• Vietnamese people in Vietnam and around the world
• International governments, organisations and foreign media
It has been three months since fish were found dead off the coast of central Vietnam. This disaster has severely damaged the environment affecting millions of people who have jobs related to the sea as well as future generations. The disaster has occurred in the context of ongoing issues of Vietnamese sovereignty and Chinese aggression in the East Sea.
Rather than seeing the Vietnamese government as “of the people, by the people, for the people” and responsible efforts, the Vietnamese people have witnessed alarming actions and indignation from the political leadership. Following a press conference announcing the reason for the environmental disaster in Hanoi on June 30, 2016 there has been a campaign to bury the issue of fish deaths;this campaign was conducted as follows:
1. Censorship from the Ministry of Information and Communications.
SMSs containing “Formosa”, “Vũng Án”, “cá chết” (fish deaths) were blocked. In May, State media did not report any of the peaceful protests regarding the fish deaths , but rather alleged certain individuals had “incited” people to “cause disorder” on the streets.
On May 13, Countryside Today was fined 140 million VND for publishing an article from The World Marketing Post “The people will always be last” and “Complaints by fish”.
On May 30, VTV 6 broadcast a program “60 Minutes – Why do we share posts on social media?” to reiterate the VTC video clip “Two fish died from Vung An waters” was fabricated while also denouncing MC Phan Anh for sharing the clip on his Facebook page.
On June 6, Education and Modernity Online was required to remove the article “The cause of fish deaths is related to the culprits behind the deaths” after it quickly spread on social media. On June 10, Vinh Linh District in Quang Tri Province uncovered 30 tonnes of frozen fish which contained Phenol at dangerous levels. State media continued to publish non-scientific articles, with government officials and intellectuals deceiving the people.
2. Police Oppression.
At the end of April 2016, two independent journalists who were reporting on the fish deaths in Quang Binh, Ha Tinh and Nghe An provinces were detained, interrogated and harassed for days.
In May and early June, masked police, plain-clothes policemen and hired thugs physically attacked peaceful demonstrators including women and children at the environment protests in Hanoi and Saigon. Police, civil defense and young volunteers detained protesters and sent them to police stations where they were further attacked; some were detained, starved and humiliated in social support centres for several days.
In addition, police surrounded the central coast to prevent people from taking photos, recording videos or talking with affected fishermen. Journalists who were reporting on the issue were severely beaten. Police officials stated that the protesters were instigated by “hostile forces” and were prepared to physically attack citizens on the day of the announcement (June 30).
3. Inhumane measures by the Ministry of Health.
The Ministry refused to release test results of those who had been affected by poisoned fish. The first victim was Le Van Ngay, a diver who died on April 24, 2016 after the construction of the breakwater in Son Duong Port. Other contracted divers also expressed their concern regarding water contamination. However, one month after health examinations, they were unable to access their results and were instead threatened threatened with termination of their employment contracts. The family of one of the divers said there was a person “who wanted to them to be examined but doctors in Saigon said the Ministry had prevented them from doing so… and now in Hanoi, Hue, Saigon and across Vietnam no one dared report results.” (According to Radio Free Asia May 27, 2016).
On the other hand, the Ministry of Health, since May 2016, has promoted state propaganda stating “the sea is essentially clean” despite the environmental damage along the coast. On May 10, the National Institute for Food Control quickly confirmed that 139 offshore seafood samples from the four central provinces were “safe” however, they neglected to test nearshore marine samples (RFA, June 1 2016).
4. Improbable responses and reassurances from state officials.
On May 25, the Quang Binh Labour Confederation launched the “Week of Environmental Cleaning and Bathing” at Nhat Le Beach to send a message that the waters and seafood were clean and to reassure tourists and citizens of its safety.
From June 1-8, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment organised the “Week of Vietnamese Waters and Islands” and failed to mention the environmental disaster.
On June 14, at Ba Dinh School the Communist Youth Union initiated the “Contribution of flags to the Fishermen at Sea” Program, presenting 2.5 million red flags as a message to defend sovereignty of the sea for the Party rather than to stay onshore.
On the other hand, authorities in some areas collect money of those families who were given rations of rice. Authorities said this was to cover transportation costs and account for more than anticipated rice rations (Bao Moi May 18, 2016).
Loc Vinh Commune, Phu Loc District in Thua Thien-Hue Province was given 2,023 billion VND to support affected fishermen. However, the People’s Committee has not distributed the allocated funds (according to the Thanh Nien Cong Giao Facebook Page on June 07, 2016). Despite the government pledging to support the consumption of seafood caught offshore, no bodies or agencies purchased fish from a vessel which caught nearly 30 tonnes of fish more than 30 nautical miles from the shore.
In summary, the government’s programs to support the affected fishermen have been inconsistent across the region.
5. Government reassurances of Formosa
On April 22, 2016 at Ha Tinh, Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong gave an implicit message of reassurance to Formosa after which officials have continually avoided questions on the issue. On June 2, 2016, Minister-Chairman of the Government Mai Tien Dung stated: “We have found the reason behind the fish deaths but have not announced it yet [in order] to review these reasons.”
The Vietnamese government has refused the offer of assistance from the United States (according to United States Ambassador Ted Osius on June 8, 2016 in Washington DC) and from Taiwan (according to an attendee at the press conference in Taipei on June 16, 2016).
On June 30, 2016, Department Head Truong Minh Tuan stated:
“Party leaders have directed ongoing investigations to identify the causes, the perpetrators, to assess the consequences and support those who have been affected from the very beginning…” However, no one has resigned or been prosecuted for civil or criminal liability for this environmental disaster. Rather than an apology to victims, there instead has been a crackdown on people who have spoken up to protect the environment.
Formosa sent a letter admitting its fault before the government’s press conference. The investigation into the cause of the environmental disaster showed technical and legal issues and some evidence of collaboration with the government is found in the timeline of publication of fault.
Mai Tien Dung also stated: As Formosa has accepted its fault in front of the Vietnamese people and given five commitments to compensate and support the people, the government also has a “tolerance policy” and will not prosecute Formosa.
We understand that this must be associated with the delayed implementation of the Penal Code which would have started on July 1, 2016. According to Article 235, Clause 5 of the Penal code, Formosa must suspend its operations indefinitely.
In April 2016, in addition to Formosa accepting “blame”, there was a loss of power which led to toxic chemicals such as phenol and cyanide spilling into the sea. This spillage was accepted by Formosa in order for it to continue its operations. However, it potentially damaged the environment and posed a serious risk to national security in the long run.
In what we believe to be a violation of Vietnam’s constitutional law, authorities accepted 500 million USD compensation without evaluation from professionals or judgement of the court regarding the current and future consequences of Formosa’s actions.
All these actions have caused strong public reactions and media from the “party margins”.
Under these circumstances, the undersigned political and civil society organizations:
1- Strongly condemn the Communist authorities and the Politburo for failing to provide a verdict regarding the cause of the environmental disaster after a long period of time and failing to implement effective measures to restore the environment and support victims of the disaster. Further, we condemn the government for permitting Formosa to keep its area surrounded by police and military, with unacceptable conditions to flush toxins which led to the environmental disaster, and for permitting Formosa to continue to operate rather than prosecute it.
2 – Strongly condemn the Vietnamese government for failing to admit its gross mishandling of this serious situation that has resulted in turning their backs on the Vietnamese people who continue to suffer the consequences of the environmental disaster due to the actions of the Party leaders. The Vietnamese government should have admitted their mistakes to the people, dismissed and prosecuted officials who were involved in the process of allowing foreign companies to cause irreparable damage to the country and its people. The Party’s actions are based on Article 4 of the Constitution where there is little support and only silence from the National Assembly.
3 – Sincerely call upon the worldwide community, the public (students, farmers, fishermen, workers), religious communities, civil society organizations, to continue to frequently take to the streets in large numbers, illustrating the power of the people to strengthen our demand for the party and communist government to answer to justice. Since the death of the sea and fish are just the tip of the problem, the root is the death of conscience, of morality, of rationality, and of the politics in our leadership that is increasingly not for the country nor for the people.
4 – Propose “A Month of Action for the Environment of Vietnam” for the Vietnamese people, from 6 July 2016 to 6 August 2016. In this month, we propose the following actions:
• Dress in a white shirt with the dead fish icon while in public
• Hold personal or joint demonstrations to demand the shutting down of Formosa
• Organise assistance to fishermen, especially in legal action against Formosa
• Any other necessary initiatives
In particular to Vietnamese overseas, please continue to voice the Formosa issue and hold activities to denounce the destruction of the environment by the perpetrators and accomplices, to bring international support to the people of Vietnam.
Written in Vietnam on 4 July 2016
Independent civil society organisations:
1. Saigon Newspaper, represented by Father Le Ngoc Thanh
2. Bauxite Vietnam, represented by Prof. Pham Xuan Yem
3. Civil Society Forum, represented by Dr. Nguyen Quang A
4. Vietnam-US Lutheran Alliance Church, represented by Pastor Nguyen Hoang Hoa
5. Hoa Hao Purist Buddhist Church, represented by Le Van Soc and Le Quang Hien
6. Brotherhood for Democracy, represented by Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton
7. Association to Protect Freedom of Religion, represented Ha Thi Van
8. Association of Bau Bi Tuong Than, represented by Nguyen Le Hung
9. Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience, represented by Dr Nguyen Dan Que and Father Nguyen Van Loi
10. Association of Former Catholic Prisoners of Conscience, represented by Nguyen Van Oai
11. People Claiming Rights to Live Association, represented by Ho Thi Bich Khuong
12. Cao Dai Church, Human Livelihood Sect: Mr. Hua Phi, Mr.Nguyen Kim Lan, Mrs. Nguyen Bach Phung
13. Bloc 8406, represented by Do Nam Hai
14. Vietnam Independent Civil Society Network, represented by Vu Quoc Ngu
15. Defend the Defenders, represented by Vu Quoc Ngu
16. Nguyen Kim Dien Priests group, represented by Rev. Nguyen Huu Giai
17. Oppressed Petitioners’ Solidarity Movement, represented by Tran Ngoc Anh
18. Delegation of Vietnamese United Buddhists Church, represented by the Ven. Thich Khong Tanh
1. People’s Democratic Party, represented by Dr Le Nguyen Sang
2. Viet Tan, represented by Duy Hoang
3. Assembly of Vietnamese Democrats, represented by Lam Dang Chau 4. Organisation of Overseas Vietnamese for the Protection of Human Rights in Vietnam (MRVN), represented by Dr Nguyen Tien Thanh
5. Vietnam Centre Hanover, represented by Le Nam Son