Cablegate: Ambassador Michalak's Meeting with Hcmc Bar Association

DE RUEHHM #0009/01 0030845
P 030845Z JAN 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) HANOI 1993 B) HCMC 906

HO CHI MIN 00000009 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) At Ambassador Michalak's December 3 meeting with key
members of the HCMC Bar Association, member lawyers gave a frank
assessment of Vietnam's current legal system and advocated for
further reform. The lawyers were hopeful that the establishment
of regional courts will increase transparency, but also want to
see a constitutional court created to allow them to contest
national security laws like Article 88, often used to prosecute
dissidents. All agreed raising public awareness of basic human
rights and rule of law issues will be key in building consensus
for reform. While the three defense lawyers who participated in
the recent appeals trial of human rights lawyers Le Thi Cong
Nhan and Nguyen Van Dai were disappointed they could not get
their convictions overturned, they said the openness of the
proceedings and the access to their clients was unprecedented.
End summary.

HCMC Bar All-Stars
2. (SBU) The HCMC Bar Association lawyers represented a wide
range of backgrounds and experiences. In addition to
representing political dissidents, all of them also represent
corporate clients and government clients. Their profiles in
brief are:

-- Nguyen Dang Trung, President, Cadre Secretary and National
Assembly member. A decorated wartime activist for the Communist
Party, Trung defended AmCit Nguyen Cac Foshee in 2006 and other
alleged "anti-revolutionaries" previously.

-- Bui Quang Nghiem, Vice President and Party Secretary. Nghiem
was a member of the now-disbanded Hanoi-based Lawyers for
Justice Group and co-counsel for the November 27 Supreme
People's Court appeals trial of Le Thi Cong Nhan and Nguyen Van
Dai. He and Mr. Dzung have also represented People's Democratic
Party (PDP) dissidents in Ho Chi Minh City.

-- Le Cong Dinh, Vice President. A U.S.-educated lawyer, Dinh
was co-counsel for Le Thi Cong Nhan and Nguyen Van Dai. Dinh is
also a prominent corporate lawyer whose former clientele
includes Exxon Mobil, Aventis, and Boeing. Dinh's recent article
challenging the Prime Minister to allow private media outlets in
Vietnam appeared on BBC's Vietnamese service on the Internet.

--Mr. Dang Dzung, co-counsel for Nhan and Dai as well as PDP
activist Attorney Le Nguyen Sang. Dzung was also slated to
represent detained American and Viet Tan activist Do Thanh Cong
in August 2006 before he was released. Dzung, a former Tuoi Tre
(Youth Newspaper) journalist, has published over 20 articles for
the BBC's Vietnamese news service on democracy and other
political issues.

--Madame Truong Thi Hoa, one of the most senior lawyers in HCMC,
Hoa has been practicing since 1971 (when she a member of the
Republic of South Vietnam's bar association) and was a legal
consultant to former prime minister Vo Van Kiet. Hoa is now a
leading legal consultant for government and business
organizations, as well as a staunch defender of women and
children's rights.

Raising the Legal Bar
3. (SBU) When asked about fairness and impartiality in the
Vietnamese legal system, Madame Hoa said while she has
represented the GVN and large corporations in cases where they
lost to "ordinary citizens," government agencies and big
companies have an overwhelming advantage because they are
well-versed on legal procedures and can afford to hire good
lawyers. Hoa believes the scale of social injustice is
gradually becoming more balanced as Vietnam becomes more
prosperous and that the common citizen's ability to flex their
legal muscles will grow as they become more economically

4. (SBU) Nghiem believes the Central Government's intentions and
policies are good, but implementation falters when local
officials are ignorant of the law or use the law to protect
their own interests. Nghiem said provincial officials continue
to view the law as a tool to "impose the will of the rulers"
while at the central level, officials view the law as a "tool
for development." As an example of flagrant abuse of power, he
cited instances in which provincial leaders sign decrees that
directly contradict national laws, such as an order requiring
farmers to sell their rice crop to the provincial rice company.
All lawyers agreed that while such decrees remain regrettably
common, the courts have been unwilling to address the

HO CHI MIN 00000009 002.2 OF 002

constitutionality or legality of such acts.

5. (SBU) Dinh said without a mechanism for questioning the
constitutionality of the law, there is currently no way for
lawyers to address contradictions or inconsistencies between the
GVN's policies and Vietnam's Constitution--which actually
upholds citizens' basic rights, at least on paper. While WTO
accession has forced Vietnam to review and repeal any domestic
laws that conflict with Vietnam's international trade
commitments, progress has not yet spilled over into the area of
international human rights standards. Dinh believes the
establishment of a Constitutional Court will be critical in
their fight to repeal Article 88 and other laws used to limit
free speech and other basic rights.

Hope for the Future
6. (SBU) President Trung said the establishment of regional
courts in the near future will make the court system more
responsive and transparent. Like the US system of district
courts, regional courts will introduce another layer of
oversight as well as another venue for appeal. Trung also
expects two bills--one for administrative procedures and one for
complaint resolution--to open for debate in the next National
Assembly session.

7. (SBU) All the lawyers agreed that Vietnam's legal reform
efforts hinge on raising citizens' awareness of their basic
constitutional rights and suggested several specific steps to
advance progress. Dzung believes the USG can play a
constructive role by facilitating dialogue between lawyers and
judges and getting more American legal guides translated and
published in Vietnam. Dzung also thinks introducing prepaid
legal services targeted at Vietnam's rising middle class will
enhance public awareness and fill a growing public need.
Ambassador Michalak noted that the American Bar Association now
has a representative in Hanoi which could help the HCMC Bar
Association further its goals.

Defense Lawyers 60 Percent Satisfied
8. (SBU) Lawyers Dinh, Dzung and Nghiem, the defense team for
jailed human rights lawyers Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan,
said the November 27 Supreme People's Court appeal trial was
more open and well-organized than the trial of first instance
(Ref A). Although the team considered the outcome to be a
"failure" because the judge did not overturn the convictions for
Nhan and Dai, the three lawyers said they were "60 percent
satisfied" with the reduction in sentences and the overall trial
proceedings. The three confirmed they had no difficulties
meeting with their clients in prison and were generally able to
present their arguments in court, though they were often stopped
by the judge from "going too far." Dzung expressed great
frustration over being interrupted six times, especially when he
started to touch on the constitutionality of Article 88. (Note:
Article 88, which outlaws propaganda against the Government of
Vietnam, has been used many times to prosecute human rights
activists and dissidents. End note.) The team said they
planned to send a formal complaint to the Ministry of Justice
and the Supreme People's Court regarding the interruptions
during the proceeding.

© Scoop Media

World Headlines


Werewolf: Gordon Campbell On North Korea, Neo-Nazism, And Milo

With a bit of luck the planet won’t be devastated by nuclear war in the next few days. US President Donald Trump will have begun to fixate on some other way to gratify his self-esteem – maybe by invading Venezuela or starting a war with Iran. More>>

Victory Declared: New Stabilisation Funding From NZ As Mosul Is Retaken

New Zealand has congratulated the Iraqi government on the successful liberation of Mosul from ISIS after a long and hard-fought campaign. More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Current US Moves Against North Korea

If Martians visited early last week, they’d probably be scratching their heads as to why North Korea was being treated as a potential trigger for global conflict... More>>


Gordon Campbell: On The Lessons From Corbyn’s Campaign

Leaving partisan politics aside – and ignoring Jeremy Corbyn’s sensational election campaign for a moment – it has to be said that Britain is now really up shit creek... More>>


Another US Court: Fourth Circuit Rules Muslim Ban Discriminatory

ACLU: Step by step, point by point, the court laid out what has been clear from the start: The president promised to ban Muslims from the United States, and his executive orders are an attempt to do just that. More>>


  • Pacific.Scoop
  • Cafe Pacific
  • PMC