Dear ASEAN friends,
PRESS RELEASE: Genuine CSOS From Vietnam Join ASEAN’s Largest Civil Society Forum In Full Force
May 27 2015
DVOV.org’s ACSC/APF exhibit space for meeting Vietnam’s Independent CSOs
May 27, 2015 – Independent civil society organizations (CSOs) from Vietnam made their presence felt at the 10th ASEAN People’s Forum and ASEAN Civil Society Conference (ACSC/APF) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this April. While Vietnam’s presence remains heavily controlled by government representatives posing as CSOs, also known as Government Organized Non-Governmental Organizations (GONGOs), 2015 marked a significant dent in their legitimacy and stranglehold on one of the most important civil society forums in the region.
“As ASEAN becomes more integrated, we felt that this year was our moment to push to have our voices heard”, says Huynh Thuc Vy, coordinator for Vietnamese Women for Human Rights (VNWHR). Ms. Huynh, who for safety reasons could not attend in person, participated remotely in two panels, one on state persecution of religious groups and the other on promoting democracy across Southeast Asia. “Our CSOs have been isolated for so long, but we see the importance of building connections with CSOs across ASEAN. Without us, many will continue to be misled by the GONGOs about the reality in Vietnam.”
BPSOS’s International Initiatives, which has had a regional presence since 2008, facilitated the participation of genuine CSOs from Vietnam. In total, independent civil society activists from Vietnam participated as key speakers and panelists on five workshops. “While it is hard to talk about, I felt it was important to share my story for everyone to hear”, says Vincent Phan, a torture survivor from the Con Dau Parishioners Association who spoke candidly in a workshop on torture about his past experience.
Other panel topics with genuine CSO representation from Vietnam included indigenous rights, building a regional democracy movement, and freedom of expression. One CSO also had a short film selected for screening during a film festival held at the forum.
Webcasting with live simultaneous translations took place throughout the forum, reaching an audience of over 400 participants scattered throughout Vietnam and elsewhere. Remote participants actively posed pertinent questions during plenaries and workshops.
The ACSC/APF conference was the culmination of a process that began in September 2014. Early on, excluded from their national process, a collection of genuine CSOs drafted a series of poignant statements to assert their presence and desire to participate more fully. “We have encountered fierce resistance throughout the entire process”, says Lucia Phan, often the lone member of the independent CSOs able to join the consultations in person. “I watched them [the GONGOs] lie to everyone. They sound like government officials when they speak. Fortunately, the real CSOs, especially the Malaysian National Organizing Committee, saw through such lies and supported us and stood up for human rights issues.”
Unfortunately, interference only escalated during the conference. A series of pictures highlighting the brutal persecution against religious leaders in Vietnam was torn down before the first day of the conference. The vandalism took place at an interactive exhibit set-up by DVOV.org that aimed to serve as a space for genuine CSOs from Vietnam to meet their ASEAN CSO peers.
Ms. Huynh notes, “While the vandalism was upsetting and shows just what lengths some people will take to suppress the truth, we were soon overtaken with good feelings from all the support we received.” The booth, which shared the independent CSOs’ latest statement and utilized a fun photo booth with the #NOTAGONGO hashtag campaign, was soon flooded with endorsing statements and overwhelmed with people taking photographs showing solidarity.
While 2015’s forum saw progress, GONGO interference in ASEAN’s biggest civil society forum is far from over. The handover of ACSC/APF to Laos, the scheduled 2016 host, has been indefinitely postponed due to glaring security concerns and government interference. Lucia Phan notes, ”We see the problem of Laos and Vietnam as inextricably linked. The tactics used are the same. Laos just has less practice. But we know that a vibrant civil society must be independent from government and able to speak truth to power. This is what we must build in Vietnam and in the region.”
For more information on human rights issues in Vietnam, the independent civil society movement inside Vietnam, and engagement in ASEAN, please visit http://dvov.org