Archives par mot-clé : République Socialiste du Viêt-Nam

Séminaire “Mémoires d’Indochine” : Séance 7

Année universitaire 2012-2013 / Master Asie Orientale Contemporaine (ASIOC) / Semestre 1

 

Mémoires d’Indochine :

Regards internes sur la décolonisation et la guerre

au Viêt-Nam, Laos et Cambodge

 

Séance 7 – vendredi 16 novembre 2012

« Désenchantements postcoloniaux et fuite des populations »

* * *

Comme le titre l’indique, cette dernière séance se penchera sur les conséquences sociales et politiques des victoires communistes en péninsule indochinoise. Les extraits de textes interrogeront le devenir du Viêt Nam après la chute de Saigon (30 avril 1975). Seront évoqués le sort réservé aux militaires de l’ancienne République du Viêt Nam, la disparition du FNL-Sud Viêt Nam avec la réunification du pays en 1976 sous la nouvelle appellation de République socialiste du Viêt Nam (RSVN) et les stratégies développées par la population pour échapper au totalitarisme et à la misère. En particulier, le phénomène des Boat people et des Land people sera abordé à l’échelle de la péninsule indochinoise dans son contexte géopolitique.

 

Extraits de textes à discuter :

  • Ngo Van, Viêt-Nam 1920-1945. Révolution et contre-révolution sous la domination coloniale, Paris, Editions Nautilus, 2000, pp. 373-381 [+ couverture].
  • Phan Minh Hien & Nguyen Van Huy, Loques de vie, Paris, Editions l’Harmattan, 2000, pp. 13-21 [+ couverture]. Traduction succincte du vietnamien, revue par Phan Minh Hien.
  • Truong Nhu Tang, avec l’aide de David Chanoff et Doan Van Toai, Mémoires d’un Vietcong, Paris, Flammarion, 1985, pp. 271-322 [+ couverture]. Traduit de l’américain par Amal Naccache.

 

Exposés de :

 

Pour aller plus loin :

  • Chanda, Nayan, Les frères ennemis. La péninsule indochinoise après Saigon, Paris, Presses du CNRS, Ligne Pacifique, 1987, 368 p. (trad. de l’américain par Michèle Vacherand et Jean-Michel Aubriet…).
  • Duiker, William J., Vietnam since the fall of Saigon, Athens, Ohio University, Monographs in International Studies, Southeast Asia Series no. 56, 1985 (revised ed.), 261 p.
  • Hy V. Luong (ed.), Postwar Vietnam. Dynamics of a transforming society, Singapore & Lanham, MA, ISEAS / Rowman & Littlkefield publishers, 2003, 336 p.
  • Nghia M. Vo, The Vietnamese Boat People, 1954 and 1975-1992, Jefferson, NC – London, McFarland, 2006, 208 p.
  • Nguyen Van Canh, Vietnam Under Communism, 1975-1982, Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1983, 312 p.

Duong Van Loi, un « exilé en liberté »

Duong Van Loi, un chef d’entreprise victime de la sévérité du régime.

La guerre du Viêt Nam a opposé de 1959 à 1975 le Nord Vietnam et le Viêt Cong (Front national pour la libération du Vietnam) avec le Sud Vietnam, militairement soutenu par les États Unis. Les combats s’achevèrent avec la chute de Saigon, le 30 avril 1975. Après la victoire du Viêt Cong, les deux Viêt Nam furent réunis pour former l’actuelle République socialiste du Viêt Nam.

De 1975 à 1982, 65 000 personnes furent exécutées et plus d’un million furent envoyées en « camps de rééducation » ou dans les « nouvelles zones économiques ». Leurs biens personnels (habitations, commerces, entreprises, terres…) furent confisqués pour une période plus ou moins longue. Plus d’un million de Sud-Vietnamiens fuirent le pays.

 

 

 

La bouillabaisse

« Une nuit, ils sont arrivés dans ma cellule. Ils m’ont bandé les yeux, menotté, et m’ont fait monter en voiture. Je pensais qu’ils me changeaient de prison, mais ils m’ont conduit dans une rizière. J’entendais le bruit des pioches autour de moi. Elles creusaient ma tombe. Pendant une heure les pioches ont creusé. Et je les entendais. Elles creusaient et puis, soudain, elles se sont arrêtées : On armait les fusils. Alors j’ai prié. J’ai prié la Vierge, Jésus Christ, Bouddha, tout le monde. Mais je n’ai pas prié pour qu’on me laisse en vie. J’ai prié pour que la première balle m’arrive droit au cœur ou directement dans la tête. » Simulacre d’exécution, torture parmi d’autres tortures, psychologiques ou physiques. La prison s’ouvre à Loi. Pour six ans.

Le 30 avril 1975, « un long convoi de chars, de blindés, de camions », pénètre Saigon, « sans un coup de feu ». L’armée nord vietnamienne est là. L’armée nord vietnamienne s’installe. La capitale du sud s’appellera désormais : Hô Chi Minh-Ville. Les derniers américains s’envolent sans « autoriser les gens à partir avec leurs petits bateaux. C’était inhumain. À la chute de Dien Bien Phu, les Français ont évacué le peuple de Hanoï vers Saigon. Ils ont des sentiments eux au moins »

Pendant quinze jours, Loi attend. Loi observe. « Ils arrêtaient des gens au hasard et comme il n’y avait pas assez de place en prison, ils les enfermaient dans les cinémas. Ils les clôturaient avec des barbelés».

« La peur au cœur », Loi laisse les soldats réquisitionner ses maisons, en expulser sa famille. Ses maisons : Loi est un riche entrepreneur de travaux publics. Et les « riches » sont « dangereux » pour le Viêt Cong. Alors, avant que la menace ne se fasse plus pressante, Loi prend la fuite et se fait arrêter. Il passera dix ans avant de pouvoir s’exclamer : « je suis libre ! ». « Au début ils ne frappent pas, ils ne torturent pas. Ils nous transfèrent dans les hauts plateaux, dans les plantations de caoutchouc à Ban Me Thuot. La nuit, on couchait avec les porcs ».

La torture viendra plus tard. À la prison de Saigon qui s’appelle désormais Hô Chi Minh-Ville. On accusera Loi d’appartenir à la C.I.A.

À Paris, Loi écrit ses mémoires. « La plupart de mes compatriotes ne se souviennent plus, ne veulent plus se souvenir. Chaque homme à son cœur. Moi je veux témoigner ». Témoigner sur ce qu’il sait, mais aussi sur ce qu’il ne sait pas, en posant cette question encore sans réponse aujourd’hui : qu’est devenue sa femme ? Il sait qu’elle fut emmenée dans l’une des « nouvelles zones économiques » du Vietnam, lieux pour travaux forcés de la terre. Mais depuis, où est-elle ? Ca, Loi l’ignore.

« En prison, il ne faut pas penser même cinq minutes à sa famille, sinon c’est foutu. Il ne faut pas penser à la nourriture, sinon c’est une torture pour l’estomac. Il ne faut pas parler avec ses compagnons de cellules parce qu’il y a souvent des mouchards parmi eux. Pour résister il faut être dur. Si on est démoralisé, on devient fou. Beaucoup de prisonniers sont morts de dépression. Moi j’ai résisté parce que je ne pensais qu’à m’évader. À tout prix. »

Alors, à coup de bambou ou de petite cuillère, Loi entame dès qu’il le peut les murs de sa cellule. Des plans d’évasion pour résister à la faim, à la douleur d’un corps soumis aux menottes et aux chaînes. Des plans d’évasion impossibles, mais ceux d’un esprit libre.

« Je n’ai pas eu de rééducation politique parce que j’étais considéré comme un mort vivant ». Dans les camps, si « les gardiens ne frappent pas », ils conjuguent l’enfer autrement : le sommeil se cherche tête bêche, à deux par paillasse. Le demi-litre d’eau se partage à six. Comme les cellules étroites, où « on ne peut pas s’allonger, ni boire, ni bouger ». Le manioc, les pommes de terre ou le maïs, s’attribuent à chacun. Mais par demi-bol. Avec les changements de camps, change la barbarie : « Pendant quinze jours on était attaché au lit avec un fer au pied gauche. Au bout de quinze jours, ils nous le mettaient au pied droit.»

Loi marque une pause dans son récit, comme si une parenthèse pouvait soulager une souffrance indélébile : « je suis très en colère quand je pense à tout cela. Pourquoi tant de sauvagerie ? » Mais il n’y a pour Loi aucune parenthèse qui vaille. Aujourd’hui, son seul remède pour panser ses plaies, c’est l’idée fixe : « En prison, je vivais avec l’idée de m’échapper, aujourd’hui je vis avec l’idée de détruire le communisme. Ils m’ont condamné à mort par contumace, je ne peux pas rentrer». Alors, mémoires écrites jours après jours, Loi ressasse son histoire. Mais ses souvenirs n’ont pas la nostalgie du Saigon d’antan. Le Saigon des bouillabaisses et des chateaubriands. Ses souvenirs ont un goût, unique, de prison. « Il faut écrire, il faut parler. Il faut que les enfants sachent ». Il faut qu’ils sachent qu’un jour « la Porte du ciel » s’est refermée sur Loi.

Au nord du pays, à la frontière chinoise, le camp de Cong Troï s’accroche aux nuages. Le soleil, jamais ne l’atteint. « Là-bas on n’avait pas besoin d’être enchaîné, car la situation est naturellement barbare, imposée par le climat. Il y fait froid, été comme hiver. Le vent est glacial, c’est la Sibérie du Vietnam. Il n’y avait pas de chauffage, on n’avait rien d’autre sur le dos qu’une chemise et pour dormir, on nous donnait seulement une couverture très mince. La nuit, ils ouvraient grand les fenêtres. On a enterré beaucoup de prisonniers. On creusait les tombes. On ne pensait à rien. Penser à rien, c’était devenu automatique. »

Loi ne pense à rien sinon à toujours creuser sa liberté à la petite cuillère. L’évasion est un impératif moral. Celui qui fait oublier l’autre surnom de la « Porte du ciel ». Un surnom à l’issue annoncée : « Le camp de la mort ».

Mais nouveau transfert et nouveau camp, Thanh Cam sera le dernier. En 1981, Loi a purgé ses six ans de peine, il est libéré. Mais pas libre.

Le récit de nouveau s’interrompt. Loi le reprend quelques instants plus tard, coupures de presse en mains : les traces journalistiques d’une évasion, direction Hong-Hong en hélicoptère. Les photos s’étalent : l’escale, prévue à Pékin juste le temps d’un plein, sera plus longue que prévue. Elle durera deux ans. Deux ans pour servir la propagande d’un gouvernement chinois en froid avec le Vietnam. « L’accueil était grandiose. Visites, conférences de presse. Menu impérial, canard laqué. Ils nous ont donné le meilleur. Mais cela m’était égal. Je voulais partir. Eux ne le voulaient pas. »

Alors c’est de nouveau la fuite au départ de Canton. De jonques aux « voiles faites de vêtements », en bateaux de pêche, la route vers les Philippines est semée d’embûches, de pannes et de typhon. Mais le camp de réfugiés de Palawan est en vue, et avec lui le visa accordé par la France.

Aujourd’hui à Paris, Loi se considère comme un « exilé en liberté ». Il n’est plus un « millionnaire » en dollars et n’a plus les moyens de s’offrir les chateaubriands du Saigon d’antan. Mais cela n’a aucune importance. Il n’y pense pas. Il n’a pas faim, les camps ont eu raison de son estomac. Quant à la bouillabaisse, Loi qui l’adorait, « je rêvais de venir à Marseille pour en manger », ne l’aime plus aujourd’hui. « Tout ce qu’on peut faire ici ça n’aura jamais le même goût que là-bas ». Jamais. Car ici, forcément pour Loi, tout prend le goût de l’exil.

Texte extrait du recueil J’ai deux amours, portraits d’exil, de Brigitte Martinez, Le cherche midi éditeur, 1998.

Source : France Terre d’Asile, Vendredi 04 Février 2011

 * * *

 Présentation de la quatrième de couverture :

Piqûres de moustiques, morsures de punaises et de sangsues, bastonnades et passages à tabac, interrogatoires ponctués de coups, cachot et carcans immobilisant mains et pieds, faim et froid à satiété : il a tout connu et tout souffert.

Il s’est même payé le luxe d’une exécution sommaire devant un véritable peloton, exécution (heureusement simulée par ses bourreaux) qu’il a racontée avec un réalisme à faire dresser les cheveux sur la tête.

Il est l’un des rares survivants du camp de mort – le macabre Cong Troi, ironiquement dénommé « Porte du Ciel », en somme un Auschwitz Viet Cong.

Duong Van Loi, à la fois victime et narrateur, est issu de la bourgeoisie saigonnaise. Le Viet Cong l’a emprisonné pour l’exemple pednant six ans dans huit camps de « rééducation » répartis dans tout le pays.

Tant de souffrances et d’humiliations injustifiées débouchent sur un exploit historique : Duong Van Loi a réussi à s’emprer d’un hélicoptère de l’armée et à s’enfuir en Chine, à la barbe de ses tortionnaires.

C’est un camouflet mémorable infigé aux communistes vietnamiens.

Réf. : Duong Van Loi, L’ hélicoptère de la liberté: de la Porte du Ciel (Cong Troi) à la Porte de Chine. Aventure vécue d’un prisonnier politique échappé du camp de la mort, Paris, Les éditions La Bruyère, 1990, 295 p. (trad. française par Émile Nguyen Van Hanh).

Truong Minh Hoa: The Dark Journey. Inside the Reeducation Camps of Viet Cong

[ndlr] L’ouvrage publié en 2010 par Truong Minh Hoa suscita une vive polémique sur Amazon et certains blogs politiques vietnamiens. Elle est alimentée par les articles virulents de cet auteur publiés sur le site Tin Paris. Au delà de ces querelles de personnes (qui révèlent de profondes fractures au sein de la communauté exilée), l’ouvrage très instructif sur le système concentrationnaire de la RSVN notamment au Sud est à signaler.

Book presentation: Two days after Saigon fell to the communists, Hoa Minh Truong walked along the path leading to the Tan Xuyen village council. He had been there many times during his army service but this time he was filled with fear. The extra-tight security included a young Viet Cong trooper who clutched a Russian-made AK-47 automatic rifle in his small hands. The gun was just one of many multi-death tools supplied in the name of revolution by the major communist powers to Vietnam’s communists. The trooper could not have been more than fifteen years old. In the yard next to the building Hoa noticed a huge heap of uniforms, helmets, boots, belts and ammunition. All of these items had been dumped there when the South Vietnam government surrendered and ordered its forces to disarm. Hoa was on the losing side of the war for reasons that, to him, remained unclear and unacceptable. Now, he and many thousands of others were being forced into so-called re-education camps. Held there without trial, these prisoners faced terrible conditions and cruel punishments. Many did not survive, but Hoa did. In this remarkable book, he offers his story to the world. Author Hoa Minh Truong is a well-published author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry in the Vietnamese language. He now lives in Perth, Australia with his wife and daughter.

Réf. : Truong Minh Hoa, The dark journey. Inside the reeducation camps of Vietcong, Durham CT, Eloquent Books, 2010, 246 p.

Aperçu Google Books

 

Review :

Sherree Broadhurst: This book should be compulsory reading (05/03/2012)

Well named, « The Dark Journey » is a story that needs to be told. It is a revealing breakdown of the political background to the rise of communism in Vietnam, and at the same time, it graphically describes the hardships endured by political prisoners caught in the crossfire of malicious communistic policies enforced by vindictive cadres. Nobody should have to suffer what Mr Truong and over 100,000 other political prisoners had to endure. His story evokes sympathy from the reader in direct proportion to the atrocities he experienced. It is a heavy book to read, but the effort is worth it for the revelations it contains, and the greater empathy awakened in the reader for political prisoners everywhere, for refugees, and for soldiers who fought in the Vietnamese and other Asian wars.

* * *

L’ouvrage a été auparavant publié en langue vietnamienne (une première fois en 1998 selon l’auteur et réédition ci-dessous en 2006, Australie)

Doan Van Toai : Le goulag vietnamien [1979]

Témoignage d’un ancien dirigeant étudiant de l’opposition au régime sud-vietnamien militant pour la paix et un Sud-Vietnam neutre et indépendant de Hanoï, deux fois emprisonné sous le régime de Nguyen Van Thieu :

« Après la chute de Saïgon en avril 1975, très vite, comme ses amis de la gauche, il se rend compte qu’il a été trompé. Ce sont les communistes du Nord qui s’emparent de tous les leviers de commande et qui imposent leurs méthodes. Par centaines de milliers, les militaires et fonctionnaires de l’ancien régime sont internés dans des camps de « rééducation » dont ils ne reviennent pas. Les prisons sont bondées de prisonniers politiques. Un soir de juin 1975, c’est le tour de Doan Van Toai. Il ne sera libéré qu’en novembre 1977, grâce au fait que sa femme est de nationalité française » (quatrième de couverture).

 

En annexe figure notamment un Appel à l’opinion mondiale approuvé par 40 de ses co-détenus parmi lesquels d’anciens membres importants du Parti Communiste vietnamien et d’anciens chefs militaires du Front National de Libération du Sud-Vietnam. L’auteur, né en 1945, Vice-Président de l’Union des Étudiants de Saigon en 1969 et 1970, devient, après la chute du régime Thieu, cadre au ministère des Finances. Son opposition à un supérieur, sur un plan purement professionnel, provoque son emprisonnement. Après sa libération, il quitte le Vietnam en mai 1978, pour Paris. En août 1989, alors qu’il promeut un projet de rapprochement entre exilés et gouvernement vietnamien et milite pour l’établissement de relations diplomatiques entre les États-Unis et le Vietnam, il est victime d’un attentat à Fresno (Californie) : il est sérieusement blessé par arme à feu par deux Asiatiques.

Réf. : Doan Van Toai, Le goulag vietnamien, Paris, Robert Laffont, 1979, 341 p. (récit recueilli par Michel Voirol)

* * *

The Vietnamese Gulag

Doan Van Toai spent time in jails in South Vietnam for antigovernment activities as a student leader, including a trip to the U.S. to deliver antiwar speeches at California universities. When the Communists took over in 1975, he went to work for the Revolutionary Finance Committee and observed at close hand the workings of the new regime. Then, without warning, he was thrown into prison, where for 28 months he suffered torture, starvation, disease and despair. Just as abruptly, he was released and allowed to leave the countrystill not knowing why he had been arrested. In this effective, absorbing memoir, the authors describe in detail the « insidious inhumanity » of the Communist government (« far worse than that of the foreign oppressors ») as it took control in Saigon. Toai, who now lives in California, accurately refers to himself as the first articulate messenger of the new order, and his message is directed at « the Vietnamese community abroad who had supported the revolution, and the foreign antiwar movements that had done so much to bring it about. » (From Publishers Weekly).

Every Communist party in power has established prison systems that mix torture, brutality, starvation, and the use of informants to crush real and imagined enemies. Toai, a Saigon student leader in the 1960s and early 1970s, spearheaded opposition to the pro-U.S. Thieu regime, but failed to cast his lot with the Communist revolutionaries. He was swept into a Communist prison in late 1975, and here tells the story of a would-be Third Force intellectual’s struggle to survive over the following two years. His vivid descriptions of prison life are interspersed with memoirs of his days as a student leader. The material is fascinating, but the narrative flashback technique is irritating. Political memoirs need not be written as if they were movie scripts. (by Steven I. Levine, Sch. of International Service, American Univ., Washington, D.C. – From Library Journal – © 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Réf. : Doan Van Toai (with David Chanoff), The Vietnamese Gulag, Simon & Schuster, 1986, 351 p.

* * *

Der vietnamesische Gulag

* * *

Un document rare de Doan Van Toai

Doan Van Toai, Dossier sur les prisons au Viêt Nam, Paris, R. Laffont, 1978. First Edition. Quarto (30cm); staple-bound, pictorial wrappers; [30]p.

Extremely scarce, hastily-assembled white paper on the status of political prisoners in Vietnam, published a year prior to Van Toai’s landmark work Le Goulag Vietnamien (« The Vietnamese Gulag »), which exposed the brutalities of the Communist regime following the United States’ exit from South Vietnam in 1975. Assembles a number of documents including a « Declaration of disinherited Vietnamese on Human Rights » (1977); « The Vietnamese Patriotic Prisoners’ Testament »; « Document on the penitentiary regime under the communist government of Vietnam » (1978), as well as press releases and news items taken from French and American media. Rare: OCLC locates only one copy in North America (Harvard Yenching Lib – catalogued under the English title « Documents on Prisons in Vietnam).

Source : Lorne Bair Rare Books

Re-education in Unliberated Vietnam: Loneliness, Suffering and Death – by Ginetta Sagan and Stephen Denney [1982]

Note: The following article was published in The Indochina Newsletter, a newsletter I edited at the time, October-November 1982. Much has changed in the 16 years since this article was written. So far as is known all of the former South Vietnam government officials and officers have been released from the re-education camps and many have been allowed to emigrate to the U.S. under a special program, called Humanitarian Operation. But many of former prisoners have experienced various problems resulting from their long term incarceration under difficult conditions. I hope this article might be of historical interest in understanding what these prisoners have experienced; and also in understanding conditions of imprisonment endured by those dissidents and others still detained in Vietnam. – Steve Denney [1998]

 

 

THE INDOCHINA NEWSLETTER

October-November 1982

 

Re-education in Unliberated Vietnam:

Loneliness, Suffering and Death

by Ginetta Sagan and Stephen Denney

(Editor’s Note: The following article is part of a preliminary draft of a report that will be issued later this year on human rights in Vietnam. The report is prepared for the Aurora Foundation, of which Ginetta Sagan is the Executive Director. Mrs. Sagan is a well-known human rights activist who interviewed over 200 former prisoners from Vietnam in preparation for this report. Details of the interviews will be brought out in fuller detail when the report is issued.)

Ten years ago, demonstrations were held around the world to protest political repression and imprisonment in South Vietnam. Seven years ago, Communist forces completed their conquest of South Vietnam. In June of 1975, the new regime ordered hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese to report to authorities for « re-education ». Many are still held in the camps today, but the world is mostly silent on their plight.

« Re-education » means different things to different people. To the Hanoi regime and its more vocal defenders abroad, re-education is seen as a very positive way to integrate the former enemy into the new society. It is, according to Communist leaders of Vietnam, an act of mercy, since those in the camps deserve the death penalty or life imprisonment.(1). The former prisoners, on the other hand, see re-education from quite a different perspective.

Re-education as it has been implemented in Vietnam is both a means of revenge and a sophisticated technique of repression and indoctrination which developed for several years in the North and was extended to the South following the 1975 Communist takeover. Yet it has largely failed in its effort to remold individuals because the ideology upon which it is based underestimates the power of the human spirit.

In preparation for this report, we have interviewed over 200 former prisoners from Vietnam’s re-education camps and examined all available articles from the Hanoi press and the Western press on the camps. The picture that emerges from our research is of hard-labor camps where hunger and disease predominate, where prisoners are harshly punished for minor infractions of camp rules, subjected to political indoctrination and forced to write long « confessions » denouncing themselves and others for alleged misdeeds in the past.

Estimates of those still detained in the camps range from 20,000 (government estimate) to 200,000.(2). We know of at least 80 reeducation camps in Vietnam (although some of them may have been consolidated since the prisoners we interviewed were released), and estimate that 100,000 are still in the camps. Those detained include military officers and government officials of the former regime, medical doctors, religious leaders, artists, poets, political leaders and schoolteachers, just to mention a few.(3)

In this article, we will begin with a brief description of the beginnings of the re-education system in North Vietnam, and then examine the re-education camps that have been instituted for the South Vietnamese since 1975. We will focus this report on the re-education camps in Vietnam, rather than the prisons, of which there are many, because we have much less information about the latter.

The Precedent in the North

According to Hoang Son, a spokesman for the Hanoi regime, the use of « re-education » camps began in North Vietnam in 1961, at a time, he says, when the United States and the South Vietnamese government of Ngo Dinh Diem had sabotaged the 1954 Geneva Accords, and were attempting to incite rebellion among « counter-revolutionary elements » in the North, most notably among former members of the pro-French army and government that existed during the colonial period. Son cited acts that threatened public security, such as « economic sabotage » and attempted assassinations of Party cadres. It was under these circumstances, said Son, that the DRV (« Democratic Republic of Vietnam ») enacted on 20 June 1961 Resolution 49-NQTVQH, with the task of concentrating for educational reform « counter-revolutionary elements who continue to be culpable of acts which threaten public security. » (4).

The method of implementing Resolution 49 was brought out in General Circular No. 121-CP, dated 8 September 1961, of the DRV Council of Ministers « regarding concentration for educational reform of elements dangerous to society. » The circular said Resolution 49 was to apply to « all obstinate counter-revolutionary elements who threaten public security » and « all professional scoundrels. » The « obstinate counterrevolutionary elements, » said the circular, included the following groups:

« 1) All old dangerous spies, guides or agents, all elements of the old puppet army or administration, former Rangers with many heinous crimes, who received clemency from the Government and much education but who still obstinately refuse to reform and who still have acts threatening public security.

« 2) All hard core members of the former opposing organizations and parties, who before committed many heinous crimes, who received clemency from the Government and much education but who still obstinately refuse to reform and who still have acts threatening public security;

« 3) Obstinate elements in the former exploiting class and all other counter-revolutionaries with deep feelings of vengeance towards our system always acting in opposition;

« 4) All dangerous counter-revolutionaries having completed a prison sentence but who refuse to reform. »

The circular also described different categories of « professional scoundrels, » including thieves, pimps and « recalcitrant hooligans, » all of whom have been « educationally reformed » many times, but « who refuse to mend their ways. »(5) It is evident, therefore, that « professional scoundrels » would mean common criminals, while « obstinate counter-revolutionary elements » would generally refer to political criminals, in the eyes of the government, and those imprisoned on the latter basis should therefore be regarded as political prisoners.

It is also evident, from the description of « professional scoundrels », that these do not include the most dangerous criminals, such as murderers. The system of re-education developed in North Vietnam since 1961, and in all of Vietnam since 1975, is not looked upon by Vietnamese Communist leaders as punishment, but rather as a form of rehabilitation, in which Vietnamese who do not conform to the government’s norms are deprived of citizenship rights until they are ready to return to society. As stated in Resolution 49, « All persons given educational reform shall not be considered as criminal offenders who have been sentenced to punishment but during the period of educational reform they shall not receive the benefits of the rights of the citizens. »

The system of re-education, according to the circular of the Council of Ministers, is to follow the line of « combining labor and political education, » and the regimen is to include eight hours of « productive labor » a day, two half-days set aside each week for « political study, » with cultural classes in the evenings. Those who violate camp discipline, said Resolution 49, depending on the seriousness of the violation, « shall be prosecuted before a people’s court or sanctioned administratively. »

esolution 49 set the period of « educational reform » at three years, but allowed for early releases for those who « genuinely reform, » while stating that those who « refuse to reform » will have their period of « educational reform » extended. According to Hoang Son, as of 1980 all those in North Vietnam who were interned in the early 1960’s for reeducation have since been released (but how many of the released have since been arrested?). On the other hand, he said, there are still « a small number of counter- revolutionary elements interned in virtue of Resolution 49 since the beginning of the early 70’s. »(6).

Vietnamese Communist leaders argue that the system of reeducation is a humane alternative for those who deserve educational reform but not punishment. From what we have discussed so far, however, the difference between re-education and imprisonment is not clear. The main difference, it seems, is that under re-education, the inmate is subjected to an indefinite sentence, with its length officially dependent upon how well the inmate submits to political indoctrination and « productive labor. » If the re-education camps are more humane than the prisons of Vietnam, then it is only in the truest sense of the « lesser of two evils. »

Re-education Since 1975

Article 11 of the 1973 Paris Agreements guaranteed the people of South Vietnam the following rights:

1) freedom from reprisal and discrimination against those who collaborated with one side or the other during the war, and

2) democratic freedoms, such as freedom of speech, press, assembly, belief, movement, organization, meeting, residence and freedom of political activities.

The Paris Agreements was proclaimed a victory for their side by the DRV and NLF (National Liberation Front), and its representatives pointed out that several portions of the treaty, including Article 11, were virtually identical to statements made in previous declarations of the NLF, including its founding statement in 1960. While presenting themselves as genuine civil libertarians (despite the police state in the North), while proclaiming that Article 11 was in perfect agreement with international law, including the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, DRV and NLF leaders severely criticized the South Vietnamese government for not respecting the human rights mentioned in Article 11.(7)

When the DRV and NLF launched the 1975 Spring Offensive, leading to the military takeover of South Vietnam, they claimed they did so in order to « enforce » the Paris Agreements. Yet upon taking control over the South, these new leaders did not set about to implement the rights mentioned in Article 11 but rather to permanently destroy them through the establishment of a « dictatorship of the proletariat. »

The hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese who have been imprisoned in re-education camps since 1975 basically fall into two categories:

(1) Those who have been detained in re-education camps since 1975 because they collaborated with the other side during the war, and

(2) Those who have been arrested in the years since 1975 for attempting to exercise such democratic freedoms as those mentioned in Article 11 of the 1973 Paris Agreements.

In other words, both categories of prisoners are held in direct violation of Article 11 of the 1973 Paris Agreements, an international treaty, and therefore of international law.

Registration and Arrest

In May of 1975, various groups of Vietnamese were ordered to register with the new regime that had established control over the South on April 30, 1975. Then, in June, the new regime issued orders instructing those who had registered in May to report to various places for re-education. Soldiers, noncommissioned officers and rank-and-file personnel of the former South Vietnamese government were to undergo three-day « reform study, » June 11-13, in which they would attend during the day and go home at night.(8)

The others ordered to report for « reform study » were not allowed to attend during the day and go home at night, but were instead to be confined to their sites of « reform study » until the course ended. Nevertheless, there was some hope, for the government gave the clear impression that reform study would last no more than a month for even the highest ranking officers and officials of the former government in South Vietnam, and ten days for lower-ranking officers and officials.

Thus, officers of the RVN (South Vietnam) armed forces from the rank of second lieutenant to captain, along with low-ranking police officers and intelligence cadres, were ordered to report to various sites, bringing along « enough paper, pens, clothes, mosquito nets, personal effects, food or money for use in ten days beginning from the day of gathering. »(9). High- ranking military and police officers of the RVN, from major to general, along with mid and high-ranking intelligence officers, members of the RVN executive, judicial and legislative branches, including all elected members of the House of Representatives and Senate, and, finally, leaders of « reactionary » (i.e. non-communist) political parties in South Vietnam, were ordered to report to various sites bringing enough « paper, pens, clothes, mosquito-nets, personal effects, food or money for a month beginning the first meeting. »(10)

Dr. Tran Xuan Ninh, a pediatrician who served as a medical officer in the armed forces, was among those who eagerly reported for re-education with ten days provisions, as prescribed by the government. Compared to what had been expected, the deal was too good, said Dr. Ninh – three days of re-education for RVN soldiers, ten days for low-ranking officers and officials, and one month for high-ranking RVN officers and officials. Many teachers reported for reeducation, assuming that they would have to undergo it sooner or later anyway. sick people also reported for re-education, assured by the government (falsely) that there would be medical doctors and facilities in the « schools » and the patients would be well treated.(11). Yet, as we shall see, very few, if any, of those ordered to report for ten days or thirty days were released within that period, and many still suffer in the camps seven-and-a-half years later, living under the most inhuman conditions.

The Hanoi regime and its apologists defend the reeducation camps by placing the « war criminal » label on the prisoners. A 1981 memorandum of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to Amnesty International claimed that all those in the re-education camps were guilty of acts of national treason as defined in Article 3 of the 30 October 1967 Law on Counter-revolutionary Crimes (enacted for the government of North Vietnam) which specifies punishment of 20 years to life imprisonment or the death penalty. But because the regime was so merciful, it was instead allowing the prisoners to experience « re-education without trial, » which « as applied in Vietnam is the most humanitarian system, and the most advantageous for law offenders … in accordance with the tradition of generosity and humanitarianism of the Vietnamese nation and the loftiest ideals of mankind. »(12)

Thus we see that hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese have been detained in re-education camps since 1975 not for any specific individual deeds, but for the act of collaborating with the other side during the war. This applies not only to top-ranking government officials and military officers of the former regime in South Vietnam, but also to more ordinary people such as medical doctors conscripted into the army (like Dr. Ninh), who were told that in treating sick and wounded soldiers, they had committed the crime of « strengthening the puppet forces. » College graduates, who attended officer’s training school, as required by law, and then became RVN reserve military officers were also sent to the re-education camps.Others sent to the camps in June of 1975 included nearly 400 writers, poets and journalists and over 2,000 religious leaders, including 194 Buddhist, Catholic and Protestant chaplains,and 516 Catholic priests and fathers.(13). Even leaders of the opposition to U.S.-supported regimes, such as the legislator Tran Van Tuyen (who died after three years imprisonment) were sent to the camps.

Furthermore, Amnesty International has appealed to Hanoi on behalf of many writers, scholars, priests, human rights activists and others who had no connection with the Thieu regime or previous South Vietnamese governments supported by the U.S., yet were arrested « months and even years after the end of military conflict in April 1975. » Amnesty International believes that « many were detained for the nonviolent expression of views critical of the present government. »‘(14). Under the present legal system in Vietnam, the government can, in political cases, detain an individual for up to twelve months for interrogation without formal charge or trial.(15). Some Vietnamese, such as leaders of the Unified Buddhist Church arrested in April 1977 have been held for interrogation for much longer than twelve months. Following this period, the prisoner may be (1) released with a formal warning, (2) sent to a re-education camp in accordance with the 1961 Resolution 49, or (3) brought to trial.

If brought to trial, the prisoner will be tried under laws originally enacted for the government of North Vietnam, which include penalties such as two to twelve years imprisonment for « propagandizing the enslavement policy and depraved culture of imperialism, » three to twelve years imprisonment for attempting to flee the country, and five to fifteen years imprisonment for « undermining the religious policy » of the government or « causing disunity among the various religions, between believers and non-believers and between believers and the administration. »(16). Bui Dinh Ha, a former RVN soldier, was brought to trial on the 25th of June 1981 for selling and loaning « reactionary and decadent books » and magazines in Saigon. He was sentenced to life imprisonment,in accordance with articles 4,7 and 8 of the Decree-law 267 promulgated on 15 June 1956 by the Council of Ministers of North Vietnam.(17)

From the discussion so far, it can be seen that the Hanoi government grants itself sweeping powers of arrest and imprisonment, and these powers are based not on any sense of justice, but on the desire to protect the security of a totalitarian government. It is from these circumstances that so many Vietnamese have fled the country over the last seven years.

Camp Conditions

We know of at least eighty re-education camps in northern and southern Vietnam, although it is possible that some of them may have been closed or consolidated since the prisoners we interviewed were released. Many of the camps are arranged in groups of three or four, with three to fifteen miles between each sub-camp. In the South, the camps are generally located in the remote jungle areas or near « safe » villages (pro-NLF before 1975). The high-ranking military officers and government officials of the former regime in South Vietnam, along with other Vietnamese considered high-security risks, were moved to camps in the North, some near the Chinese border, in 1976 and 1977, but they were moved away from the border with the outbreak of hostilities in 1978.

According to Amnesty International, conditions vary widely in thee camps, depending on their location, the composition of prisoners in the particular camps and the administrators of the camp, among other factors.(18). In its 1978 annual report on world conditions, Amnesty International said there were four categories of re-education camps in Vietnam, and described them in the following manner: « (a) detention centers in towns where the initial inquiries are held; (b) second category camps which hold both criminal and political prisoners, where detainees are encouraged to write accounts of their backgrounds; (c) third category camps where prisoners are held according to the nature of their alleged past offenses and (d) camps for former senior officers and members of intelligence services who have been judged to be `ac on’ (wicked), which are mostly situated north of Hanoi. »(19). With regard to the third category camps mentioned, this is apparently referring not to specific deeds committed in the past but rather to positions held. For example, low-ranking military officers would be in certain camps in the South, while high-ranking officers and officials would be in other camps, usually in the North.

Most of the former prisoners we have interviewed have been in between three and five different re-education camps. It is our belief that the movement of prisoners from one camp to another may be intended to delay Vietnamese from knowing the whereabouts of their relatives in the camps and to prevent prisoners from forming bonds of friendship with each other or with some of the guards. Some of the camps are administered by the military, some by the security police, and some by both.

In assessing conditions within the camps, there are basically three sources we can rely on: (1) official statements of the Hanoi government, (2) accounts by visitors to the camps and (3) accounts of the former prisoners. All three sources must be considered, but the value of the first two sources is limited. We have found translated articles from the official press to be very useful, especially with regard to rules that prisoners and their families are required to obey, and also with the attitude displayed by the government in these articles. But articles for foreign consumption tend to be highly self-serving and propagandistic.

When foreign delegations visit the camps, the prisoners are briefed on what to say to the visitors. In some cases, about half of the prisoners would be taken out to the fields or jungles to hide until the delegates departed. We know of at least one case where government agents pretended to be prisoners during a visit.(20). In another case, a prisoner was punished for reading a prepared statement to a visiting delegation rather than memorizing it.(21)

Nevertheless, such possibilities are not considered by most of these delegations, and this attitude is precisely why they were invited to tour the model camps. Since these visitors are ideologically predisposed to support the Hanoi regime, committed to improving relations between the regime and Western countries, they naturally try to portray the reeducation camps in the beat possible light — as if the typical camp were merely a training school rather than a prison. In defending the re-education camps, these visitors encourage the Hanoi regime to continue this policy and therefore bear a responsibility for the suffering of Vietnam’s political prisoners.

However, not all of the visitors to the re-education camps in Vietnam have been so myopic. Among the exceptions would be an Amnesty International delegation that visited Vietnam in December of 1979 and Dermot Kinlen, a distinguished Irish lawyer who led a delegation to Vietnam for nine days in April of 1980. The AI delegation, which visited three re-education camps and one prison in Vietnam, said it could not make a general assessment of camp conditions based on the visit: « Amnesty International is not professionally equipped to carry out prison visits in the manner that the International Committee of the Red Cross can. Thorough camp inspections necessitate lengthier visits to more camps and would require medical expertise among the inspection team. »(22)

Dermot Kinlen noted that the camps his delegation visited « were exactly the same camps as Amnesty had visited some months earlier and had also been visited by other groups. It is a pity that only three camps are available for inspection. » In all of the camps they visited, he said, most of the inmates « were not seen as they were absent at fieldwork. » Kinlen also said: « Aa a lawyer of thirty years experience and as a prison visitor and having made a study of penology I am satisfied that there is wholesale and widespread violation of human rights in Vietnam. The retention of an uncertain but large number of people without trial in detention and forcing them to do forced labor and subjecting them to indoctrination and depriving them of support and social contact with their families and friends, and providing inadequate medical facilities, and denying them any spiritual administration and allowing them no intellectual exercise other than the absorption of selected texts for the purpose of indoctrination are all negations of human rights. »(23)

Camp Routine

While it is true that conditions vary widely in the camps, we have also found a depressing quality of similarity with regard to certain features of the re-education camps, which appear to be universal. These include an emphasis on political indoctrination and mandatory « confessions » during the early stages of re-education, heavy and often dangerous physical labor, and widespread disease due to a severe lack of food and medical care. The variations occur mainly with regard to the various forms of physical mistreatment inflicted on the prisoners, but even here there are certain features widely practiced,such aa placing recalcitrant prisoners in « connex » boxes, metal air freight containers left behind by the United States, or in dark cella underground.

During the early phase of re-education, lasting from a few week. to a few months, inmates were subjected to intensive political indoctrination. Subjects studied included the exploitation by « American imperialism » of workers in other countries, the glory of labor, the inevitable victory of Vietnam, led by the Communist Party, over the U.S., and the generosity of the new government toward the « rebels » (those who fought on the other aide during the war). There were a total of nine courses, of variable length. Each course would begin with lectures from the political cadres, lasting one or two days, and following this the inmates would divide into closely supervised groups where they would discuss the lesson over the next five to seven days and write essays summarizing each lesson. According to Ngo Trung Trong, a former inmate in a camp for low-ranking RVN officers, the discussions would last four hours in the morning and four hours in the afternoon. In the afternoon sessions, the prisoners were required to repeat the contents of the lectures. (24)

The nine-course political indoctrination session generally lasted about two months, in the summer of 1975. Political indoctrination classes have continued since then, but with much less emphasis. A former inmate of Xuyen Moc camp in southern Vietnam reports that the subsequent indoctrination has consisted mainly of dividing prisoners into small groups in the evenings to review their work through mutual criticism and self- criticism – but this conversation never continues beyond the guards’ presence.(25)

Another feature emphasized during the early stage of reeducation, but continued throughout one’s imprisonment, is confession of one’s alleged misdeeds in the past. In a March 1981 memorandum to Amnesty International, the Hanoi government said « in all cases of people being sent to re-education camps, the competent Vietnamese authorities have established files recording the criminal acts committed by the people concerned. »(26) These files were established through the mandatory confessions and denunciation of others.

Such « confessions » provide the government with a retroactive justification of its decision to imprison hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese in the camps. It can point out, as it did to Amnesty International, that the prisoners themselves had confessed to committing crimes. Of course, such reasoning is unlikely to convince many people outside of the leadership of the Vietnamese Communist Party, but in any case the situation provides much opportunity for false confessions by the prisoners in order to satisfy their captors, as well as more ill-treatment of the prisoners in order to produce the « confessions ».

All prisoners in the camps are required to write confessions, no matter how trivial their alleged crimes might be. Mail clerks, for example, were told that they were guilty of aiding the « puppet war machinery » through circulating the mail, while religious chaplains were found guilty of providing spiritual comfort and encouragement to the enemy troops.(27) A reserve military officer who taught Vietnamese literature in high school was told that he had « misled a whole generation of innocent children. »(28)

Besides confessing such « crimes », prisoners had to write their autobiography and disclose their financial assets as described by a former prisoner: « You had to write the story of your life, including your father, grandfather and children, describing their fortunes, how everyone died, what they owned, including television, radio, camera. New ones had to be written twice each month, both in re-education and in prison. If they found you had left something out that you had included earlier, you were in trouble. You would have to write new confessions many times each day. Each confession was about 20 pages handwritten. »(29) Following the written confessions were the public confessions in which prisoners would confess their « crimes » before the camp authorities and other prisoners. Prisoners were encouraged to criticize each other’s confessions, said a former prisoner, which was « very effective in getting us to hate each other. » The more « crimes » a prisoner confessed, the more he is praised as « progressive » by camp authorities.

The incessant demand for confessions places much pressure on the prisoners, leading to insanity in some cases. A former prisoner who had previously been a medical doctor said he saw « many cases — screaming, yelling people. » Despite his medical experience, he was not allowed to treat them.(30)

The purpose of these confessions has not only been to produce a sense of guilt in the prisoners and to establish files on them, but also to get the prisoners to denounce other former soldiers and government officials who had not yet reported for re- education. The government has been very concerned about the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese who have not yet reported.

« Labor is Glory »

Much emphasis in the re-education camps is placed on « productive labor. » Such labor was described by SRV spokesman Hoang Son as « absolutely necessary » for re-education because « under the former regime, they (the prisoners) represented the upper strata of society and got rich under US patronage. They could but scorn the working people. Mow the former social order has been turned upside down, and after they have finished their stay in camps they have to earn their living by their own labour and live in a society where work is held in honor. »(31) Thus, in the eyes of the Vietnamese rulers, « productive labor » is a necessary aspect in the overturning of the social order. Yet in examining the conditions under which this labor takes place, it seems that there is also an element of revenge.

The labor is mostly hard physical work, some of it very dangerous, such as mine field sweeping. No equipment is provided for this extremely risky work, and as a result, many prisoners have been killed or wounded in mine field explosions. Other work includes cutting trees, planting corn and root crops, clearing the jungle, digging wells, latrines and garbage pits, and constructing barracks within the camp and fences around it. The inmates are generally organized into platoons and work units, where they are forced to compete with each other for better records and work achievements. This has pushed inmates to exhaustion and nervousness a former prisoners said: « Each person and group had to strive to surpass or at least fulfill the norms set by camp authorities, or they would be classified as `lazy’ and ordered to do ‘compensation work’ on Sundays. »(32) Other prisoners who missed their quota have been shackled and placed in solitary confinement cells.(33)

The duration of the work has generally been eight hours a day, six days a week, which might not seem so bad, except the work is done in the hot tropical sun, by prisoners who are poorly nourished and receive little or no medical care. The poor health, combined with hard work, mandatory confessions and political indoctrination, makes life very difficult for prisoners in Vietnam, and has contributed to a high death rate in the camps.

Food and Medical Supplies

« My ideal, my glory, my dream, my love, All these are remote and abstract things! I confess to you that we, hungry prisoners, Only dream of being as well fed as animals. Why? Our dream to be Man, alas, Has ceased to be a possibility; That dream has led us to prison. Now, only four things on the earth are meaningful: Rice, manioc roots, potatoes and corn. These four things bind us, harass us, torture us, They never leave us in peace. »(34)

It was acknowledged by the government spokesman Hoang Son in his 1980 essay that while poverty is a serious problem throughout the country, « Neither food nor housing conditions can be considered as satisfactory in some of the camps. » However, Son maintains that such conditions are « equally shared by the inmates and their guards. »(35). Former prisoners would use stronger language in describing the lack of food in the camps, and deny that there is such equal sharing. Former prisoners believe that the government deliberately keeps the prisoners on low rations in order to weaken their ability to unite and resist camp policies, so all they think about will be the next meal.(36)

Since the inmates were originally told in 1975 to bring enough food for up to 30 days, food supplies were generally adequate for the first few weeks, but have gradually deteriorated since that time. Prisoners interviewed in 1976 and 1977 reported that the typical diet was only one or two bowls of rice a day with no meat and few vegetables.(37) Since then, the diet has become even worse, shifting from rice to corn and root crops – especially common in the diet now is manioc, a starchy root crop which has little nutritive value other than filling one’s stomach. Besides salt and water, the total amount of food for each prisoner is about 400 to 500 grams a day, and much of it is spoiled. There is virtually no protein in the diet, except on rare occasions, perhaps two or three times a year on holidays such as Ho Chi Minh’s birthday, the Lunar New Year or Independence day, when the diet is supplemented by a few tiny morsels of meat.(38) Under such conditions, prisoners are constantly preoccupied with food, as described in a letter smuggled out of the country:

« In my forced labor camp in the highland the event that dominates everything is the experience of hunger. We are hungry permanently. All we can think about, day and night, is eating! During the first days of the harvest season we are allowed almost our fill of corn and manioc roots. But that lasts only a few days. During these days there are shining eyes and smiles. But very soon the camp administration shuts up the eating. The shining eyes and smiles disappear. We feel hungry again, so hungry that we think of nothing else. Many of us catch lizards to eat, knowing they provide protein. Very soon the lizards of the whole area were exterminated. I know of a prisoner who one night caught a millepede on the ceiling, hid it under the mat, and in the morning roasted it on a fire and ate it. He said it was as good as roast shrimp. There are those who are very clever to invent devices to catch mice and birds; they will roast and eat them while others watch with envy. Others catch grasshoppers and crickets. Whenever someone catches a snake, that is a feast. In our conversation, we only talk about eating, and how to find things to eat. When we do not talk about eating, we silently think about eating. As soon as we finish lunch, we begin to imagine the supper awaiting us when we return from the field: The food put into the mouth is like one breath of air blown into a vast empty house. What little food is given is chewed very slowly.

« Still, it makes no difference — we feel even more hungry after eating. Even in our sleep, our dreams are haunted by food. There are those who chew noisily in their dreams…Such food as mice, rats, birds, snakes, grasshoppers, must be caught and eaten secretly. It is forbidden, and if the camp guards learn about it, the prisoners will be punished. »(39)

The lack of food has caused severe malnutrition for many prisoners and weakened their resistance to various diseases. Most common among the diseases are malaria, beriberi and dysentery.(40) Tuberculosis is also widespread in some of the camps. Medical supplies are generally nonexistent in the camps and medical care is very inadequate, usually limited to a poorly trained medic and perhaps a few prisoners who had formerly been medical doctors. The result is a high death rate from diseases. A prisoner in Dam Duong camp of Ha Nam Ninh province, for example, witnessed twenty deaths, including three cases of intestinal hemorrhage in which prisoners died because there was no plasma.(41) In Tun Hoa camp, about thirty prisoners (out of a camp population of 5,000) died of illness in the last three or four months of 1978.(42). Some seriously ill prisoners have been allowed to go to hospitals outside the camp or return to their families. But others have not, and many have died in the camps, without their families even being notified. It is official government policy, as stated in the 1976 PRG decree No. 02/CS-76 that terminally ill prisoners will be allowed to return to their families. Yet Amnesty International has brought to Hanoi’s attention cases of such prisoners not allowed to return. One such prisoner was Truong Van Truoc, who « died in August 1980 of stomach cancer in a detention camp, 90A TD 63/TC, Doi 11, Thanh Hoa. » Another prisoner AI mentioned was the writer Ho Huu Tuong, who was sick for several months, but not transferred to a hospital until June 2, 1980: « He died only three weeks later, just after he was finally given permission to return to his family. »(43)

Rules and Punishment

In the appendix of his book Enfer Rouge, Mon Amour, Lucien Trong, who was imprisoned in a camp of low-ranking officers, published a list of rules which he said were posted by the authorities in his camp. Other former prisoners have told us the same rules exist in other camps. The authorities seek to maintain strict control over the thoughts of the prisoners, and to this end forbid prisoners from keeping and reading books or magazines of the former regime, reminiscing in conversation about « imperialism and the puppet south, » singing old love songs of the former regime, discussing political questions (outside authorized discussions), harboring « reactionary » thoughts or possessing « superstitious » beliefs. It is also forbidden to be impolite to the cadres of the camp, and this rule has been abused to the point where the slightest indication of a lack of reverence to the cadres has been interpreted as rudeness and therefore harshly punished.

Violations of these and other rules lead to various forms of punishment, including being tied up in contorted positions, shackled in connex boxes or dark cells, forced to work extra hours or reduced food rations. Many prisoners have been beaten, some to death, or subjected to very harsh forms of punishment due to the cruelty of certain camp officials and guards. Some have been executed, especially for attempting to escape. Some of the most brutal treatment occurs in camps in southern Vietnam around the Mekong delta, where guards apparently have no fear of any reprimand for mistreating the prisoners.(44)

The connex boxes vary in size, but are generally large enough to accommodate a few prisoners crowded together. Some of the containers are made of wood, some of metal. The metal containers can become unbearable in the hot ,sun, prisoners can pass out or die under such circumstances.(45)

Solitary confinement cells are also common in the camps, such as the Gia Ray camp, where prisoners can receive ten days solitary for minor infractions, fifteen for making « reactionary statements » and one year (or the death penalty) for attempting to escape the camp. Prisoners in these daring cells are forced to eat and sleep on the spot, and carry out bodily functions while shackled to the wall.(46) Prisoners in such cells in Ham Tam camp (Thuan Hai province) lie on the floor with their legs raised and feet locked in wooden stocks.(47) In a camp in Nghe Tinh, Than Chuong district of Nghe Tinh province, some prisoners in the dark cells had their hands and feet tied so tightly that they became afflicted with gangrene and lost their hands or feet or died.(48)

Other forms of confinement include tiger cage cells and abandoned wells. A prisoner in Long Khanh camp (a southern camp for low-ran-ding officers) was put in such a well for five days because he sang « Silent Night » on Christmas Eve, 1975.(49) In some camps, such as Ben Gia, ditches, called « living graves » by the prisoners, are dug around the outer perimeter, away from the main camp, but visible from the watchtower. Prisoners confined to these ditches in Ben Gia were fed once daily–a bowl of rice or sorghum and water.(50)

Other forms of torture were reported by a former prisoner of Dam Duong camp, composed of around 1,000 prisoners, with 200 Montagnards (tribal highlanders):

1. The Honda : with the prisoner’s hands and feet tied together, he is hung and swung to and fro while beaten. Nausea and vomiting often follow.

2. The Auto : the prisoner is tied « butterfly » style with thumbs tied together behind the back; one arm over the shoulder and the other pulled around the trunk of the body. In another version of this the prisoner’s outstretched legs are tied by the toes to the two middle fingers of the hands of the outstretched arms. A prisoner could be kept in such positions for weeks or even months.

3. The Airplane : the prisoner is tied either standing to a pole, lying down, or sitting on cement for various periods, depending on the prisoner’s « mistakes » — one week, sometimes longer, sometimes a few days.

As one would expect, prisoners released after such treatment are often unable to walk.(51)

A case where the airplane method was applied was described by Nguyen Ngoc Ngan in his book, The Will of Heaven . This case occurred in May of 1977 at Bu Gia Map camp, located in a malarial jungle area near the Cambodian border. Tru, a prisoner, became angry when he saw a guard using the flag of the former government of South Vietnam as a dustcloth. He took the flag out of the guard’s hand and yelled at him for desecrating it. The next day, Tru was brought before the prisoners in a « people’s court, » but instead of confessing his « crime », Tru remained unrepentant, praising the flag and criticizing the communists. The out- raged camp commander sentenced Tru to be tied to a wooden column outdoors, standing upright for three months. He was gagged and his hands were tied behind the back and around the post, his wrists lashed tightly with telephone wire. The wire cut through his flesh by the end of the first day. Forced to stand bareheaded all day long in the hot sun and the unusually cool nights of the highlands, plagued by mosquitos, Tru contacted malaria by the second week and became seriously ill. After a month, Tru was untied and carried to meet the camp commander’s superior who was visiting the camp that day, and was given one more chance to repent. But Tru remained unrepentant and was taken out of the camp the next day.(52)

It has been acknowledged by Hanoi that violence has in fact been directed against the prisoners, although it maintains that these are isolated cases and not indicative of general camp policy.(53) Former prisoners, on the other hand, report frequent beatings for minor infractions, such as missing work because of illness. In some cases, prisoners have been beaten to death, such as Colonel Pham Ba Ham. Accused of helping an escape attempt of other prisoners, he was bludgeoned before the other prisoners and left without any medical treatment until he died.(54) Another prisoner, a former noncommissioned RVN officer, insulted leaders of the Vietnamese Communist Party while delirious with fever and was beaten to death with chains.(55)

Prisoners have been executed, most commonly for attempting to escape the camps. In some cases, the caught prisoners are tried by « People’s Courts » held before the other prisoners and then killed.(56)

Suicides appear to be fairly common in the camps. In one camp, a pharmacist who ended a letter to his wife asking her to pray for his return was brought before the other prisoners and berated for relying upon God for his release. For the next several nights he was interrogated by camp authorities, until he committed suicide. His family was not notified of his death.(57)

The Prisoners and Their Families

Family visits are important not only because of the personal need for prisoners and their loved ones to have contact with each other, but also because the families can bring food to their relatives in some of the camps. It has been reported that the prisoners in these camps could not survive without such food.(58) However, the government does not allow many visits. As of 1980, official regulations stated that prisoners in the camps could be visited by their immediate family once every three months.(59). The duration of the visits are not long, reported by former prisoners to last from 15 to 30 minutes.(60) Moreover, family visits can be suspended for prisoners who break rules: and it has also been said that only families who have proven their loyalty to the regime are allowed visiting privileges.(61) In its 1980 memorandum to the Hanoi government, Amnesty International expressed its concern that visiting privileges are dependent on the prisoner’s conduct and « progress in re-education, » and stated its belief that « a prisoner’s rights to visits and correspondence should be inviolable and in no way conditional, except in cases of serious violations of camp discipline and then only for a limited period. »(62) AI also said that if « visits by family or a lawyer are not allowed, an officer may feel secure when ill- treating a prisoner, knowing that no one concerned about the prisoner’s interests will see him or her soon and notice any signs of physical or mental deterioration. (63)

The families of the prisoners are regarded as responsible for the acts of the prisoners before 1975. According to the Hanoi spokesman Hoang Son, 1.3 million Vietnamese were part of the military or administrative apparatus of South Vietnam, members of « so-called » political parties or of mass organizations which Son says were American-controlled. On the basis of this estimate, and on the estimate that there are an average of five members to each Vietnamese family, Son concluded that there were 6.5 million Vietnamese who were « compromised » by ties with the non- communist regime in South Vietnam.(64) As a result of such logic, not only the prisoners, but also their families, suffer discrimination in access to health care, employment and higher education.(65)

As a way of redeeming their relatives for their past activities, families of Vietnamese ordered to report to the re- education camps were told in 1975 that they should « urge their dear ones to devote themselves to reform study. » (66). In order to attain the release of their imprisoned relatives, to demonstrate that they are good families, they have been pressured to move to the new economic zones.(67) Some families of the prisoners have had their food ration cards revoked until agreeing to move to these areas.(68)

The new economic zones are theoretically for a good purpose, to increase food production, but actually are more like concentration camps located in malarial jungle areas where the land is very difficult to cultivate. Conditions in these areas are therefore not so different from life in the re- education camps–living under harsh conditions and in isolated areas. Thus, thousands of Vietnamese have fled these areas and returned to the cities. In doing so, they become non-persons in the eyes of the state, ineligible for food rations, an approved job, or housing. Living in makeshift shelters on the streets of Saigon alone are as many as 15,000 to 20,000 such people, according to a reporter who visited the country in 1980.(69)

Besides being pressured to move to the new economic zones, families of the prisoners have also been pressured to give up all their possessions to the state and work extra hours in order to demonstrate that they are good families so that their relatives can be released.(70)

Release Policy

The policy of releasing prisoners from the re-education camps of Vietnam has been a story of broken promises. The existence of the camps in is itself a broken promise because it violates Article 11 of the 1973 Paris Agreements, which specifically prohibits such imprisonment. Another broken promise, as we have already noted, occurred when the Vietnamese who had reported for re-education in June of 1975 were not released within 30 days, as had been clearly implied by the new regime when it issued the order to report. In June of 1976, the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam, in one of its last policy announcements before the official reunification of Vietnam, stated that those in the camps would either be tried or released after three years imprisonment. But this promise was also broken.

Over one million Vietnamese have been re-educated and returned to society since 1975, according to the Hanoi government. However, this would seem to contradict another official statement from Hanoi which said that 40,000 is the total number of Vietnamese who have gone through the reeducation camps since 1975, and that 26,000 remained in the camps as of 1980.(71) So if we are to take these figures seriously, and try to reconcile them with-each other, then we might assume that the one million figure includes those who attended « short-term, on-the-spot » re- education, in which Vietnamese would come to the « classes » during the day and go home at night, while the 40,000 figure refers to those who underwent long-term re-education, meaning internment in the camps. With regard to the latter, we must note that the estimates of foreign observers of those detained in the camps since 1975 are much higher, ranging up to 300,000.(72) Our own estimate is that 100,000 Vietnamese are still in the camps. It would be more difficult for us to estimate the total number detained in the camps since 1975, and we will not attempt to estimate the number of dissidents detained in the many prisons of Vietnam.

From accounts in the official press of Vietnam, it appears that the large-scale release of prisoners began in the last few months of 1975. On Jan. 6, 1976 the government newspaper Giai Phong (published in Saigon) announced the release of hundreds of prisoners on the previous day, and added: « That was the 21st time the Management-Training Section of the Military Management Committee has allowed people who make progress in reform study to return to their families. » Assuming that hundreds of prisoners were released on each occasion, one might very roughly estimate from this statement that somewhere between 4,000 and 10,000 prisoners had been released from the camps by the end of 1975.

Articles that appeared in Saigon Giai Phong (Liberated Saigon) of Ho Chi Minh City on August 24, Sept. 7,20,24 and 30, and Dec. 11 and 25, 1975, discussed categories of prisoners that could be released at that time. The August 24 SGP article said certain groups of prisoners were eligible for release. These included prisoners with close relatives (parents, spouse, siblings) who were revolutionary cadres or had « merit toward the revolution in the locality, » and scientific and technical specialists who did not « commit crimes » or participate in non-communist political parties or organizations. The Sept. 7 SGP article added another category of prisoners eligible for release: old people, people seriously ill and pregnant women. However, as with the other categories, it stressed that « first and foremost » prisoners must have shown « progress » in re-education and repentance over « past mistakes » and also must not have been engaged in « criminal acts » against the revolution before 1975. (73) We can see from such vague wording that there were no guarantees for any category of prisoners being released.

The most significant policy announcement on the re-education camps was broadcast by Saigon Domestic Service on June 9, 1976. This is the May 25 PRGRSV statement No. 02/CS-76, signed by President Huynh Tan Phat. According to this broadcast, 95% of those « attending reform courses had their cases examined and their citizen’s rights restored » in order that they could vote in the April elections. This figure led some foreign observers to estimate that 50,000 remained in the camps, according to official figures, since the government had said that over one million had been re-educated.

The policy announced that those still in the camps would stay there for three years, but could be released earlier if they make « real progress, confess their crimes and score merits. » It also said that some Vietnamese would be brought to trial, including those who deserted the NLF during the war, those who owed « many blood debts » to the people and those who fled to « foreign countries with their U.S. masters. »(74)

As far as we know, no such trials were held, or at least they were not publicized. Nor were prisoners in the camps released after three years. The excuses offered for the continued detention beyond the three years are increased security tensions with China and the 1961 Resolution 49, which Hanoi argues supersedes the 1976 PRG decree and which allows for detention in the camps beyond three years. According to Hoang Son, Resolution 49 allows for a new three year period to be established for those in the camps who did not sufficiently reform during the first three years.(75) Since it is now over seven years since many of the prisoners were first arrested, we can presume that such prisoners are in their third three- year period. In the words of Amnesty International, « Grounds for the continued detention of these people, therefore, seems to have shifted from past misdeeds and present behavior to the external situation, namely national security. These prisoners are therefore being held in what is usually termed administrative detention without trial. » The result of such prolonged, indefinite detention is severe hardship for the prisoners and their families, said Amnesty International.(76)

Since there is no clear criteria for releasing the inmates from the camps, bribery and family connections with high-ranking officials are more likely to speed up release than the prisoner’s behavior. Released prisoners are put under probation and surveillance for six months to one year, and during this time they have no official status, no exit visas, no access to government food rations and no right to send their children to school.(77). If the progress of the former prisoners is judged unsatisfactory during this period, they may be fired from their jobs, put under surveillance for another six months to a year, or sent back to the re-education camps.(78) Approximately 60% of those released have been re-arrested, according to a high-ranking Vietnamese official.(79)

Amnesty International has appealed to Hanoi to abolish Resolution 49 and the system of re-education camps in Vietnam. We agree. Genuine peace and reconciliation in Vietnam cannot be brought about through forcing the people to praise the regime or « confess » their past opposition to the Communist side. On the contrary, as stated in 1973 by NLF leader Nguyen Van Hieu (presently Minister of Culture in Vietnam), « ..democratic freedoms are man’s fundamental rights, ardent aspirations of all social strata, of all political and religious forces in South Vietnam. Only a full and total exercise of democratic liberties can serve as a basis for the realization of national reconciliation and concord, the settlement of the internal affairs of South Viet Nam, and the exercise of the South Vietnamese people’s right to self-determination. » (80)

We call upon the Vietnamese rulers to make these words a reality in Vietnam today.

Footnotes

1. March 1981 written reply of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) to Amnesty International, page 42 of Amnesty International Report on Mission to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, June 1981.

2. estimate mentioned by Della Denman in the Far Eastern Economic Review, August 6, 1982.

3. see annual reports issued by Amnesty International.

4. p.86, Which Human Rights?, published in Hanoi, 1980.

5. The translated text of this document was published in the appendix of a report on human rights in Vietnam prepared in 1978 by Stephen Young for the New York Bar Association.

6. ibid.

7. discussed in detail in issue 1 (Oct. 79) of this newsletter.

8. 6/10/75 Saigon-Gia Dinh Military Management Communique, broadcast by Saigon Domestic Service on June, translated by the Daily Report (Asia-Pacific) of Broadcasting Information Service (hereafter as FBIS) on June 11, 1975.

9. 6/20/75 Saigon-Gia Dinh Military Management Communique, translated by FBIS, 6/23/75.

10. 6/11/75 Saigon-Gia Dinh Military Management translated by FBIS, 6/12/75.

11. from speech of Dr. Ninh at Amnesty International conference, published in Amnesty Action (of AIUSA), Sept. 82.

12. March 1981 written reply of SRV to AI, p. 42 of Amnesty International Report on Mission to Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

13. Nguc Tu Lao Dong Vietnam, Paris 1977, as cited by Stephen Young in his 1978 report to New York Bar.

14. p.272, Amnesty International Report 1981.

15. p. 9, AI Report on Mission to SRV.

16. Law on Counter-Revolutionary Crimes, Articles 9,12,15 Originally enacted by the government of North Vietnam in 1967, this code became law for all of Vietnam after the 1976 unification and was broadcast by Hanoi Domestic Service on Oct. 16, 1979 (translated text reprinted in Issue 21 of this newsletter).

17. The trial of Bui Dinh Ha was reported in the government newspaper Saigon Giai Phong on June 11, 25 and 26, 1981 and by a Hanoi radio broadcast on June 26. 1981. The reports were translated by the Vietnam Report of the Joint Publications Research Service (hereafter referred to as JPRS) on Sept. 4 and 10, 1981 and by the FBIS, July 10, 1981.

18. p. 196 Amnesty International Annual Report 1978.

19. ibid.

20. confidential interviews with former prisoners (the identities of all the prisoners we interviewed for this report are kept confidential).

21. Newsweek , June 26, 1978.

22. p.13, AI Report on Mission to SRV.

23. pp. 4 and 6, Report on the Re-education Camps and Prisons in Vietnam, by Dermot Kinlen, June 1981.

24. The indoctrination courses were described by former prisoner Ngo Trung Trong in his unpublished manuscript, The Vietnam Re-education Camp . Also described by former prisoner Nguyen Ngoc Ngan in his book The Will of Heaven (Dutton, 1982), p 123, and by the Washington Post , 4/30/78, New York Times , 8/29/78 and by prisoners we have interviewed.

25. New York Times, 8/14/81.

26. p. 42, Report of AI Mission to SRV.

27. Washington Post.4/30/78.

28. p.112, The Will of Heaven.

29. « They Were Us, Were We Vietnamese, » by Theodore Jacqueney, Worldview April 1977.

30. ibid.

31. p.97, « Re-education Camps and Human Rights » by Hoang Son, Which Human Rights?, Hanoi 1981.

32. Washington Post, April 30, 1978.

33. confidential interview.

34. « Tu Chuong Tren Doi, » poem by Nguyen Chi Thien, translated by Nguyen Huu Hieu.

35. p. 99, Which Human Rights?

36. see, for example, « A Form of Torture: Food Deprivation, » by Cao Ngoc Phuong of the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation in Paris. This article was published in Issue 24 of this newsletter. Ms. Phuong believes the policy of food deprivation for prisoners began as early as 1956 in North Vietnam.

37. New York Times , 11/11/76 and 2/12/77 Worldview April 1977; Christian Science Monitor, 5/4/77.

38. confidential interviews.

39. « A Form of Torture: Food Deprivation, » by Cao Ngoc Phuong.

40. Washington Post , 4/30/78; also based on confidential interviews.

41. confidential interviews.

42. ibid.

43. p. 38, Report of AI Mission to SRV.

44. confidential interviews.

45. confidential interviews.

46. confidential interviews.

47. confidential interviews.

48. confidential interviews.

49. pp. 137-142, The Will of Heaven.

50. confidential interviews.

51. confidential interviews.

52. pp. 240-246, The Will of Heaven.

53. p. 98, Which Human Rights? (Hanoi). It was also acknowledged by Hoang Nguyen, editor of the Hanoi magazine Vietnam Courier, that prisoners have been tortured, but likewise claimed that it was not official policy to do so.(from Dermot Kinlen’s June 1981 report).

54. The Times, 10/25/78.

55. from speech of Dr. Ninh, Amnesty Action, 9/82.

56. see for example of such a trial pp. 116-118 in The Will of Heaven.

57. from speech of Dr. Ninh, Amnesty Action, 9/82.

58. New York Times, 8/14/81.

59. p. 14, Report of AI Mission to SRV.

60. The Oregonian, 12/6/77; The New York Times 8/14/81.

61. The Oregonian, 12/6/77.

62. p. 14, Report of AI Mission to SRV.

63. Ibid.

64. p. 81, Which Human Rights?

65. p. 716, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices , U.S. State Department Report to Congress, Feb. 2, 1981.

66. Giai Phong, 6/11/75, translated by FBIS, 6/16/75.

67. Saigon Giai Phong , June 16 & 18, 1975, translated by JPRS: 67909.

68. New York Times, 2/12/77.

69. The Asian Wall Street Journal Weekly , Hong Kong, 6/16/80 and 6/23/80.

70. confidential interviews.

71. figure given to Amnesty International in Dec. also to Dermot Kinlen in April 1980 visit

72. The Amnesty International Report 1979 s belief that the number of political prisoners was « far higher » than the then official figure of 50,000, and mentioned estimates by foreign « 50,000 to 80,000 » (Le Monde, 4/19/78), 150,000 (Reuter from Bien Hoa), « 150,000 to 200,000 » Washington Post , 12/20/78) and « 300,000 France Presse, from Hanoi, 2/12/78).

73. The 8/24/75 and 9/7/75 articles were both translated by the Vietnam Report of the Joint Publications Research Service, JPRS:66059 and JPRS: 66446 respectively.

74. The text of the 1976 PRG policy announcement was translated by FBIS, June 10. 1976.

75. p. 90, Which Human Rights?

76. AI Report on Mission to SRV June 1981.

77. Far Eastern Economic Review, August 6. 1982.

78. Article 5 of the May 25 PRGSV statement No. 02/CS-76.

79. The official was Hoang Bich Son, Acting Foreign Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, whose remarks were reported by Dermot Kinlen in his June 1981 report.

80. p. 128, The Paris Agreement on Vietnam Fundamental Juridical Problems , published in Hanoi, 1973.

Source : OCF Berkeley

Paul Vy Trân : Prisonnier politique au Viêt-Nam [1990]

Ce livre est le premier témoignage sur les camps de concentration pour la rééducation au Nord Viêt-Nam écrit par un intellectuel nationaliste vietnamien qui y a passé 51 mois. Bien qu’il soit toujours difficile de parler d’impartialité quand on est soi-même acteur d’un tel drame, ce qui fait la valeur unique du témoignage du Dr P.V. Trân c’est sa grande objectivité. Il la doit certainement à sa double formation de scientifique et de médecin qui lui permet de porter sur le système carcéral communiste, un regard dépourvu de haine.

P.V. Trân né en 1920, entra dans la Résistance vietnamienne avec le Viêt-Minh dès la fin  de ses études médicales et y resta, malgré sa foi catholique, de 1946 à 1949, avant de quitter son pays pour venir en France quand les communistes eurent annexé toute la Résistance.

Chercheur au CNRS il obtint successivement à Paris son Doctorat ès Sciences naturelles et l’Agrégation de Médecine. Il rentra alors à Saigon pour y enseigner la physiologie. Il devint secrétaire d’Etat à la Santé de 1956 à 1961, puis Directeur de la Recherche Scientifique du Viêt-Nam [Sud] de 1961 à 1965. Envoyé en camp de rééducation en 1975, il y resta jusqu’en 1979. Il ne fut autorisé à rejoindre sa famille à Paris qu’en 1989. (présentation de la quatrième de couverture)

Réf. : Tran, P.V. , Prisonnier politique au Viêt-Nam, 1975-1979, Paris : L’Harmattan, Mémoires asiatiques, 1990, 202 p.

 

Aperçu sur Google Books