The Forgotten Victims in VietNam
During the Vietnam War, the ill-treatment of prisoners in South Vietnam was one of the major issues of the mass media when the same matter in North Vietnam was neglected. After April 1975, the world's attention was drawn to the imprisonment of many hundred thousands of former civil employees and military servicemen of the collapsed Saigon regime in the so-called re-education camps.
Persecution of political prisoners in the Communist Vietnam has been well reported in books and papers. However, not a single word has ever been written about the fate of many thousands criminal prisoners in that country.
Most of the hundred of prisons in Vietnam today are called re-education camps, a different name but compared with a few that are officially called "prisons", they are the same in every aspect, or even worse. The prisoners are sent to those camps by decisions of either the Courts or the Public Security Service.
Until 1985, there had been no criminal law. Trials were based on decrees and resolutions of the Congress Standing Committee. The judge always reached a verdict after the decision was previously made by the Communist Party cell beside the court. The convicted are then sent to one of the prison camps or re-education camps.
In all camps, the larger part of prisoners are not those sentenced by courts. They are "concentrated for re education" by administrative decisions based on Resolution # 49, dated June 20, 1961 of the Standing Committee of the 2nd Congress in Hanoi.
This resolution authorized the Chief of a district Public Security Service to sign warrants to imprison persons who are "dangerous to society, reactionaries, counter-revolutionaries, and those who have already been in prisons after courts' verdicts but do not sincerely repent their crimes," in 3-year terms, renewable unlimited times.
Therefore, a district Public Security Chief can put one in jail for his lifetime. Before important occasions such as the Party national congresses, in important events, in large scale security campaigns or raids against social evils, great numbers of the black-listed were thus arrested in every city and province. They were all sent to different camps in the remote mountainous or marshy areas.
The total number of those prisoners is not available, but it could be estimated at no less than 50,000. Most are pickpockets, petty larcenists, con men, prostitutes...whose cases can't be tried at courts because of the lack of evidence, as well as shirks in state farms, vagabonds, and anyone who is strongly disliked by the local Public Security Service.
In the camps, prisoners of all kinds - with or without trial, political, except former officers and public servants of the Saigon regime - live together. They are fed at 12 kilograms (29 lb.) a month of rice and rice substitutes. (The South Vietnamese former officers and public servants were allowed 15 kg or 33 lb.). This allowance could be reduced to 9 kg (19 lb.) if the prisoner failed to achieve the required norms. This has been one of the causes of high death rate.
They had to do hard labor under brutal discipline. A very light violation could be heartlessly punished. Flogging a few hundred blows with bamboo sticks is very often seen. Many were crippled or suffered with broken ribs and bones after being beaten to pulp by guardians.
In many places, beatings are done every evening at the criminal prisoners' ward. Usually, those prisoners who violate the camp's regulation are kept in solitary confinement cells for at least one week or more where they are permitted only an underpants. One or two legs are locked in stocks. Food allowance is reduced by one-fourth. The guardians on patrol might beat them, pour cold water or mud or even urine over his face at any time.
In many camps, prisoners in dark cells were given two small bowls of rice a day, mixed with a tablespoon of salt and a little water so that salt couldn't be separated. Along with it, they were allowed only one cup (1/4 liter) of water. The unbearable thirst killed so many criminal prisoners in camp 6, Nghe Tinh province in 1980 before Hanoi inspected the camp and stopped the forced salt-consummation initiative.
Human rights is something almost unknown to jailers in the Vietnamese Communist regime. The guardians always said that they have the right to persecute the criminals because those prisoners don't have civil rights. It seems that sadism is promoted for the sake of the Party. The term that a prisoner has to serve begins when his document is completed, usually from 3 to 12 months after he arrived in the camp. At the end of the term, the process to release him is started at the Prison Camps Management Directorate in Hanoi. He will be released only if the Public Security of his district agrees to have him back, otherwise he will stay in the camp forever until some other place accepts him.
Under such system and red tape, a prisoner might have to serve a 3-year term in at least 4 years and more. A 3-year warrant might become a life sentence. Moreover, a camp has its full authority to decide when a prisoner is let free, a week, a month or a year after the date given in the release order signed by Hanoi - sometimes even to ignore it.
It is obvious that the Communist regime considers the criminal prisoners as incorrigible animals, as discarded objects, and as society's enemies. The prison camps are to exploit their labor as much as possible.
One thing should be noted is that prisoners in camps located in the former South Vietnam are treated much better.
Resolution # 49 is still in effect today. It is referred to in every decision to arrest and to release a prisoner of this kind, including political prisoners. Though in the last few years there have been much change in market economy, inhumanity in prisons - especially in North Vietnam - remains the same. Some new criminal legislation in effect since 1985 make very little change.
Tourists visiting Vietnam could only see beautiful beaches, hotels, restaurants and main streets full of color TV without any thought of how miserable people might be living not very far away. Human rights groups are working hard for freedom of political prisoners. Almost none of them has ever shed a tear for those forgotten victims of the Ha Noi regime.
One of the first things that Ha Noi should be asked to fulfill is to abolish the said Resolution # 49, the most repressive tool against human rights. And the fate of the criminal prisoners must be among the major issues on the agenda of any human rights organization..