not alone in his views, which are of the kind that have landed dozens of people in jail as part of a crackdown that's intensified as dissent has risen and internet usage soared to a third of the 90 million population.

Draconian cyber laws were tightened further on Wednesday, when the government announced a 100 million dong ($4,740) fine for anyone who criticizes it on social media.

But what has jolted the party is that the loudest voices calling for a more pluralist system are coming not from the general public, but from within its own ranks, an open act of mutiny not seen since the CPV took power of a reunified Vietnam in 1975, after the communists' triumph over U.S. forces.

"Vietnam has entered a new phase. The existence of rivalries within the party is already known, but it's now more transparent in a way never seen in the past," said Jonathan London, a Vietnam expert at City University in Hong Kong.

"The rise of this group and its advice will influence the tenor of party discussion. What's clear is this is a period of uncertainty and competition."

CRISIS AND DEADLOCK

This year, Dang and 71 others, among them intellectuals, bloggers and current and former CPV apparatchiks, drafted their own version of the constitution, in response to a routine public feedback campaign ostensibly aimed at placating people and boosting the party's dwindling legitimacy.

Their draft was posted online and 15,000 people signed an accompanying petition calling for the scrapping of Article 4, which enshrines the CPV's political monopoly.

But lawmakers did the opposite and redrafted the article to expand the CPV's leadership role and the military's duty to protect it. In a summary of 26 million public opinions on the draft, a commission of the National Assembly said the majority of Vietnamese supported one-party rule.

"Theoretically, democracy is not synonymous with pluralism," the commission said in a report in May. "No one can affirm that multiple political parties are better than one party."

On Thursday, not a single lawmaker rejected the new draft, which expanded Article 4 to state the party is "the vanguard of the Vietnamese workers, people and nation".

A draft of the amendments, published weeks ago, outraged opponents.

The initial 72 democracy advocates were joined by others and 165 of them, including retired government officials, published a statement on the Internet two weeks ago warning lawmakers to reject the amendments.

They said if National Assembly members passed the amendments, they would be complicit in a "crime against the country and its people" and would "only push the country deeper into crisis and deadlock".

'BRIDGING ROLE'

Many of the party's open critics took part in the wars to liberate Vietnam from Western powers in the 1950s, '60s and '70s and have become new revolutionaries of sorts, confronting issues that most Vietnamese are afraid to discuss.

Nguyen Quang A was once part of an advisory think-tank which disbanded itself after the government introduced laws that limited the scope of its work five years ago.

It included former CPV members, diplomats, businessmen and academics. But they stay in touch at monthly meetings to debate social, economic and political issues, some of which they address in commentaries posted online.

"We want to create an environment to facilitate the emergence of other political forces and put forward a process to transition from dictatorship to democracy," he told Reuters.

"We hope some of our members can play a bridging role to make the party listen to us. It takes time, but we have to pressure them to change and convince people not to be afraid."

Dang and his CPV allies are going a step further. They plan to remain in the party so they can drum up support from disenchanted members to set up an opposition party to scrutinize the CPV's policies and keep it in check.

Despite their fierce rhetoric, they insist the plan to set up the Social Democratic Party is not an attempt to overthrow the ruling party but an attempt to create a more liberal coexistence between parties that would benefit the country.

Ho Ngoc Nhuan, vice chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City branch of the Fatherland Front, the CPV's umbrella group that manages big organizations under Marxist-Leninist principles, said the feedback campaign and constitution amendments were a "tragic comedy" that showed the party was out of touch with the people.

It was time, he said, to shake up Vietnamese politics.

"We face many problems in Vietnam, big crises, so how can we solve it with one all-powerful party? We have to get their attention, so we're calling comrades in the party to join us so we can break this chain," Nhuan said, admitting that it was proving difficult to convince them.

"The new generation can't explain socialism to us anymore. They're called the Communist Party, but they no longer believe in their own ideology."

(Editing by Robert Birsel)
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Vietnam Announces Big Fines for Social Media Propaganda

Reuters - November 27, 2013


HANOI — Vietnam will hand out fines of 100 million dong ($4,740) to anyone criticizing the government on social media, under a new law announced this week, the latest measure in a widening crackdown on dissent by the country's communist rulers.

Comments that did not constitute criminal offenses would trigger fines if held to be “propaganda against the state”, or spreading “reactionary ideology,” according to the law signed by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

Vietnam has repeatedly drawn fire for the harsh treatment and lengthy jail terms it has given to bloggers who criticized its one-party regime. The number of arrests and convictions has soared in the last four years.

The new decree is vaguely worded and did not say what comments amounted to a criminal offense, which can be punished with prison, or an “administrative violation” that rates a fine.

Internet penetration is soaring in a country of an estimated 90 million people, a third of whom use the Internet and about 20 million of whom have Facebook accounts, a report published at a seminar on information technology in Ho Chi Minh City in September showed.

A Vietnamese Facebook user who campaigned online for the release of his brother jailed for criticizing the government fell foul of the same law and was last month sentenced to 15 months of house arrest.

Rights groups and foreign governments have come down hard on Vietnam over its draconian cyber laws, including the United States, which has urged Vietnam to improve its human rights record to strengthen its case for stronger trade ties.

Media freedom campaigners Reporters Without Borders calls the country “an enemy of the Internet.”

The law would anger social media users, said Nguyen Lan Thang, a well-known Vietnamese Internet activist, who questioned the need for it.

“How could the government be destroyed by comments and the sharing of information on personal social media?” Thang said.

The decree also said anyone posting online a map of Vietnam inconsistent with the country's sovereignty claims faced fines.

The issue is hugely sensitive in Vietnam, where China's perceived encroachment of territory generates the kind of quiet anger experts say Vietnam's government wants to rein in.
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Vietnam Wins Human Rights Seat Despite Tainted Record

The Diplomat, by Luke Hunt - November 15,2013

NGOs are skeptical about the UN’s odd choices for upcoming Human Rights Council.


Earlier this year, Global Witness scored international headlines with a telling report on illegal land grabbing in Cambodia and Laos by Vietnamese companies and the extraordinary damage these companies had inflicted on the environment from which they profited.

The report, Rubber Barons, claimed that Vietnam Rubber Group (VRG) and another Vietnamese company, Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL), were the biggest offenders and that both were partially supported by Deutsche Bank through Vietnam-based funds.

HAGL also has investment from the International Financial Corporation (IFC), the private-sector arm of the World Bank. Both Vietnamese companies have denied any wrongdoing. Deutsche Bank and the IFC said they would study the findings.

However, Global Witness now says HAGL has failed to keep to commitments to address environmental and human rights abuses in its plantations in Cambodia and Laos and it now poses a financial and reputational risk to its investors, including Deutsche Bank and the IFC and recommends they divest.

HAGL has been very good at making commitments but very bad at keeping them. It’s been busy telling us and everyone else it’s serious about changing its ways, but the evidence indicates that logging is still carrying on and the people whose farms were bulldozed are still struggling to feed themselves,” said Global Witness spokesman Megan MacInnes.

Both companies are state-backed by the Vietnamese government, which was also raising eyebrows this week after it was elected to the United Nation’s Human Rights Council despite its own atrocious record on the issue.

Vietnam was not the only dubious appointment and Hanoi will take up the three-year posting on January 1 alongside China, Russia, Algeria and Cuba – casting doubts on the United Nations and its ability to meet its own charter on human rights.

Given Vietnam’s negative attitude toward dissent, directed at bloggers in particular, their appointment should be the cause of acute embarrassment for the world body and the countries that do their best to adhere to international standards on human rights.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, said he believed Vietnam could only play a negative role.

“I hope the government of Vietnam will prove me wrong, but up to date we haven’t seen any sort of indication that the government of Vietnam is going to change its policies because (of) the election to the Human Rights Council,” he told Voice of America.

Given Hanoi’s attitudes to its own companies – like HAGL and VRG – and the shenanigans they’re responsible for on the international business front, groups like Human Rights Watch and Global Witness have good reason to be cynical about Vietnam’s appointment to the coveted seat.

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Vietnam's deputy prime ministers: Party People

The Economist - Nov 18th 2013, 3:24 by M.I. | HANOI

Nguyen Tan Dung, Truong Tan Sang, Nguyen Phu Trong (left to right)
SOME Western advocacy groups imply, in their regular harangues of Vietnam's human-rights record, that the country is run by an all-powerful and well-oiled authoritarian regime. The truth, however, appears to be more complicated.

It is clear to analysts that the Ministry of Public Security operates a vast surveillance apparatus designed to silence political dissident—even on Facebook—and that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has major influence over key policy decisions. To wit: his emergency directives earlier this month helped to evacuate successfully nearly 800,000 people from coastal areas ahead of Typhoon Haiyan. Relief agencies praised his efficiency and foresight.

Yet the government is also, like a schoolyard, full of turf wars. Some provincial officials chafe at central directives, for example, while ministries openly undercut each other. And inside the ruling Communist Party, Mr Dung is said to be embroiled in a tug-of-war with a rival party faction led by Truong Tan Sang, the president, and Nguyen Phu Trong, the party's general secretary. Adam Fforde, a Vietnam specialist at Victoria University in Australia, wonders aloud if the country is a "land without a king."

However, the state-controlled press occasionally tosses out crumbs of information that indicate which politicians are advancing, or vice versa, through Hanoi’s opaque bureaucracies and vast patronage networks. A case in point was the appointment by the National Assembly, on November 13th, of two new deputy prime ministers. With the apparent blessing of Mr Dung and the Communist Party’s elite Politburo, the assembly chose Vu Duc Dam, a former assistant to a previous prime minister, and Pham Binh Minh, the current minister of foreign affairs. A current DPM, Nguyen Thien Nhan, has been dismissed and moved to the comparatively unglamorous position of heading the Homeland, or Fatherland, Front, an organisation tasked with mobilising support for the regime and selecting National Assembly candidates.

Seasoned observers say the reshuffle suggests a few interesting things about Vietnamese politics. The main takeaway is that Mr Dung appears to be reasserting his influence after rebounding from months of heavy internal criticism. A year ago he was forced by his rivals to publicly apologize for mismanaging the economy, but he is now filling his cabinet with loyal and highly competent allies. He may have his eye on 2016, when he will step down as prime minister but could remain in the Politburo. Although not all DPMs are Politburo members, the general view is that it certainly wouldn’t hurt Mr Dung to have some of his closest associates in top government positions.

Neither Mr Dam or Mr Minh are in the running for the premiership in 2016, in analysts’ view, and Mr Minh never will be because he is a career diplomat who doesn't have a wide-enough political base. But Mr Dam, who was until recently chairman of the government office—the rough equivalent to an American president's chief of staff—could eventually become a candidate for both the top job and a seat on the 16-member Politburo. Tuong Vu at the University of Oregon, in America, says the politician with a better chance of becoming prime minister in 2016 is the current first DPM, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who is already a Politburo member.

However, Mr Minh has retained his position as head of the foreign ministry, and his DPM election could help allay lingering concerns among top Vietnamese officials that the country can't pursue an effective foreign policy if its foreign ministry lacks pull in the Politburo. Mr Minh, who has a graduate degree in law and diplomacy from Tufts University, in America, and has served as a diplomat in both New York and Washington, is not yet a candidate for the Politburo, and he may never be. But Professor Vu said last week that Mr Minh’s DPM appointment would be a “compromise solution” designed to raise the ministry’s profile.

It is difficult to predict whether or to what extent Mr Minh's new title will have any direct bearing on Vietnam's human-rights record or its negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an American-led free-trade agreement involving a dozen countries. (America’s treasury secretary, Jacob J. Lew, visited Hanoi on November 14 to help drum up support for it.) Equally unknown is who will get the premier nod in 2016. Analysts say it probably won’t be Nguyen Thien Nhan, the recently departed DPM. Some see Mr Nhan’s dismissal as both a sidelining and a reflection on his allegedly poor performance as education minister.

It is clear, however, that Vietnam’s 90m people won't be consulted on the Party’s next choice of prime minister, or for that matter, anything else; the government still does not allow free elections. Party congresses are effectively closed to the media, and following Hanoi politics is perhaps a bit like watching a football match through the wrong spectacles: The pitch and the general outlines of the action are clear enough, but not the footwork or the tackles.
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U.N. Court Rules for Cambodia in Temple Dispute With Thailand

By THOMAS FULLER
Published: November 11, 2013




BANGKOK — The International Court of Justice on Monday handed Cambodia a partial victory in its territorial dispute with Thailand over the land surrounding an ancient temple along the country’s border.

The court, the top judicial body of the United Nations, said in its judgment that Cambodia had sovereignty over the immediate area around Preah Vihear Temple — the promontory on which it sits. But the court left unresolved who controls a larger disputed area, where Cambodian and Thai troops have clashed in recent years.

Thailand, the court said, is “under an obligation to withdraw from that territory the Thai military or police forces, or other guards or keepers, that were stationed there.”

Nationalist groups have urged the Thai government not to respect the verdict. In a nationally televised speech after news of the decision, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said the government would negotiate further on the issue with Cambodia.

Ownership of the temple and its surrounding areas, a dispute that dates back decades, is an emotional one and has been used by politicians on both sides of the border to stoke nationalist feelings.

Cambodia was awarded sovereignty over the temple itself in a 1962 decision by the same court, based in The Hague, and Monday’s judgment clarified that decision.

The border between Thailand and Cambodia was drawn by French officials in the early 20th century.

News services reported that Cambodia’s foreign minister, Hor Namhong, had said the ruling was “good enough.”

Yuthasak Sasiprapha, Thailand’s deputy defense minister, said Thai troops stationed near the border would “stay where they are,” pending further talks with Cambodia.
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VOA Exclusive: US Official Says Vietnam Must Progress on Rights to Deepen US Ties

Michael Lipin, VOA News
November 06, 2013


A senior U.S. diplomat says Vietnam must make "demonstrable progress" on human rights in the coming months, if it wants to deepen its relationship with the United States, a former wartime foe.

In an exclusive interview with VOA, acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Scott Busby said he stressed the importance of human rights to Vietnamese officials on a trip to Vietnam last week.

Busby visited the country from October 29 to November 2, traveling to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to meet representatives of the government and Vietnamese civil society groups.

US calls for action

In an interview Wednesday, Busby said the United States needs Vietnam to show signs of progress on human rights in the "near term."

"Such signs would include releasing some people who have been detained or imprisoned for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression; signing, ratifying and implementing the convention against torture, lifting any and all restrictions on the Internet, enhancing the state of religious freedom, and allowing civil society to operate freely," said Busby.

Busby said he also "strongly encouraged" Vietnam to begin working with four international rights investigators appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The Vietnamese government's Washington embassy did not provide a comment on the talks with Busby when contacted by VOA.

Vietnam's position

Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang recently said his government has made "sustained efforts to protect and promote human rights." He made the comment in a landmark meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on July 25.

The meeting earned Sang the honor of being only the second Vietnamese leader to hold talks with a U.S. president in Washington since the former enemies normalized relations in 1995.

Sang said Vietnam and the United States still have differences on human rights and held "straightforward, open discussions" on the matter.

Some U.S. lawmakers and rights groups accuse the Vietnamese government of intensifying repression of political dissidents and religious figures in recent years.

Focussing on arrests

Busby said arrests and harassment of Vietnamese social activists were a "primary topic" of his meetings with government officials.

"They did share some information about who was arrested and who was in custody and why they were in custody. I would say, as a general matter, the government officials characterized all of their actions as efforts to enforce their laws and to protect their national security," he said.

He said protecting the work of Vietnamese civil society groups is a high priority for Washington.

"We are stressing to the government the importance of the activities that civil society is engaged in, whether it is religious practice, exercising rights to free speech, working on human rights issues, or organizing humanitarian activities. We have clearly indicated the esteem in which we hold these activities. We do provide some programmatic support to civil society as well, although I can't get into the details," said Busby.

Engaging Vietnamese activists

Busby said he met with a "wide array" of civil society members and was impressed by what he called their "energy, optimism and courage" in the face of government restrictions.

Busby said those constraints affected how he conducted his meetings.

"One does have to tread carefully. The government is not allowing civil society to do all that it wants to. And indeed there were some individuals who were not able to meet with me because of those restrictions. We did not inform the government of whom we were meeting with. We went ahead and tried to meet with whoever was willing to meet with us," he said.

One Vietnamese blogger who met the U.S. official in Ho Chi Minh City on Friday is Pham Chi Dung. Speaking to VOA by phone, Pham said he tried to help Busby understand what he and other activists want to achieve.

Rights movement's aims

"The main goal of civil society in Vietnam is to help resolve social, economic and political issues. 'Civil society' helps to voice people's concerns regarding the nation's sovereignty, basic human rights, land rights of farmers and legitimate rights of workers, as well as [their concerns about] corruption," said Pham.

Pham said those who want to help Vietnamese activists should be careful about the kind of assistance they provide.

"Vietnam's civil society does not want financial support from the United States or any foreign country, but rather moral support for civil society-related activities such as establishing civic culture or civic forums both online and offline. If we get support financially, we will be accused of receiving money from foreign countries with the aim of overthrowing the government," he said.

Burma's example

Pham said he told Busby that Burma is the best regional model for Vietnam to follow in terms of democratic development. A Burmese civilian government took office in 2011, ending decades of military rule and initiating political reforms that have won growing support from the West.

Busby said he discussed Burma as one model of a transition from an authoritarian to a free society.

"I don't remember discussing it as the best [model], because there are other examples like Indonesia that I think could be drawn on. We did talk about the positive developments in Burma and what might be learned from how that could be applied to Vietnam," he said.

UN cooperation

Busby said Vietnamese officials also promised to receive a visit from one of the U.N. investigators whom he encouraged them to co-ordinate with: the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights Farida Shaheed of Pakistan.

The other three investigators include Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression Frank La Rue of Guatemala, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association Maina Kiai of Kenya, and Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Gabriela Knaul of Brazil.

Vietnam is seeking a seat on the 47-member Human Rights Council in a U.N. General Assembly vote to be held on November 12.

The U.S. diplomat said the Vietnamese government told him it would like U.S. support for its candidacy. But, he said Washington does not divulge how it is going to vote on such matters ahead of time.

Additional agenda items

On other issues, Busby said Vietnam "reaffirmed its commitment" to joining the U.N. convention against torture.

Busby also asked officials and activists about the government's August decree restricting Internet access. He said he learned that the measure is "still in the process of being implemented" and was not aware of any cases to which it has been applied so far.

In the area of religious freedom, the diplomat said he urged Vietnam to speed up the registration process for churches throughout the country.

Busby said he hopes to return to Vietnam next year.

Editor's note:
Busby spoke about his visit with Pham Chi Dung only after the Vietnamese blogger had talked about the meeting in an earlier interview with VOA. Busby wouldn’t provide details about the meetings he held with other activists in Vietnam.


This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Vietnamese service. Tra Mi contributed from Washington.
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Electing the New UN Human Rights Council

By Elliott Abrams, Council on Foreign Relations
November 6, 2013




Next week, on November 12, new members of the UN Human Rights Council will be elected. Among the candidates are nations that should never be allowed on the Council, and indeed whose presence will make the Council a mockery: Cuba, Russia, Saudi Arabia, China, and Vietnam.

Perhaps the United States cannot prevent countries with the human rights records of these five from being elected. There are two things we should do, however. First, we should fight, trying to organize resistance to the election of any of these five human rights abusers. Even if they cannot be kept off, a very substantial number of no votes will be a useful embarrassment to them, showing that many countries condemn their records.

Second, we should announce that the United States will vote no on all five. The UN Human Rights Council was created in 2006 because the UN Human Rights Commission was a disgraceful mockery of support for human rights. Under the Bush administration the United States refused to join until the new entity proved itself to be different. In 2009 the Obama administration announced it would seek election, and did join the Council. The announced goal, part of the “new era of engagement” about which President Obama often spoke, was to strengthen both human rights and the Human Rights Council: then-UN ambassador Susan Rice stated at the time that “Those who suffer from abuse and oppression around the world, as well as those who dedicate their lives to advancing human rights, need the Council to be balanced and credible.” The addition of human rights abusers like Cuba, Russia, Saudi Arabia, China, and Vietnam does not make the Council more credible, and it makes the place more balanced only if the balance is supposed to be between human rights defenders and human rights abusers. If all five of these abusers are elected, the Council will be tilting hard toward abusers. The United States should say so.
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Vietnam's Talk/Fight Strategy in play on Human Rights Negotiations

By Michael Benge, The AmericanThinker

For decades, the Vietnamese communists' negotiating strategy has been "Talk/Fight" -- first in dealing with the French, then with the U.S. during the Vietnam War, and now in the current U.S.-Vietnam Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations. The "Talk/Fight" strategy is to engage their opponent in negotiations, stalling for time, all the while replenishing, repositioning, and resupplying their troops, as they gain ground and concessions. According to Ernest Bower, senior advisor on Southeast Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, "[t]he American government admires Vietnam's strategic thinking."

The TPP includes nine other countries besides Vietnam and is touted as a new-generation, high-standard trade agreement of the 21st century. The finalization and implementation of this trade deal would give a huge boost to U.S.-Vietnam economic relations, granting Vietnam even greater access to its largest export market -- the U.S.

While the State Department continues to meander and vacillate in its negotiations regarding human rights abuses, communist henchmen have ratcheted up the repression in Vietnam. As a distraction, the Vietnamese communists are playing the need-to-contain-China card, while seeking lethal weapons from the U.S., supported by both of Vietnam's major advocates -- Senator John McCain and Secretary of State John Kerry.

American TPP negotiators are mouthing toothless concerns about Hanoi's ongoing gross human rights abuses, so one can assume that stipulations on the improving freedoms for the Vietnamese people will be incorporated into the agreement before it is approved. However, history shows that the Vietnamese communists have never lived up to any agreement with the U.S., so it is reasonable to expect the communist henchmen to go merrily on their way, continuing their repression, while thumbing their noses at the U.S.
The TPP is a done deal if one is to believe Scott Busby, the acting deputy assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, who recently stated in Falls Church, VA, "The United States and Vietnam continue to improve economic and trade ties, including through the Trans-Pacific Partnership ... free trade agreement."

Vietnam is a police state where one in six working people are employed either full- or part-time in the massive state security network.

"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose." (The more things change, the more they remain the same.)

Here are just a few human rights abuses committed recently by communist Vietnam:

September 3rd: It started out as a peaceful protest until Vietnamese police attacked hundreds of Catholics protesting in front of their church in My Yen Parish, Nghe An Province, using live ammunition and throwing grenades. Protesters were demanding the release of two parishioners arrested in June and held without charges. An unknown number of people were rushed to hospital with critical head, hand, stomach, and neck injuries after being beaten by police who tried to stop people from receiving treatment.

August 1st: After three years' imprisonment in Gia Lai province and suffering continual beatings, Protestant pastor Pyap Rolan died from starvation after being denied food and water. Pyap was being persecuted because he was a house church pastor and because his father Bre Puih had escaped and fled to the U.S.

August 1st: House church members Beu Siu and Pet Ksor from Plei Pong Village Gia Lai province were arrested by police. Pet was beaten and released, but Beu's fate is unknown.

August 19th: House church members Kla Rmah, Sop Rahlan, and H'Bleng Rmah (female) from Plei Sur village, Gia Lai province, were arrested by police and beaten, Sop so severely that he cannot walk. Kla remains in jail, while the other two were released. Reports about above came from relatives in North Carolina.

March 17th: Hmong Christian Church Leader Vam Ngaij Vaj of Cu Jut District, Dak Nong Province, was tortured with electrical batons and died of beatings while in police custody, according to sources.

April 12th: Hoang Van Ngai, an elder of the Evangelical Church of Vietnam, also from Dak Nong Province, died of beatings, according to his brother, who was imprisoned in an adjacent cell. Additionally, "over 300 witnesses saw Ngai's body with bruises, deep cuts and broken skull."

According to its recent report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedoms (USCIRF) said that Vietnam, under one-party communist rule, is expanding control over all religious activities, severely restricts independent religious practice, and represses individuals and religious groups it views as challenging its authority. "The Vietnamese government uses a specialized religious police force and vague national security laws to suppress independent Buddhist, Protestant, Hoa Hao, and Cao Dai activities, and seeks to stop the growth of ethnic minority Protestantism and Catholicism via discrimination, violence and forced renunciations of their faith."

Internet freedom has gone from bad to worse in Vietnam as an online censorship law known as "Decree 72" went into effect this month, allowing people to post online only personal information. The new law punishes anyone who discusses current affairs or news sensitive to the life of the state. It bans bloggers and users of social media from quoting, gathering, or summarizing information from press organizations or government websites. In addition, internet providers are tasked with blocking stories that criticize Vietnam or that could endanger "national security." In 2013 alone, Hanoi has arrested more than 40 activists for these so-called "crimes against the state."

While the Obama administration vacillates, the European Parliament recently strongly condemned the violations of human rights and of freedom of expression, religion, and assembly in Vietnam, including the political intimidation, harassment, assaults, arbitrary arrests, heavy prison sentences, and unfair trials brought against political activists, journalists, bloggers, dissidents, and human rights defenders. The condemnation included the "severe religious persecution" against Catholics as well as "non-recognized" religions such as the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and the Protestant churches.

Ironically, Vietnam is bidding for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council for 2014-2016.

White House Visit

As all eyes and ears are turned to President Obama and Syria, nearly everyone has forgotten Obama's White House meeting in July with Vietnam's President Truong Tan Sang, and the ridiculous utterings of both men. Sang peddled the lie that the communist nation's founder, Ho Chi Minh, was a nationalist inspired by the Declaration of Independence and Thomas Jefferson. Sang and the other communist Vietnamese leaders adhere to Joseph Goebbels' "Big Lie" postulate -- people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one, and if you repeat it often enough, people will eventually believe.

Not to be outdone by his communist counterpart, President Obama agreed that the hardcore communist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh was inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution, as well as the words of Jefferson and our founding fathers. He went on to say that both countries share a mutual admiration for Thomas Jefferson and our founding principles.

Au contraire, mon président. The Vietnamese regime's creator was not Jefferson's God, but Ho Chi Minh himself, an unscrupulous Comintern agent paid by Moscow whose loyalty was only to the World Communist Movement. And our founding principles did not include the murder of tens of thousands our people, as did theirs. Rather than "all men are created equal," Sang's regime is closer to George Orwell's satirical allegory of communism in "Animal Farm," where some animals are much more equal than others.
Michael Benge spent 11 years in Vietnam as a Foreign Service officer and is a student of South East Asian politics. He is very active in advocating for human rights, religious freedom, and democracy for the peoples of the region and has written extensively on these subjects.
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Cambodian Tweets Lead the News

By Luke Hunt, September 18, 2013, The Diplomat

Following the protests in Cambodia from abroad this week was astonishing. On Twitter, Facebook and email, the coverage had immediacy, clarity and a ubiquitous presence that even live television could not compete with, even when seen from Kabul.

From the outset, when protesters began arriving at Freedom Park, the scuffles, tear gas and water cannon – and sadly the death of Mao Sok Chan during a confrontation after the rally had ended – the coverage was slick and on par with great coverage by any wire service in its heyday.

Unfortunately, however, social media geeks who believe the role of iReporter or citizen journalism is a fundamental cornerstone of digital media have gotten it wrong.

What emerged was hundreds of protesters armed with smart phones throwing live accounts onto the Internet where they were disseminated fast by foreign journalists from local and international publications who were not working in unison. Far from it, they were competing for the best line.

Important information about roadblocks, crowd movements, speeches, violence and confrontation were tweeted in one-liners, details and photos were Facebooked, and personal evidence observed that day was emailed privately in a telling and professional manner.

Largely absent were the shrill and sometimes hysterical voices of activists turned civilian reporters or the hardline partisan politicians who like to hear and swamp the Internet with their own pontifications. They were simply sidelined by genuine journalists covering the event.

In short, I didn’t need to see it on CNN or BBC.

But on a much wider front the professionalism that is emerging in the digital era of journalism is a serious challenge for Cambodian authorities whose failure to reconcile themselves with the realities of this generation warrant comparisons with those saintly women of old who disfigured themselves in order to protect their chastity.

In the run-up to the July 28 election, powerful factions within the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) wanted Facebook banned. The same could probably be said for the myriad of social media sites similar to Facebook, if the bureaucratic boffins could just figure out how they work.

There were at least two attempts to block social media websites, but in the end greed won out. Too many business interests with political connections that rely on Facebook and the Internet for income carried the day, much to the unintended delight of those at Sunday’s protest.

Had those responsible for security at the protests been tuned in to the very product many would have banned, they just may have realized that crowds were dispersing by early evening, although the roads were clogged and it was difficult getting home. That was the time to pull the police with loaded guns back to barracks. If they had done so, much of the violence and bloodshed in the evening might have been avoided.

Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter at @lukeanthonyhunt.
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Stifled Southeast Asian Voices: NGOs Unite Against Criminalization of Free Expression on the Internet

11 September 2013 (FIDH)


As concerns grow in Southeast Asia over the use of national security, anti-terrorist and defamation laws to limit freedom of expression on the Internet, a coalition of international and local NGOs and activists from Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia urged governments to stop using vague legislation based on ill-defined concepts such as “national security”, “sovereignty” or “lèse-majesté” to intimidate, harass and imprison independent voices. Speaking at an event in Geneva, which coincides with the 24th session of the UN Human Rights Council, FIDH, IFEX, Article 19 and PEN International united to call for the urgent revision of these laws to bring them into line with international human rights standards.

Independent and dissenting voices, including bloggers and netizens, journalists, activists and human rights defenders, have increasingly been subjected to repression in Southeast Asia.

In Vietnam, bloggers and journalists, such as Điếu Cày and Phan Thanh Hải, have been jailed for peacefully advocating for reform, denouncing power abuses and reporting on human rights. The recently adopted Decree 72 banned sharing news stories on social media and quoting news from press agencies. “Vietnam is pursuing the worst ever crack-down on pro-democracy activists and bloggers. At least 48 dissidents were convicted in 2013 alone”, said Vo Van Ai, President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, who was sitting as a panelist today.

The Thai authorities have mostly been using the lèse-majesté law (Article 112 of the Criminal Code, which punishes any word or deed which “defames, insults or threatens the King [...]”) and the 2007 Computer Crimes Act to lock up journalists and critics. The most notorious case is that of Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, who was sentenced to ten years in prison for authorizing the publication, as editor, of two articles that were considered insulting to the royal family. Ironically, Somyot was arrested just a few days after launching an online petition calling for a review of Article 112. “In its commitment to cooperate with the UN, Thailand needs to go beyond words, immediately release Somyot and protect the right to freedom of expression of all citizens”, said Somyot’s wife, Sukanya.

The Cambodian government has also taken steps towards seriously limiting the use of the Internet. In 2012, it started drafting a cyber law, whose official aims included preventing “ill-willed people” from “spreading false information”. This draft law has yet to be publicly circulated, and there are serious concerns that it will mirror the restrictive laws within the region. Websites and blogs critical of the government are routinely blocked by Internet service providers on the basis of “instructions” from the government. “I believe in the power of the Internet to spread information and opinions. The Internet should always be free and uncensored”, said Ramana Sorn, Program Coordinator at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and a panelist today.

“Authorities in Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia have been manipulating vague, malleable concepts to crack down on dissent and stifle independent voices online. They have done so in complete violation of international law”, said FIDH, IFEX, Article 19 and PEN International. “We call on them to immediately and unconditionally release all bloggers, journalists, activists and human rights defenders detained for peacefully expressing their opinion, and to stop harassment and intimidation of free voices. Everyone has a right to discuss―and challenge―government policies and matters of public interest”.

Background information:

Thailand, despite commitments made during its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2011, has failed to improve its freedom of expression record during its term as Human Rights Council member, which it will complete on 31 December 2013. Vietnam is running as a candidate for membership in the Human Rights Council (2014-2016) and will be reviewed in the framework of the UPR in early 2014, at the same session in which Cambodia will be reviewed.
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Vietnam's social media censorship takes effect

CBC News Posted: Sep 1, 2013

A controversial internet law prohibiting Vietnamese citizens from posting any content online that harms national security or opposes the state took effect Sunday.

The new law, dubbed Decree 72, limits what Vietnamese citizens can post on their online personal pages, including Facebook, Twitter and blogs.

Decree 72 does not elaborate on what constitutes a breach.

The law also demands all foreign websites maintain at least one server in Vietnam, which would give the government greater control of content.

Media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders criticized the decree before it became law, calling it "the harshest offensive against freedom of information" in the country since its prime minister signed a tough round of sanctions against media in 2011.

The organization urged nations to impose heavy sanctions against Vietnam if the country allowed the decree to become law.

Vietnam has been criticized by the United States and leading internet firms like Google and Yahoo! over the controversial internet decree, which it said had been misunderstood and did not breach human rights.

Reporters Without Borders has previously labelled Vietnam an enemy of the internet and ranks the nation 172 out of 179 in its press freedom index. Vietnam jails the second most bloggers and cyber-dissidents, according to the organization — with 35 people currently imprisoned.
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Freedom Online Coalition Joint Statement on the Socialist Republic of Vietnam's Decree 72

Press Statement
Marie Harf
Deputy Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
August 26, 2013


The Freedom Online Coalition is deeply concerned by the announcement of Vietnam’s new Decree 72, which will impose further restrictions on the way the Internet is accessed and used in Vietnam when it comes into effect September 1. For example, Decree 72 restricts online information flow and limits the sharing of certain types of news and other speech. Decree 72 appears to be inconsistent with Vietnam’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as its commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Decree 72 risks harming Vietnam’s economy by constraining the development of businesses in Vietnam, limiting innovation, and deterring foreign investment. An open and free Internet is a necessity for a fully functioning modern economy; regulations such as Decree 72 that limit openness and freedom deprive innovators and businesses of the full set of tools required to compete in today’s global economy.

The Freedom Online Coalition notes that resolution 20/8, adopted by consensus by the UN Human Rights Council in July 2012, confirms that human rights apply online as well as offline. The Freedom Online Coalition calls on the Vietnamese government to revise Decree 72 so that it promotes the ability of individuals to exercise their human rights, including the right to freedom of expression.

The Freedom Online Coalition is a cross-regional group of 21 governments that collaborate to advance Internet freedom worldwide. The Coalition provides a forum for like-minded governments to coordinate efforts and work with civil society and the private sector to support the ability of individuals to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms online.

The Freedom Online Coalition was formed at a conference hosted by the government of the Netherlands in 2011, and held further meetings hosted by Kenya in 2012, and Tunisia in 2013. The government of Estonia, chair of the Coalition, will host the next conference in spring 2014.
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Anthropologist Offers Insight Into Plight of Khmer Krom

By Michelle Vachon - Cambodia Daily August 26,2013

Cambodia Police beating Khmer Krom Monks in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2007
During their ongoing war against Vietnam in the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge attacked the Vietnamese province of An Giang along the border and brought back to Cambodia about 20,000 people from Vietnam’s Khmer minority known as Khmer Krom.

This mass migration, which mainly took place in 1977 and 1978, remains one of the untold stories of the Pol Pot regime, said Australian anthropologist Philip Taylor on Sunday.

Was this operation meant as territorial expansion, another assault against Vietnam or a rescue mission of Khmer brothers?

Actually, it was none of the above, according to Mr. Taylor.

“This was a case of mass abduction [by a regime] striving to control,” he said.

At the time, there were around 100,000 Khmer Krom in that province, and the Khmer Rouge did not want to let such a large Khmer population—and one living along the Cambodian border—be autonomous, Mr. Tay­lor said.

In addition, the Khmer Rouge needed workers in their forced-labor camps where tens of thousands of Cambodians had already died of starvation and ill treatment, he added.

So the Khmer Rouge brought Khmer Krom to Cambodia and put them to work, treating them as “non-pure Khmer” always suspected of Vietnamese sympathy because of their origins, he said.

Mr. Taylor, who has been researching the Khmer Krom for nearly 15 years, will give a lecture at Meta House on Tuesday on the Khmer Rouge’s forceful importation of the Khmer Krom.

A research fellow with the Australian National University in Canberra, he is working on a book about the effects of Cambodia’s conflicts of the 1970s and 1980s on Vietnam’s Khmer minority, effects that continue to this day. The conference is organized by the social-science network Human Sciences Encounters in Phnom Penh.

Mr. Taylor has interviewed thousands of Khmer Krom during his numerous visits to Vietnam and the five years he lived in the Mekong Delta. In addition, he spoke to 100 Khmer Krom from An Giang province who had direct experiences of the Khmer Rouge “mass importation,” and discussed the era with both Khmer Krom and Vietnamese officials.

What emerges from his research, Mr. Taylor said, is that the Khmer Krom had been under suspicion on both sides of the border.

While some Khmer Krom may have supported the Khmer Rouge, many who were brought to Cambodia did so against their will, he said.

But when they returned to An Giang province after the 1979 Khmer Rouge defeat at the hands of Cambodian and Vietnamese forces, the Viet­nam­ese authorities mainly viewed them as Khmer Rouge fleeing Cambodia, and therefore enemies of Vietnam, Mr. Taylor said.

The biggest reprisals came from the Vietnamese population that recalled the Khmer Rouge massacres of Vietnamese villages: They made it difficult for returning Khmer Krom to claim their rights to residency and the land they had previously owned, he said.

In the meantime in Cambodia, the Khmer Krom have often had their Khmer identity questioned, and have faced discrimination, Mr. Taylor said.

“In my extensive travel around the Mekong Delta, I found that the Khmer Krom had suffered not only at the hands of the Vietnamese state but also at the hands of the Cambodian state.”

Mr. Taylor’s conference will start at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
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