Vietnam Launches Legal Challenge Against China’s South China Sea Claims

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The Diplomat

Vietnam lodges a submission at The Hague and rejects Chinese position paper on the South China Sea.

By Prashanth Parameswaran
December 12, 2014

Vietnam and China moved their saber-rattling over the South China Sea into the legal arena this week as Hanoi lodged a submission with an arbitral tribunal at The Hague and rejected a Chinese position paper. Beijing swiftly dismissed Vietnam’s challenge.

In a statement on Thursday, the Vietnamese foreign ministry rejected China’s December 7 position paper, which laid out Beijing’s legal objections to an arbitration case that the Philippines had filed against it.

“Vietnam’s established position is to resolutely object to China’s claims over Hoang Sa, Truong Sa islands and adjacent waters,” Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesman Le Hai Binh said, using the Vietnamese names for the Paracel and Spratly Islands.

Binh also suggested that Hanoi had sent a statement to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague, which is currently examining the Philippines’ case against China over the South China Sea disputes.

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Vietnam: Stop Using Absurd Laws to Imprison Critics

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Top Bloggers Arrested and Charged for ‘Abusing Freedom and Democracy’
December 10, 2014

(New York) – Vietnam should drop all charges and immediately release bloggers Nguyen Quang Lap and Hong Le Tho, who were arrested for operating independent blogs, Human Rights Watch said today.

Nguyen Quang Lap was arrested on December 6, 2014, and Hong Le Tho was arrested on November 29 in Ho Chi Minh City. Both were charged with “abusing freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the state” under article 258 of the penal code. In 2014, Vietnam has used article 258 to convict at least 10 rights advocates and arrest 4 bloggers.

“There can hardly be a more insidious legal provision than one that criminalizes ‘abusing freedom and democracy to infringe on the interests of the state,’” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “These charges are even more preposterous from a government that is not democratic and doesn’t respect individual freedom.”

Nguyen Quang Lap (referred to as “Bo Lap” on his well-known Que Choa blog), 58, is a prominent writer, journalist, and blogger. After graduating from the Hanoi Polytechnic University, he served in the army for five years during the early 1980s. Lap began his writing career as a freelance writer and journalist. He served as the deputy editor-in-chief of the popular Cua Viet (the Door of Viet) magazine from 1990-1992. After only seventeen issues, Cua Viet was shut down by the authorities for publishing pro-democracy content.

In the early 1990s, Lap moved to Hanoi where he worked for various literary media including Young Literature & Arts Newspaper and the Kim Dong Children’s Publishing House. He penned a number of widely produced and highly acclaimed plays such as Nhung linh hon song (Living Souls) and Mua ha cay dang (A Painful Summer). His film scripts such as Thung lung hoang vang (Deserted Valley) and Doi cat (Sand Life) won national awards. In addition to his writings for film and stage, he is the author of a published novel and several collections of stories and short pieces of non-fiction. In 2001, Nguyen Quang Lap suffered a motorcycle accident that left him with one leg and one arm paralyzed.

Nguyen Quang Lap started the Que Choa blog in 2007. It quickly emerged as one of the most popular blogs for Vietnamese readers both domestically and overseas. In May 2013, the administrative manager of the domain server that hosts the Que Choa blog requested that he remove a number of “sensitive” and “bad” posts on his blog. He declined and his blog was removed from the server. Lap then moved to a foreign-based host sever. Despite suffering intermittent attacks and firewalls, by June 2014 Que Choa had received more than a hundred million views.

In July 2014, Nguyen Quang Lap’s Facebook account was temporarily suspended and he was forced to open another account. Attempts to silence Nguyen Quang Lap have only made him more outspoken. In a blog entry in June, he wrote, “I have never nor will I ever follow or oppose anyone because this is not the job of a writer. I will always be a small boat person, carrying the boat of TRUTH to the people and nothing else.”

Hong Le Tho (who blogs as Nguoi Lot Gach – which means “bricklayer”), 65, was an anti-war student activist in Japan in the late 1960s and early 1970. After 1975, he reportedly worked for the Vietnamese Embassy in Japan for four years before moving back to Vietnam. He started his blog, Nguoi Lot Gach, in 2011. He has mainly used it to repost articles focused on social and political issues in Vietnam. Tho is known among the Vietnamese intelligentsia as an independent researcher of issues related to Vietnam’s territorial claim in the Spratly and Paracel Islands. Both he and Nguyen Quang Lap have strongly opposed China’s claims in this dispute.

Nguyen Quang Lap and Hong Le Tho are not the only bloggers who have been arrested and charged with article 258 this year. Other victims of this ongoing crackdown include Nguyen Huu Vinh (known as Anh Ba Sam) and his colleague Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, both arrested in May 2014. In November, the B14 Detention Center in Hanoi refused to allow defense lawyer Ha Huy Son to meet with his client Nguyen Huu Vinh, and defense lawyer Nguyen Tien Dung to meet his client Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy. In December, the Procuracy office informed Ha Huy Son that the case has been sent back to the police investigation bureau for supplemental investigation.

Vietnam became a member of the UN Human Rights Council in 2014. However, it continues to use vaguely defined articles in the penal code, such as article 258, to silence Vietnamese critics.

“Efforts to silence bloggers make a mockery of Vietnam’s commitments to the United Nations when it stood for election to the Human Rights Council,” Adams said. “The Vietnamese government looks like little more than a bully at home and abroad when it persecutes people who do nothing more than express their opinions.”

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Vietnam Again Puts Cambodia on the Spot Over Montagnards

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Criticism of Cambodia’s handling of asylum seekers also puts a recent Australian deal back in the spotlight.

December 04, 2014 By Luke Hunt

There are no shortage of government critics in Cambodia. But what has made it perhaps the best place to live on mainland Southeast Asia, particularly for foreigners, has been largely driven by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s understandable desire for respect at the international level.

Those attitudes have helped to underpin a free press, secure three convictions at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, and gain Cambodia acceptance at a level undreamed of a decade ago, despite the country’s well-documented flaws.

The Rockefeller Foundation has asked Phnom Penh to join its 100 Resilient Cities network alongside Sydney, London, Montreal and Singapore. Its point is to form a growing network of urban centers around the world that are ready to respond to the social, economic and physical shocks and stresses that are a part and parcel of 21st century living.

“Members of the 100 Resilient Cities network are leading the world in showing that not only is it possible to build urban resilience in every kind of city, but it’s an imperative,” Judith Rodin, President of The Rockefeller Foundation, said earlier this week.

It’s a growing list that will add some cache to a country whose reputation had been dragged out and thoroughly beaten by journalists, politicians, and human rights workers – it’s becoming harder to tell them apart – over its deal with Australia to accept recognized refugees who volunteer to come here.

Amid the scorn heaped on Cambodia were constant, and justified, references to the forced repatriation of Montagnards – also known as Degar – who sought political asylum here after fleeing Vietnam where their persecution has also been well documented, more than a decade ago.

In particular, was the confiscation of their traditional lands which were turned into coffee plantations. But they also face religious intolerance for the practice of a syncretic form of Christianity based around Protestantism.

Their plight is again in the headlines with reports that at least 13 Montagnards had crossed over into what’s left of Cambodia’s northeast jungles in search of safety, with Hanoi apparently determined to get them back – again.

Cambodia is one of only two countries in Southeast Asia that is a signatory to the UN refugee conventions and its international obligations dictate that these people have their cases heard before the proper authorities and that they be treated appropriately.

Vietnam’s attitude to the plight of its own minorities is perverse given its appointment to the UN Human Rights Council just over a year ago. The three-year appointment alongside China and Russia was widely condemned as inappropriate amid warnings it would undermine the credibility of the council.

And the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned against forced repatriation.

“The involuntary return of the individuals to Vietnam would represent a violation of international legal obligations which the government of the Kingdom of Cambodia has freely entered into,” UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch said. “The group had indicated that they wish to seek asylum in Cambodia.”

Cambodia again has a chance to prove its international credentials and Hun Sen has an opportunity to answer his critics like Kok Ksor – the U.S.-based head of the Degar Foundation – who claims the prime minister is controlled by Hanoi.

At least one Montagnard says he fled after being threatened with arrest because he supported the Degar Foundation.

A repeat of what happened more than a decade ago when hundreds of Montagnards were forced back will only sour Cambodia’s reputation further in the eyes of the international community and make its highly controversial deal with Australia even less palatable. And that is something that neither Hun Sen nor Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott can afford.

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UN Calls on Gov’t to Protect Group of Montagnards in Country

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By Aun Pheap and George Wright | November 26, 2014

The U.N.’s refugee agency on Tuesday confirmed that 13 Montagnards have crossed into the country from Vietnam and urged the Cambodian government to refrain from deporting members of the group at the risk of endangering their lives.

“UNHCR is aware of 13 Montagnards from Viet Nam who recently arrived in Cambodia,” Vivian Tan, the regional press officer for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in an email.

“We advocate that they should not be sent back to a place where their lives or freedoms could be in danger, and we will cooperate closely with the Cambodian Government to ensure that those in need of international protection receive it,” she said.

The Montagnards, an ethnically homogenous but culturally varied group from Vietnam’s Central Highlands, have long faced persecution and often imprisonment in Vietnam for the form of Christianity many of them practice.

Hundreds of Montagnards fled to Cambodia from Vietnam in the 2000s, beginning with a mass exodus in 2001, when some 1,000 sought refuge in Phnom Penh.

On Monday, police in Ratanakkiri province’s O’yadaw district said they were searching for the new group of Montagnards after being tipped off to their presence by local residents who spotted them hiding in the forest.

Deputy provincial police chief Chea Bunthoeun vowed to deport the “illegal immigrants” if they were caught.

An ethnic minority villager living in the area, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal from authorities, Tuesday said he had visited the Montagnards, who crossed the border in two groups over the past month.

“The 13 Montagnards are living in the forest, but I cannot tell you where specifically, because local authorities are searching for them and want to send them back to Vietnam,” he said.

“I met them all when [the second] group arrived, and I asked them why they had come from Vietnam to live in Ratanakkiri and they told us that they escaped from prisons in Vietnam when they were let out to urinate or for labor,” he said.

“We plan to appeal to international organizations, especially the U.N. in Cambodia, to rescue them from the forest,” he added.

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related articles:
UNHCR concerns over Montagnards in Cambodia

UN refugee agency calls for Cambodia to refrain from deporting minority hill people to Vietnam

RFA – UN Warns Cambodia Against Repatriating Montagnards to Vietnam
International Concern Grows as Police Search for Montagnards

Media Roundtable in Hanoi, Viet Nam with Assistant Secretary Malinowski

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Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Tom Malinowski
U.S. Mission Hanoi – Hanoi, Vietnam


Moderator: — But we’re very fortunate in our visitor today because of the wide-ranging nature of the topics, which are of such interest these days, we’re pleased to have Tom Malinowski who is the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, the Department of State. He’s been in that position since April of this year, 2014. Prior to that he spent more than a decade as the Director of the Washington, DC office of Human Rights Watch. Earlier in his career he also worked for the State Department in our Policy Planning Division. I think we’ll dive right in.

This event is on the record and he’s here to talk about his visit here to Vietnam.

Assistant Secretary Malinowski: Thank you everybody. Thanks for joining us.

We’re just finishing several days here in Hanoi. It’s my first trip since the year 2000 when I was here with President Clinton on his historic trip to the country that year.

I have had a very very productive set of meetings. We met with the Vice Minister of Public Security, To Lam; the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs; the External Relations Committee of the Communist Party; National Assembly; a number of meetings with members of civil society. Today we attended services at the Hanoi Evangelical Church, stopped by Quan Su Pagoda, and this evening will be going to a Catholic mass in the city.

Yesterday we spent a day outside of town in Thai Nguyen visiting the Phu Son Prison which the Ministry of Public Security arranged for us.

We’ve had a lot of diplomatic activity in the last few weeks. I’m here in the wake of Ambassador Froman’s visit, our Trade Representative. The Foreign Minister of Vietnam was just in Washington, met with Secretary Kerry, where we announced the partial lifting of the lethal arms ban. And made clear that we want to do more to deepen the relationship, we can do more, both in the realm of security cooperation, TPP; but we can do this if, and only if, there’s demonstrable progress on human rights.

So the purpose of my trip is to explore what progress might be possible this year and over the next couple of years.

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