Are Vietnam's vicious street brawls a sign of the changing times, or just bad policing?
A woman tries to stop a violent fight between two men whose motorbikes collided on a street in Binh Duong Province in May 2012. Social pressure and lack of faith in law enforcement has contributed to increasing social violence in Vietnam, experts say. Photo by Dam Huy
Ho Chi Minh City police on August 2 arrested a 32-year-old man for killing a man and seriously injuring two others in a fight ignited by a minor motorbike collision.
Nguyen Minh Thong of Tan Phu District is facing murder charges for killing Nguyen Minh Phap and injuring his two friends, Nguyen Thien Tam and Luu Thach Nam, all 21 years old.
The case highlights a trend in which brutal violence appears to be increasingly and disproportionately meted out to solve minor conflicts. Some experts say it is due to changing attitudes about individualism in the country, while others argue that shoddy law enforcement is to blame.
The incident in question happened at around 1 p.m. when Thong, a delivery motorbike driver, collided with the group, also on a motorbike, and a quarrel broke out.
The argument broke up and the crowd began to disperse, but then the trio began chasing Thong and attacked him in the middle of the street.
Thong ran into a shop and took out a pair of scissors to defend himself.
Phap died later at the hospital due to a stab wound in his back while Tam and Nam sustained serious injuries.
An investigator in the case, who requested anonymity, said Tam and Phap are students in HCMC and were on the way home from a party to welcome Nam to the city from their home town in Binh Thuan Province.
"A minor conflict caused serious consequences just because of their uncontrolled temper," he said.
In a recent report, the HCMC People's Committee, the municipal administration, has warned against an increase in similar crimes.
"There has been an increasing in violence acts by many young people, mostly rising out of minor conflicts," it said.
In another recent case, the Supreme People's Court sentenced 22-year-old Nguyen Huu Can of Vinh Long Province to 14 years imprisonment in June for stabbing two men who attacked him to reclaim a debt.
The incident occurred in April 2011 when Can mortgaged his motorbike to Nguyen Minh Hoang to secure a loan of VND14.5 million that he later gambled away. Can got his bike back by promising to pay the debt in installments.
But after failing to collect the debt, Hoang hired four men to find Can and collect the money. When the men confronted Can, a fight broke out and he stabbed two of them, leading to serious injuries.
Prosecutors have proposed fining Hoang and the four men for attacking Can.
Many experts argue that actions like Hoang's choice to hire men to reclaim his money are the result of a lack of faith in the law enforcement system.
Nguyen Minh Tam of the HCMC Bar Association said that in a healthy society, conflicts are solved through legal processes.
"However, this requires a transparent legal environment and a sufficient law system."
He said many people have opted to solve their own conflicts because when they involve authorities in their problems, things take too long, or nothing gets done at all.
"Many people have lost faith in the system because of unsolved civil disputes and many civil verdicts have not been enforced. Reclaiming debts by violence threats is more effective than filing a lawsuit," he said.
According to the Ministry of Justice, there were nearly 400,000 civil verdicts issued between October 2012 and April 2013.
However, only 200,000 verdicts were enforced during that time.
According to lawyer Tran Van Hieu of the Nguoi Ngheo (The Poor) Law Office in HCMC, Vietnam has sufficient laws and regulations but they have not been enforced thoroughly.
The police have not taken sufficient punitive measures and they mostly encourage relevant parties to negotiate on compensation, which fuels the unhealthy perception that money can solve any conflict, he said.
"People who want to follow legal proceedings sometimes spend dozens of years trying to sue a person for an illegal act. This discourages most people and they shift to using violence," he said.
Corruption, social pressure
Henry Hollinger, a retired Canadian police officer who works as a consultant based in Canada and Vietnam, pointed out that Vietnamese police have a bad reputation.
"Nobody in Vietnam likes the police and nobody will call the police. Number one rule in Vietnam is don't get involved with police, stay far away, never call them either. The police in Vietnam have a big image problem," he told Vietweek.
The Global Corruption Barometer 2013 said recently that the police force was the most corrupt institution in Vietnam.
Hollinger said that in other countries, people who take the law into their own hands "are treated as criminals, too." He said major advertising campaigns in other countries encourage people not to take the law into their own hands.
Truong Van Vy, a sociological criminology lecturer at the HCMC University of Social Sciences and Humanities, said the complications of modern life may be contributing to a perceived uptick in violence.
"The fast pace of life creates heavy pressure and people have become less patient and less inclined to solve conflicts based on reality and reason.
"In an open economy, every person is encouraged to push their abilities to the limit for personal gain. This has unexpectedly encouraged individualism and egoism and causes more conflicts."
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