Delegates from Vietnam have completed a hectic trip that took them to Washington DC, New York, Geneva, and Australia, advocating for human rights to international delegations attending the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Vietnam’s records. www.Vietnamrightnow.com caught up with these delegates representing a segment of Vietnam’s independent civil society and heard their thoughts.
Nguyen Thi Tram (from Nghe An, mother of prisoner of conscience):
I will never forget the love and support given to me and my son, Le Quoc Quan, by all those whom I met in Geneva including UN personnel and many Vietnamese living in Geneva. I also can’t believe what happened inside the UN building during the UPR session when the Vietnamese Government delegation continued to make remarks that are utterly untrue, yet nothing can be done about it. The last memorable thing would be how my body was thoroughly searched at the airport upon my return to Vietnam.
Dang Van Ngoan (Hoa Hao Buddhist activist from An Giang, Southern Vietnam)
The three things that stand out in my mind regarding my trip to Geneva are: first, our Vietnam Day event organized a week before the actual session where for the first time, true civil society voices from Vietnam were heard by many permanent missions and UN human rights bodies in Geneva. Second, I was most impressed by their concern and willingness to listen to us, a group of youngsters coming to Geneva for the first time. And third, it was the spirit of the overseas Vietnamese communities in Europe who came to Geneva despite the distance and costs to support the human rights cause that most impressed me. Not only they understand what we were all trying to do but they were also very supportive and encouraging. That I will never forget.
Nguyen Anh Tuan (blogger from Da Nang):
There’s much to say about my round-the-world trip advocating for human rights in Vietnam on the occasion of the UPR so I don’t really know where to begin. But I guess for me there are 3 moments that stand out. The most valuable was when together with my 2 colleagues, I met with both Working Groups of the European Union on Asia and Human Rights involving some 100 senior officials from all 28 member states of the EU. I just couldn’t believe that such experts would come to our meeting to listen to us, all amateurs and first timers in Brussels.
The saddest moment however was when I heard the news that Mrs Nguyen Thi Tram, Atty. Le Quoc Quan’s mother was bodily searched thoroughly in breach of her privacy upon her return to Vietnam at Tan Son Nhat Airport. Since then I have often wondered how I would feel if my mother were searched the same upon her return to Vietnam if she had to travel abroad seeking justice for me?
But I guess the moment I found most uplifting and proud was when ironically I heard patriotic songs sung by young Vietnamese children born in Australia who could barely speak their mother tongue. I just didn’t expect to hear such songs sung even in Vietnam these days so to hear them at a Tet festival in Melbourne, Australia of all places made me realize that our people will never lose their sense of identity and where they come from.
Peter Lam Bui (free speech advocate from Saigon):
It was my first trip to Europe so I just wish Vietnam could one day be as orderly and peaceful as Europe. Personally, I feel it was important for all of us to be there to speak up and tell the whole world the truth about what’s going on in Vietnam because the Vietnamese delegation would just simply lie and distort the facts. Our trip also sent a message to the Vietnamse government that in this day and age, they can no longer hide facts and stop people from speaking up. Even though I was interrogated upon my return to Vietnam and got my passport confiscated, even if there were worse consequences, I would still do the same. As for now, I cannot travel freely despite my right to freedom of movement being guaranteed under the new Constitution of Vietnam.
Truong Thi My Ngan (human rights activist from Kien Giang):
I would say the one thing I remember most about the trip was how hard everyone in our delegation worked despite all the difficulties, the cold weather, the lack of facilities due to shortage of funds, the jet lag, and the tight schedule given our limited stay allowed for only a maximum of 10 days. I couldn’t believe my luck being able to be right there at the UN building participating in the UPR process. I was also able to meet with many overseas Vietnamese coming to Geneva from all over Europe and felt touched that not only they don’t forget where they are from but they also really care about us and what we do in support of human rights in Vietnam.
Trinh Huu Long (attorney from Hanoi):
As a trained lawyer from Hanoi and activist, the most important thing I wanted to learn during our UPR trip was how the international human rights mechanism works. I attended the UPR session of Vietnam on February 5 but also met up with many officials and specialists from OHCHR and other UN human rights bodies, as well as met up with INGOs and activists from many countries around the world. And as you might already know, while it may take a long time for the international human rights mechanism to bear fruit, it is still a good opportunity for us to globalize our struggle for human rights and to mobilize international support for our cause. The UPR process is also a good multi stakeholders framework for human rights victims, civil society organizations and governments to use as a meeting up point where they can sit together for a roundtable discussion to find out ways addressing mutual human rights concerns. I can see opportunities in utilizing the UPR process to bring further changes in Vietnam.