Time is right for laws on right to demonstrate

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Workers of Taiwanese-owned footwear company Pou Yuen Vietnam Co., Ltd. in Binh Tan District, Ho Chi Minh City, on strike last year. A former official from the Ministry of Public Security says the right to strike needs to be protected by laws in Vietnam.

The Law on Demonstration is being drafted by the Ministry of Public Security as requested by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Justice Minister Ha Hung Cuong announced last week at a meeting of the National Assembly's Standing Committee.

In a Q&A report published in Tuoi Tre newspaper Monday, Major­General Le Van Cuong, former chief of the Strategy Institute under the Ministry of Public Security, said such a law is necessary in Vietnam.

In your opinion, why is it that the law is necessary, but hasn't been formulated to date?

It's not random that people's freedom to demonstrate has been introduced into the Constitution.

In the 1959 Constitution, Article 25 stated clearly:

"Citizens of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam enjoy freedom speech, freedom of the press, the right to assemble, form associations and hold demonstrations."... Article 69 of the 1992 Constitution stipulated: "The citizen shall enjoy freedom of opinion and speech, freedom of the press, the right to be informed, and the right to assemble, form associations and hold demonstrations in accordance with the provisions of the law."

And the provision was retained when the Constitution was amended in 2001.

We can see that the policies of the Party and the government have been consistent in this regard. However, as for why we haven't had the Law on Demonstration for a long time, I think the answer lies with the previous nation­building model.

Could you elaborate?

Under the previous model, our economy mainly consisted of state­owned companies and cooperatives, while other economic components accounted for a very small part. In a situation where workers were considered the real employer, there was no employer­employee relationship, so people probably thought that demonstrations were unnecessary.

Since the 6th Party Congress in 1986, we have embarked on another way a socialism­oriented market economy, and brand new problems have arisen.

In the new situation, many laborers work for FDI projects, joint­ventures, and joint­stock companies among others. It's obvious that at such businesses, they are employees, not employers. Therefore, people have a need to express their opinions to ensure their own rights.

Major-­General Le Van Cuong, former chief of the Strategy Institute under the Ministry of Public Security

We have seen many strikes at industrial zones in the country every year. Workers ask their employers to increase salaries, improve working conditions, and ensure labor safety. I believe that the right to strike needs to be protected by laws.

Isn't it true that nowadays, it is not just workers at industrial zones that have a need to express their opinions, but people from other walks of life as well?

Amid the country's process of renovation, social development, and the trend of global integration, the need to demonstrate is not just about the demand of workers to express their opinions to their employers.

People could even demonstrate to express favor for some policy or activity of the government, or to express their support for cooperation, development and peace in the world, or protest forces causing wars and instability in the world.

In addition to hundreds of things that they do right, governments in localities sometimes do things that are against locals' wills and expectations. Therefore, it's reasonable that they want to express their opinions. In case people lodge complaints against a polluting company with many agencies, but these are ignored, they obviously have the right to speak out.

According to Phan Trung Ly, chief of the National Assembly's Legal Committee, some members of his committee were concerned that such laws, if issued, would cause more difficulties in social management, and allow demonstrations that interfere with the government's functioning. What do you think?

I'm only concerned about the situations where there is no law. Once laws with transparent regulations are in place, no one can make use of laws to cause harm to the society and the government. We have reiterated that the government is "of the people, by the people, and for the people," so why do we fear difficulties? I always think our people are good. They have strong attachment to the Party since its early days, so we need to trust them, not fear them. We have to understand that generally no person wants to cause disorder; everyone wants stability to live and work. They only demand that organizations and individuals right their wrongs.

What should be the basic content of the Law on Demonstration, in your opinion?

Rights are always accompanied by obligations. For example, if you want to hold a demonstration, you have to inform the local government ten days in advance, including what your demonstration is about, where it is organized, and how many people are expected to join it, and so on. It means that the law has to clearly regulate people's rights and obligations. The government's responsibilities have to be included as well. Generally, we need to set the legal framework for all related parties, including their rights, obligations and responsibilities, to avoid extreme actions. Any civilized country would do the same.

According to Decree No.38, gatherings in the public have to be registered with the People's Committees at the localities where the gatherings are planned. However, when organizers register with agencies, the latter can allow or decline the application. So, should the law cover cases where related agencies decline the application unreasonably, impinging civil rights?

The law has to regulate that if any organization or any individual wants to hold demonstrations about some issue and in accordance with the laws, local governments have to announce their final decision within a certain time. And, the public should be informed of how they arrived at the decision. The law also has to regulate the responsibilities of related agencies, not just their management.

If people wish to express their opinions legally and in an orderly fashion, the authorities have to respond to their needs and allow this basic right.

Do you think that what has happened locally and in other countries has proved that we need to have detailed regulations on security forces' behavior toward demonstrators?

The forces' behavior toward demonstrators has to be very civilized. I think their behavior is very important. For example, for a legal demonstration, related agencies' mission is to instruct participants on how to do it properly, and if any issue arises, they have to convince people first... As I said earlier, when laws are in place, related parties fulfill their rights and functions in line with regulations. To build the Law on Demonstration, we don't need to go far for reference. Look at regional countries to learn about how they respond to demonstrations, like the relationship between demonstrations and social and economic development in Thailand. Despite demonstrations, its economy has developed over the years.

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