Human Rights in Vietnam

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This is the Congressional testimony of a Jesuit Priest who lived in Vietnam for nineteen years and remained after the communist takeover for fifteen months. Judge for yourself whether the communist takeover was good for the people who were unable to escape.

HEARINGS BEFOEB THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS OF THE COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES NINETY-FIFTH CONGEESS FIRST SESSION JUNE 16, 21, AND JULY 26, 1977

STATEMENT OP REV. ANDRE GELINAS, JESUIT PRIEST, PAR EASTERN PROVINCE OE THE JESUIT ORDER

Father Gelinas. First, a word of introduction on my sources of information for the facts that I am about to describe.

I am a Canadian, a Jesuit Priest, as has already been stated. I came to Vietnam in 1957 as a professor of Chinese history at the University of Saigon. Starting in 1963, and for 13 years without interruption, I was on the staff of the Alexander-de-Rhodes Student Center, which has been for all these years the largest and most influential center of activities for Vietnamese University students.

After the Communist takeover, I stayed on at the center for 15 more months, moving around freely within the borders of Gia Dinh Province. My information on conditions outside of Gia Dinh Province comes from these hundreds of Vietnamese students and families that I dealt with daily.

I might add here that most of these were Buddhists and Confucians, only one-third being Christians.

Now, the facts. Let me start with the most obvious, the expected: the complete suppression of the freedom of speech, press, and information. Before the Communist victory. South Vietnam published 27 daily newspapers, 22 in Vietnamese, 3 in Chinese, 1 in French, and 1 in English. It also produced some 200 scholarly journals, scholarly, technical, or literary, and a number of popular magazines. It had three TV channels and some 2 dozen radio stations.

In May 1975, every single one of these newspapers, serials, and stations were suppressed. Back issues of magazines, books, records, and cassettes were confiscated from homes and from libraries and burned in the streets in huge bonfires. From then on, our only source of in-formation was one TV channel owned by the Government, on the air for 2 hours only, from 7:30 to 9:30, and concerned exclusively with propaganda.

Also, two radio stations and three dailies providing the same propaganda, the same editorials, and the same selection of biased news items dictated by the unique party-controlled news agency.

No one was allowed to listen to short-wave radio, and any person aware of this crime in his neighborhood and failing to report it could be deported to the work camps with his entire family.

It was also the duty of every citizen to report ali private conversations deemed contrary to the spirit of the revolution. I hurry to add, however, that at least in Saigon this often repeated threat failed to curb the curiosity of the people. News items from the daily bulletins of the BBC and of the VOA were eagerly sought after, and spread through the population like brushfire.

Another basic human right which has been wiped out by the Communist victor is the freedom of movement. Without a special pass from the police, no one is allowed to go from place to place, not even to the next village or suburb. These official passes are not always easy to obtain, and often they can be had only through bribery.

It goes without saying that permission to travel abroad is restricted to official envoys of the Government. Thousands of Vietnamese Americans can testify to this who are hopelessly separated from their wives, children, and parents.

Another basic right ignored in Vietnam is the right for a court of law, or at least for a hearing before condemnation. Some 300,000 men have been imprisoned in reeducation camps for over 2 years now, and not one of them has ever been judged, condemned, or even accused of any. crime.

In Saigon, someone disappears nearly every day, and note that I am not talking on hearsay. Many of my friends have seen their daughter, their son, their husband fail to come home for supper. After frustrating inquiries from one police station to another, they were invariably told that if they want to stay out of trouble, they should mind their own business, or that the police does not know where this person is, but if he or she was not a criminal, he would surely be home by now.

Arrests are usually made in one of the following four ways, all of which I have personally witnessed. First, the person is called to report to the police station, and is never heard of since. Many priests have disappeared in this way. Second, the person is quietly kidnaped by the police patrol car while walking back home on the street or walking to work or walking to the market. This seems the most often-used method.

To list only the big names, Father Minh, Father Loc, Father Thanh were arrested in this way.

Third, the house is raided, usually at dawn. All the occupants are ordered out, and a search conducted without witness by a swarm of troops invariably produces some damning evidence, guns, documents, U.S. dollars, and so on.

Fourth, the house is searched at night, and the person is carried away during curfew hours. It is impossible to know how many persons are presently in jail. All I know is that all jails are crowded, that at least two large new ones have been built near Saigon, and that almost all U.S. BOQ’s and BEQ’s are now used as houses of detention, as many as 26 persons occupying the average GI single bedroom. I know this from the report of prisoners who have come back to tell me.

Now, not everyone is sent to jail, and only men with a high school education are kept in reeducation camps, but every single South Vietnamese, young or old, man or woman, is submitted to the triweekly sessions of political brainwashing, which often drag on from 7 o’clock to midnight. Everyone has to show his contrition for past crimes, his hatred for Americans who, among other crimes, used to cook and eat Vietnamese babies, so it is said, and his love for the Marxist-Leninist society.

Everyone is threatened with deportation to the work camps if he does not join in the campaign of denunciation against his neighbor, if he clings too hard to religious convictions or if, in any way, he fails to cooperate fully with the new regime. The right to one’s own convictions is another one that has been banished from Communist Vietnam.

The list could go on and on, but I think my time is over, and I may say more under the questions.

This is the fate America left to its allies, a people who trusted us to help them defend their country from communist takeover.