Journalist and advocate for Vietnamese civil society prevented from traveling to take part in United Nations-sponsored discussion of human rights and civil society.
The United States and Vietnam have cooperated in many areas to expand the depth and breadth of their relations, but concerns remain that progress on human rights issues continues to lag in the Southeast Asian nation. Vaguely worded laws enacted to protect state security have been used to intimidate and in many cases imprison peaceful political and religious activists. Top U.S. officials have made it clear that we cannot develop the kind of strategic relationship both sides desire unless Vietnam does more to protect the human rights of its citizens.
We are troubled then by the intervention of government authorities to prevent a respected journalist and advocate for Vietnamese civil society from traveling to Switzerland to take part in a United Nations-sponsored discussion of human rights and civil society.
Pham Chi Dung was invited to speak at a seminar on the sidelines of a periodic review on the state of human rights in the world held by the UN’s Human Rights Council, based in Geneva. Though possessing a valid passport and a visa issued by the Swiss government, on February 1 Pham was stopped by police at the airport and prevented from boarding his flight.
Vietnamese authorities took his passport and informed him that he is not allowed to leave the country. The move came as Vietnamese officials were themselves preparing to appear before the Council to discuss the state of human rights in Vietnam, which was chosen to join the body last year.
Such restrictions deprive Pham Chi Dung of his freedom of movement, which is guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which Vietnam is a signatory. They also create a negative environment for civil society in Vietnam. The actions of Vietnamese authorities are especially disappointing given their nation’s recent election to the council.
We urge the Vietnamese government to reconsider these travel restriction, permit Pham Chi Dung and all Vietnamese citizens to travel freely, and allow all Vietnamese citizens to express their views without fear of retribution.