Roger Cohen, the John Mearsheimer manque of The New York Times, has an on-line column (the Times doesn't seem to be publishing him on the op-ed pages anymore, for reasons unknown) on the glories of foreign policy realism, Vietnam edition. Vietnam, Roger writes, has "peace, stability and independence. It also has Communism, but of a form that allows a Vietnamese leader to ring the opening bell on Wall Street."
That's the Vietnamese regime's version of life in Vietnam. For an alternative view, I turned to two leading human rights organizations. Here is Human Rights Watch on the state of worker freedom in Vietnam:
Since 2006, at least eight independent trade union activists have been sentenced to prison on dubious national security charges. All have been held under Vietnamese laws that violate fundamental freedoms. Those who have been tried have not been afforded internationally recognized due process rights. Other labor activists have been harassed, intimidated, and forced to cease their union activities or flee the country.
Amid double-digit inflation and the global economic downturn, labor unrest continues to soar in Vietnam. Thousands of workers, primarily at foreign-owned factories, have joined strikes to demand wage increases and better working conditions. Though permitted under international law, virtually none of these strikes are considered legal by the Vietnamese government.
Workers are prohibited from forming or joining unions - or conducting strikes - that are not authorized by an official labor confederation controlled by the Communist Party. The minimum monthly wage was increased to 650,000 dong (US$36) for most workers, but it still fails to provide an adequate standard of living, especially given racing inflation, and the increase has failed to stem labor discontent.
And here are a couple of excerpts from Amnesty International's 2008 report on the general state of freedom in Vietnam:
- On 30 March Father Nguyen Van Ly, a former prisoner of conscience, was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment for "conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam" under Article 88 of the Penal Code. He was manhandled by guards as he tried to challenge the court. Two co-defendants were sentenced to six and five years' imprisonment, and two women were given suspended prison terms. Father Ly was a founding member of Bloc 8406 and the Viet Nam Progression Party (VNPP) in September 2006 and had spent 15 years in prison for peacefully criticizing the government.
- Two human rights lawyers, Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan, were sentenced to five and four years' imprisonment respectively in May, reduced by one year each on appeal. Nguyen Van Dai was among the founding members of Bloc 8406. Le Thi Cong Nhan is a spokesperson for the VNPP. Both had held human rights workshops and documented human rights violations. At the appeal hearing in November their lawyers argued that Article 88 of the Penal Code, under which they had been charged, was unconstitutional and did not conform to international conventions that Viet Nam has signed, and should be reviewed.
- Truong Quoc Huy remained detained without trial since August 2006. He was charged under Article 258 of the Penal Code with "abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens". He was accused, among other things, of joining an internet forum and disseminating anti-government flyers.
- In November six people were arrested in Ho Chi Minh City, where they had been meeting to discuss peaceful democratic change. The police claimed to have found "subversive" leaflets and stickers, and official media stated that they were being investigated under Article 84 (Terrorism) of the Penal Code. The six comprised two Vietnamese nationals; Nguyen Thi Thanh Van, a French citizen and a journalist and activist; two US citizens and a Thai national, all of Vietnamese origin. Nguyen Thi Thanh Van and one US citizen were released and deported in December.
Roger Cohen is at least consistent: He always lines up on the wrong side.