The Formosa scandal in Vietnam has recently made international headlines and offered the international community a rare glimpse into the fringe, but steadily growing, culture of protest and activism in the authoritarian state, notes analyst Arthur Beaufort. The ecological catastrophe, which saw millions of fish die in central Vietnam due to improper waste disposal by a Taiwanese-owned steel factory, triggered demonstrations around the country — an unusual occurrence in Vietnam, he writes for The Diplomat:
Stark socio-economic inequalities and aspirations for fairer living conditions have also come to the forefront. In mid-2015, a staggering 17,000 employees working for footwear manufacturer Pou Chen Group went on a three-day strike in a plant in Dong Nai Province, southern Vietnam, to resist the implementation of new benefits regulation.
Likewise, the previously latent frustration with the ho khau system has progressively become more vocal. This permit of residence, in effect an institutionalized form of urban apartheid, limits internal relocation and has created an estimated 5.6 million second-class citizens who have limited access to public schools or pay more for government-subsidized electricity and water.
“Evidently the absence of democratic institutions and human rights concerns are central problems for many citizens,” Beaufort adds. “There are numerous examples of political dissidents and bloggers who have taken it upon themselves to defy the state and inform the international community of this darker aspect of life in Vietnam.”
The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, with the co-sponsorship of the Center for Religious Freedom of the Hudson Institute, cordially invites you to the Conference:
“Religious Freedom in Vietnam: Its Importance for Regional and Global Security”
Monday 12th September 2016 12.00 to 2.00pm at the Center for Religious Freedom, Hudson Institute 1201 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Suite 400 Washington, DC 20004
Speakers include Elliott Abrams, Former US Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights [and a National Endowment for Democracy board member]; Katrina Arriaga de Bucholz, Executive Director of the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom and USCIRF Commissioner; Nina Shea, Director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom; Vo Van Ai, President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and representatives of Vietnamese religious communities.
The Conference will feature a panel discussion on “Religious Freedom and American Policy in the Next Administration”, and a panel on “Violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief in Vietnam” with testimonies from Buddhists, Catholics, Hmong Christians, Montagnards, Khmer Krom Buddhists. A roundtable session on strategies and best practices for interfaith coalition building to promote and protect freedom of religion or belief in Vietnam and South East Asia will be held from 2.00pm to 4.00pm.
A light lunch will be served at 11.30am.