House debates

Monday, 8 February 2016


Human Rights: Vietnam

9:10 pm

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

As the House is aware, my electorate has the highest proportion of Vietnamese Australians, enabling me to not only enjoy the colour and vibrancy of this wonderful community but acquire an acute appreciation of the importance of human rights in Vietnam.

On 13 December 2015, I attended the International Human Rights Day celebration in Cabramatta hosted by Viet Tan. There, I had the privilege of speaking to Mr Tranh Minh Nhat via skype. Nhat is an exceptionally strong-willed young man dedicated to Vietnamese social and religious liberty and a reporter for Vietnam Redemptorist News.Mr Tranh was arrested in 2011 along with 17 other activists and sentenced to four years in prison, and three years house arrest. According to the charges, the authorities claimed that Mr Tranh was involved in activities designed to overthrow the government. These arrests coincide with Amnesty International's view that Vietnam may be:

… fast turning into one of South East Asia's largest prisons for human rights defenders and other activists.

Following his release from prison, it was alleged that Mr Tranh violated his house arrest conditions by not reporting to police, even though he had done so earlier that day. He was also accused of communicating with a Catholic priest from the Redemptorist Church, who, according to the police, was 'a man against the state.' Mr Tranh was detained by police for 12 hours and, I am advised, was severely beaten during his interrogations. I have also been advised that the harassment of Mr Tranh has also been focused on his family, presumably in an attempt to dissuade his human rights advocacy. His brother's crops were destroyed, including the destruction of 155 coffee plants, 11 avocado trees and several pepper vines. Mr Tranh's other brother lost more than 380 of his pepper vines, and the family house was stoned in the middle of the night, causing his elderly parents to fear for their lives.

The House is aware of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a regional free trade agreement of which Vietnam and Australia included are signatories. These signatories to the TPP agreed to enhance pro-labour principles and the elimination of discriminatory practices in respect of employment amongst other things. It is right that we leverage off trade developments such as the TPP to achieve more positive outcomes in the human rights space. Australia supports Vietnam's inclusion in the TPP, and, as a consequence of their enhanced trading position, I think it is important that we take a greater interest in matters of human rights in Vietnam. While Vietnam is being welcomed and treated as a valued trading partner, they continue to imprison human rights activists and labour activists at an alarming rate.

Clearly, Mr Tranh is a heroic individual who risked his life and liberty to stand up for the basic rights and freedoms of others. Through my personal interaction with Mr Tranh, I can attest to his courage and his determination to advocate for a better living standard for people in Vietnam. His experience demonstrates the importance of putting mechanisms in place to protect human rights defenders.

Vietnam is party to many human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, amongst others. However, despite Vietnam's human rights obligations under domestic and international law, people such as Mr Tranh, who exercise their civil and political rights to defend the human rights of others, continue to face ongoing harassment, intimidation, prosecution and imprisonment.

The need to assist these activists, whose only crime is to seek the advancement of human rights in Vietnam, is crucial. It is critical that there is fundamental reform for human rights in Vietnam, and this can only occur with the support of the international community in echoing the demands of the people of Vietnam. Human rights is something that we must take an interest in for the preservation of trade, commerce— (Time expired)


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