Even Vietnam is scrapping detention without trial

2 Nov 06

Vietnam has decided to abolish a draconian measure allowing detention without trial, ahead of US President George W Bush’s visit to the communist state in November, a US official said on Monday.

“We received word that the government of Vietnam has made a political decision to repeal or abolish this administrative decree,” Michael Orona, the State Department’s deputy director of the bureau of democracy, human rights and labor, said in an interview.

He was referring to the so-called “administrative detention decree 31/CP,” which Hanoi has used to hold many dissidents, and democracy and rights activists.

In Vietnam, foreign ministry spokesman Le Dung said the government was “considering” abolishing the decree which allows authorities to detain any person for up to two years without trial in the name of protecting national security.

Authorities are “considering and examining possibilities for abolishing this decree and proposing some modifications so that it is adapted to the situation in Vietnam as well as international norms,” he said in a statement.

Washington had made the removal of the decade-old decree a top priority in its human rights dialogue with Vietnam that was resumed in February 2006.

Orona said Hanoi’s decision was conveyed to US Assistant Secretary of State Barry Lowenkron through Vietnam’s ministry of justice during Lowenkron’s visit to Hanoi a fortnight ago as part of the human rights dialogue.

Asked what would be the implications of the Vietnamese decision, Orona said, “This would mean that the government cannot use this decree to detain an individual any longer and that they would have to actually provide a rule-of-law access and due process.”

With the decree’s removal, “whoever is detained will have to know what they are being detained for and be given an opportunity to go to court and to meet with a lawyer — rights which were not granted before,” said Orona, who accompanied Lowenkron on the Hanoi trip.

Hanoi was expected to make concessions on the human rights front ahead of Congress’s expected approval of a bill normalising trade relations with Vietnam, granting full market access rights not subject to annual review.

The approval of the Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) bill is expected to precede Bush’s visit to Hanoi for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit on November 18 and 19, during which he is expected to hold talks with Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

In addition, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is expected to approve Vietnam as its 150th member next month and Hanoi had amended a raft of laws to bring them into line with WTO rules.

Concerted pressure from the Vietnamese democracy movement, international human rights groups and western governments prodded the Vietnamese government to repeal the harsh decree, said Diem Do, the US-based chairman of Viet Tan, a pro-democracy party with members inside Vietnam.

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