Development assistance provided to Vietnam by foreign governments and banks helps to support security forces repressing the Vietnamese people and should be tied in future to improvements in the one-party communist state’s rights record, a group of six Vietnamese civil society organizations said in an open letter this week.
Much of that money is also lost to corruption, the group said in its June 20 letter sent to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank, the European Union, and the governments of Japan, Australia, and the United States.
In 2016, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported Vietnam’s rights situation as “critical,” the group’s letter said.
“Rights activists and dissident bloggers face constant harassment and intimidation, including physical assault and imprisonment. Farmers have lost land to development projects without adequate compensation, and there is an absence of independent unions for workers.”
“About 150 political prisoners are currently imprisoned by the regime,” the letter said, citing HRW figures and signed by the Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam, Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience, Brotherhood for Democracy, Delegation of Vietnamese United Buddhists Church, Hoa Hao Buddhists Church Purity, and the Vietnam-US Lutheran Church Alliance.
Police, military support
Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service, Pham Chi Dung—a representative of the Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam and signatory to the letter—said “we have known for quite some time that part of the national budget comes from foreign loans.”
This is used not just for infrastructure and development, “but for administrative expenses and for the military and police,” Dung said.
In Vietnam, anti-China protesters and citizens protesting environmental pollution “have been cracked down on by the police, and even brutally beaten,” he said.
“International financial institutions and foreign governments have inadvertently helped the Vietnamese government to do bad things to its people, and this is why we civil society organizations think that it is time to raise our voice,” Dung said.
“We are asking them to attach human-rights conditions to their loans, demanding that the government of Vietnam show evidence of improvements on human rights before those loans are made,” he said.
Calls seeking comment from Vietnamese government representatives rang unanswered Tuesday.
Though donor countries require transparency and accountability in Vietnam’s handling of Official Development Assistance (ODA), “Hanoi has failed in its commitments,” the group letter said. “The Vietnamese people are never informed about projects and there have been no debates about injustice and corruption in ODA.”
“As a result, the governments of Denmark, Sweden, and Australia have decided to cut down sharply on their ODA to Vietnam,” the letter said.
Over the last 20 years, Vietnam has received about U.S. $80 billion in ODA assistance, and now that some ODA loans are set to end, Vietnam may look to secure other, low-interest support such as International Development Association loans made by the World Bank, Dung said.
“These loans are for poverty reduction, but Vietnam has announced that it has already eliminated poverty,” he said.
Embargoes on loans have been applied in some cases in the past to put pressure on repressive governments, but such embargoes may not work in Vietnam—especially following U.S. President Obama’s recent strengthening of ties between the two countries, Dung said.
“I think that loans can still be made to Vietnam, but those loans must have human rights conditions.”
Reported by Hoa Ai for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Richard Finney.