The Declaration on Implementing Civil and Political Rights in Vietnam

Article 69 of Vietnam’s current constitution provides that “Citizens are entitled to freedom of speech and freedom of press; they have the right to receive information and the right of assembly, association and demonstration in accordance with the law.”

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Vietnam became a signatory on September 24, 1982, specifically defines freedom of expression, assembly and association as follows: “Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice” (Article 19); “The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized” (Article 21); “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his or her interests” (Article 22). Similar provisions can be found in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) that must be honored by all the member countries.

Based on these provisions, all the ideas contributed to the amendment of the Constitution other than those of the Constitutional Amendment-Drafting Committee established by the National Assembly, particularly the proposals on the fundamentals of the political system (including the petition signed by 72 intellectuals on January 19, 2013, also briefly known as Petition 72; the Declaration by the Assembly of Bishops; the Free Citizens’ Declaration; the suggestions by the “Let’s Work on the Constitution Together” Website; and ideas contributed by our compatriots at home and abroad through various websites, are in accordance with the International Covenant on the Civil and Political Rights (hereafter referred to as the International Covenant). This is also true of many voices demanding democracy and the implementation of rights to liberty stipulated in the Constitution, which are in tune with demands for the protection of national independence and sovereignty and with various forms of struggle waged by farmers whose lands are illegally appropriated and by workers striving for employment and life improvement. The voices of such groups as the Assembly of Bishops, the Religious Dignitaries’ Group, the Free Citizens’ Group, the Declaration 258 Group, the No-U Club, etc., as well as individuals who are driven by patriotism and aspiration for democracy, have been expressed peacefully and legally.

We, the undersigned, welcome the constructive spirit of those voices and realize that, in order to reflect the desires of the majority of the people, it is important to set up a forum to exchange and collect ideas with a view to assisting in the peaceful transformation of our country’s political system from a totalitarian dictatorship to a democracy. This is the operational objective of the forum, completely in accordance with Vietnam’s Constitution and the International Covenant. This forum is to be named “the Civil Society Forum” and will run a website capable of giving voice to opinions and ideas advocated by those organizations, groups, and individuals who are willing to adopt the same above-mentioned goal. It is our hope that civil socities will develop in our country as they are required by a democracy.

We call upon the Vietnamese authorities to respect citizens’ right of self-expression, to make possible honest debates and dialogs, to stop biased, ambiguous and inappropriate reactions as have been directed towards the petitions for the amendment of the Constitution and the voices demanding democracy that differ from the authorities’ views. Ideas of different persuasions should be debated above-board in search for the truth; whereas, relying solely on power to curb the publication of these ideas, to avoid dialogs and to unilaterally criticize and accuse the other side of the debate, and even to use different means to prohibit and suppress ideas, is not only unconstitutional and contrary to the International Convenant, but also inappropriate for a government.

The constitution-amending task is still facing differing views on the fundamental issues of the political system. The draft of the amended constitution, which is to be presented to the National Assembly at year’s end, has made a number of detailed changes but maintained the totalitarian system of the ruling class in the name of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP). Realities in our country prove that this political system has created a ruling apparatus that has made many faulty bureaucratic decisions and given rise to rampant corruption – “a not so small portion” of the ruling apparatus has abused its powers (including the political power and the power to use and to allocate land, natural resources and public assets), colluded with a number of business persons to get rich in a murky manner (in both state-owned and private economic sectors), created illicit interest groups, trespassed on citizens’ rights and interests, leading to the yawning gap between the rich and the poor in our country. Many officials at different levels in the ruling class, in collaboration with various interest groups and with the support of foreign forces, have resorted to violent acts and illicit tricks to maintain their power to rule the country along the lines of a totalitarian system, much less out of their conservative dogmatism than out of a desire to preserve and enhance their self-interests in total disregard of the nation’s interests. These are the causes that have thrown our country into a multifaceted crisis: the economy has slid into unstable conditions; culture and education have continuously deteriorated; social morality has gone bankrupt; ecological and living environments have been heavily polluted; the levels of Vietnam’s development and competitiveness are far below those of many countries in the region; the people have lost faith in the ruling apparatus; at the same time, our country’s national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity have been violated by China’s expansionist forces through their increasingly aggressive actions.

In order for our country and its people to overcome these challenges and perils, the basic solution should be a transformation of the political system from a totalitarian regime to a democracy, through which forces for national reconciliation and unity would be formed and strengthened, opening a new era for the development of our country and for the strong defence of our national independence and sovereignty. The VCP as the only ruling party, always claiming to serve the interests of the country and the people, must take the initiative in facilitating this transformational process, starting with the constitutional amendment. This is the order of the day and the optimal option for a peaceful transformation of our country’s political system, as well.

If the draft bill of the amended constitution, which preserves the current totalitarian system, is passed and officially promulgated, the challenges faced by our country and its people will be monumental, leading to unpredictable consequences, more frustration and discontent among the populace, and a severe damage of our country’s prestige in international relations. This will be a real disaster to our country, for which the ruling class will be held accountable.

Therefore, the Civil Society Forum calls on the National Assembly to refrain from passing the amended constitution, in which the current political system is basically maintained; to extend the debating time on the constitution; and in good faith to organize public, above-board, and serious debates and discussions on the fundamental issues of the political system of which there remain too many differing views.

This declaration will be sent to the VCP’s and the State’s leadership and simultaneously published on social networks for its widespread dissemination. We are looking forward to the consent and support from our compatriots at home and abroad.

(Translated from the Vietnamese by Trần Ngọc Cư)

The signatories are as follows:

Sáng lập:

Nguyễn Huệ Chi - Phạm Toàn - Nguyễn Thế Hùng

Điều hành:

Nguyễn Huệ Chi [trước] - Phạm Xuân Yêm [nay]

Liên lạc:

FB Bauxite Việt Nam

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