Andre Sauvageot.

PANO – In 1964, Captain Andre Sauvageot was sent to battles in Vienam. Now, speaking Vietnamese fluently as his mother tongue, he told the People’s Army Newspaper’s reporter about human rights in Vietnam.

- Vietnam is nominating itself for membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council for 2014-2016 tenure. What do you think of this effort?

Andre Seauvageot: I have a positive impression, because the Human Rights Council fits Vietnam’s foreign policy of diversification of relations and to be a friend to every nation to the extent feasible.

Naturally, the process of diversification of relations is enhanced by participation in the activities of international organizations to better understand some issues of importance to entire world.

Clearly, human rights is an important issue for the people of the entire world and of Vietnam specifically. Therefore, membership in the UN Human Rights Council, would be an opportunity for Vietnam to better understand the positive and negative aspects of human rights in other countries, while also in the spirit of criticism and self criticism improving Vietnam’s own human rights, step by step.

 - Some have the idea that the human rights situation in Vietnam is so bad that Vietnam is not qualified for membership in the UN Human Rights Council. What do you think of that idea?

Andre Seauvageot: This idea is very superficial, baseless and completely wrong. Many current members are far below Vietnam in human rights. In some, atrocities occur regularly that simply do not occur in Vietnam.

Some members have laws punishing homosexuals. The Parliament of one member is considering a law, which would provide a death sentence for homosexuals. At the same time, Vietnam’s National Assembly is considering legislation to improve the legal environment for gay couples living together in committed relationships.

- The United States is among those countries, which have quite severely criticized Vietnam on Human Rights. Do you believe that criticism has a basis?

Andre Seauvageot: One could just as well ask, if Vietnam criticized the United States on Human Rights, would such criticism have a basis? In reality, both countries have strengths and shortcomings in respect to Human Rights.

The world has a plethora of nations worse than both Vietnam and the United States, but also some better than either. Therefore, I think it’s best that both countries make an effort to improve Human Rights in our own country and avoid blatant interference in the internal affairs of the other.

This does not mean that our two governments cannot have bilateral discussions on Human Rights in the spirit of criticism and self-criticism, in which we may learn from shared experience so that both can move forward.

At the same time, both Vietnam and the United States should continue strengthening our bilateral cooperation in every field, including strategy, security, commerce and culture, based on the principle of mutual benefit. This also creates an environment of mutual respect in which discussion on Human Rights are more likely to bear fruit.

 - You are an American citizen, an American war veteran, with a Vietnamese wife, and also an American among the first to return to Vietnam after the war. So you have a deep understanding of the culture and life style of both nations. Could you therefore, give a fair comparative assessment of Human Rights in Vietnam and the United States?

Andre Seauvageot: Yes, I think I can, because I truly love both countries and hope that both may continuously develop for the well being of its citizens, of both countries and the entire world.

The fields in which we could compare as examples could include:

Political freedom, as in freedom of speech and democracy.  In the United States,two main political parties with a few smaller ones, usually too small to participate in national elections. Freedom of speech is nearly absolute. However, recently, there has been an extreme right wing (Republican Party) which has been trying to make it difficult for minority groups to vote in general elections for the President or in State elections for Governor. In principle, democracy is very well developed given the American tradition of representative democracy.

However, the capability of an American plutocracy to provide big money to a number of elected representatives to vote against the wishes of the electorate has grown very strong. For example, recent public opinion polls indicate that over 90% of American voters, support the Government to require background checks for gun purchasers. Even though President Obama completely supports background checks, our elected representatives have not voted in accordance with their constituents. Because they receive so much money from people who want to preserve a free market for guns even though we have over 10,000 people killed by gun violence every year.

Meanwhile, Vietnam has a single Party system with the leadership belongs to the Communist Party of Vietnam. But historically, only the Communist Party was able to mobilize all of the human and natural resources and organize a true “Peoples war” to win freedom and independence.

Given such a history, it is easy to understand why Article 4 of Vietnam’s Constitution of 1992, stipulates that the Communist Party is the force that leads the Government and the society in order to preserve political stability. Therefore, freedom of speech is not so absolute as in the United States. However, Article 4 concludes that: Every Party organization will act in accordance with the Constitution and law. And laws are passed by the National Assembly which is elected directly by the people, in a step by step democratization process.

About gender equality, Vietnam does better than the United States in several respects. For example, women comprise 25% of Vietnam’s National Assembly while the U. S. Congress remains under 20%. Vietnam’s National Assembly never passes legislation oppressing women as some American State General Assemblies do. No Vietnamese woman has to suffer misogynistic legislation such as restrictions on contraception and even laws prohibiting abortion in cases of rape.

And about the Treatment of ethnic minorities, Vietnam has 53 ethnic minorities. Even though they comprise only some 13% of the general population, the numbers of deputies they manage to elect to represent their interests in the National Assembly often range from 15 to 17%.

I am very proud that the United States elected President Obama in 2008, as our first President from an ethnic minority. However, I also recall that the 9th Party Congress of Vietnam in 2001, elected Nong Duc Manh, ạn ethnic minority to be the Secretary General of the Communist Party of Vietnam. Subsequently, he was re-elected, by the 10th Party Congress for a 2nd 5-year term.

 - Do you have any recommendations for how Vietnam could defend and improve its human rights in the future?

Andre Seauvageot: I am very moved that you as a Correspondent on behalf of the People’s Army newspaper would ask me, a foreigner, for recommendations by which Vietnam might move forward on human rights.

As your paper may understand from my responses to your previous questions, I was open and forthcoming about what I believe are some strengths and shortcomings of Vietnam in respect to human rights.

Stated very simply, Vietnam should strive to preserve, even strengthen when doable, its strong points. And should, of course, undertake great efforts to fix and improve shortcomings.

Rather than give a lot of details, please permit me to discuss some basic principles and also recommend that you study Sweden as a development “model” for human rights, economic prosperity and political stability.

Vietnam’s leadership has valuable, praise-worthy experience, with the successful reform programs launched by the 6th Party Congress, December, 1986. Prosperity requires continuous economic development capable of meeting both domestic demand and competing in the international arena. Therefore, I suggest that Vietnam’s leadership reduce the role of State owned enterprises, with a concomitant increase in the role of private sector enterprises. Only by so doing, will Vietnam be able to build a market economy as called for in Article 15 (Chapter II, Economic Regime) of Vietnam’s 1992 Constitution.

Please allow me to suggest that Vietnam’s leadership study some other nations qualified to serve as models for successfully combining the best attributes of a capitalist market economy, while maintaining a socialist orientation. Perhaps both the United States of America and Vietnam should conduct further study.

Thank you very much for the interview!