House debates

Monday, 18 April 2016


Nguyen, Mr Van Dai

9:10 pm

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

Tonight I rise to speak about a prominent Vietnamese human rights activist and lawyer, Mr Nguyen Van Dai, who, since his arrest on 16 December last year, has been held in a prison in Hanoi awaiting trial. Mr Nguyen was arrested and charged under article 88 of the Vietnam Penal Code for 'conducting propaganda against the state'. The crime carries up to 20 years imprisonment. He is the founder of the Committee for Human Rights, which focuses on justice for those who have been persecuted in Vietnam. Mr Nguyen was previously imprisoned for advocating for religious liberty.

In the week leading up to his arrest, Mr Nguyen was brutally beaten, which presumably had something to do with the fact that he was hosting a training forum on human rights. As it currently stands, his wife, Mrs Khanh Minh Vu, and his legal representatives have been denied access to him. They now have very real fears for his welfare and concerns about his health and the possibility of ongoing ill-treatment. Mrs Vu is planning to attend Australia with representatives of the Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment, or VOICE, from 29 to 30 June. She will be meeting with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International to speak about her husband's situation and raise awareness about ongoing human rights violations in Vietnam. I plan to meet with Mrs Vu during her visit and I am happy to arrange for other members in this place to meet with her to discuss her husband's treatment and ways in which Vietnam could improve its human rights record.

As one of the signatories to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Australia should be taking its responsibilities seriously, not simply in terms of the trade deal itself but in ensuring that other signatories, such as Vietnam, honour their ongoing obligations. Earlier this month I spoke at a Western Sydney University open forum about the importance of compliance with and adherence to TPP provisions. I reiterated the point that Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia are subject to separate side agreements with the US in which additional provisions were inserted before those countries could become full members of the TPP. The provisions particularly related to labour rights. Given Vietnam's not-so-pretty human rights record and its intention to participate in the TPP, it is essential that we, as a trading partner, take the necessary steps to ensure not only that trade liberalisation occurs but that other countries honour their commitments under the agreement.

As it stands today, Vietnam is one of the worst jailers of human rights bloggers in the world. According to the internationally recognised human rights organisation Freedom House, Vietnam is ranked in the lowest percentile internationally for upholding civil liberties and has probably the most political prisoners of any country in South-East Asia.

Given Australia's various obligations under international human rights treaties and our ambitions for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, I believe we have a moral responsibility to ensure that we do everything we can to condemn human rights violations not only wherever they occur but particularly when they involve a valued trading partner and a fellow member of the TPP, such as Vietnam. I welcome the assistance of my fellow parliamentarians in supporting people like Mrs Vu in her attempts to call on the international community for the release of human rights defenders, particularly her husband, being held in Vietnam as we speak. We need to do more and we need to take our responsibilities quite seriously. We need to honour those who respect human rights and make sure that human rights are fundamental to everybody that we deal with.