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Two Vietnamese Prisoners Of Conscience Among Recipients Of The 1995 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Awards

ROBERT F. KENNEDY MEMORIAL

October 6, 1995

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Abigail Abrash, Program Director

(202)333-1880, ext. 235
Dr. Nguyen Dan Que and Professor Doan Viet Hoat, two Vietnamese human rights activists serving prison terms for their work, have been named 1995 recipients of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Awards.

The other 1995 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award laureate, announced by Edwin Guthman, chairman of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, is Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, a dedicated campaigner on behalf of children and young adults working under conditions of bonded labor in India and neighboring countries.

The RFK Human Rights Awards will be presented on November 15, 1995, by Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy, Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), and other Kennedy family members at a ceremony in the Senate Caucus Room in Washington, DC.

"The 1995 laureates' circumstances reflect different facets of the human rights struggle -- Dr. Que and Prof. Hoat suffer from classic government repression of dissenting voices. Kailash Satyarthi fights against the economic exploitation and virtual enslavement of millions of children," said Rose Styron, chair of the RFK Human Rights Award judges. "All three have fought -- continue to fight -- with courage and conviction to protect people from human rights abuses."

Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, a 52 year old endocrinologist, is currently serving a 20 year prison sentence in connection with his human rights advocacy and public criticism of the Vietnam communist government. His human rights activism dates back to the end of the Vietnam war, when Dr. Que became director of Cho-Ray Hospital in Ho Chi Minh city In 1976, because of his disillusion with the new government's health care policies, Dr. Que formed the National Front for Progressive, an organization that published two underground newspapers and gained wide support from intellectuals. These activities led to Dr. Que's dismissal from the hospital and to his arrest in 1978 for "rebelling against the regime" and forming a "reactionary organization." He was released in 1988 after ten years of detention without trial.

After his release, Dr. Que helped found Cao Trao Nhan Ban (CTNB), the Non-Violent Movement for Human Rights in Vietnam, a political reform movement inspired by the democratic transitions in Eastern Europe In May 1990, CNTB issued a manifesto calling on the Vietnamese people to support nonviolent political, social and economic change, including the introduction of free and fair elections and a multiparty political system in Vietnam.

Dr. Que's current incarceration began on June 14, 1990, when he was arrested and charged for conducting "activities aimed at overthrowing the people's government," carrying out propaganda against the government, recruiting people to join CTNB, and belonging to Amnesty International. Eighteen months later, the People's Court in HoChiMinh City sentenced Dr. Que to a 20 year prison term plus an additional five years' house arrest in a trial that did not comply with Vietnamese and international standards.

There has been considerable international intervention on Dr. Que's behalf, including an effort by United Senator Charles Robb (D-VA) to meet with him during a visit to Vietnam in August 1993. Vietnamese authorities canceled at the last moment and placed Dr. Que's in solitary confinement following Robb's public statement criticizing the cancellation. Since that time, prison authorities have prevented Dr. Que from meeting with family and friends, and his health is reported to be very fragile.

"Now that the United States has recognized Vietnam, we hope that the Administration as well as US companies eager to do business in Vietnam will push for an end to political detentions and other human rights abuses," said Kerry Kennedy Cuom.

Professor Doan Viet Hoat, 53, has been an active advocate of human rights for more than 30 years. In the 1960s, while still a student, he led protest movements against the South Vietnamese government's actions, including its repression of the Bhuddist church. After completing a doctorate in education at Florida State University, Prof. Hoat returned to Vietnam to become Vice President of the Bhuddist Van Hanh University. When the Vietnam War ended, he -- like thousands of other south Vietnamese intellectuals -- was held without charge or trial in a "reeducation" camp for 12 years.

Prof. Hoat came in conflict with authorities again in 1990 when the Vietnamese government began an investigation into an intellectual circle of which he was a prominent member. The government held Prof. Hoat and others in detention without trial for two years. At his March trial, he received a 20-year sentence for "attempting to overthrow the people's government," based on his human rights advocacy and his circulation of the movement's internal magazine, Freedom Forum. The sentence was reduced four months later to 15 years' imprisonment and five years' house arrest and deprivation of civil liberties.

During his detention and imprisonment, Prof. Hoat continued to issue public letters and essays expressing his concern for human rights violations and prescribing actions the government should take to address them. In a 1992 letter from prison, Hoat wrote:

"If brute force appears to overwhelm us momentarily, we cannot be inhibited. On the other hand, even though we have suffered cruelly, we must not abandon the spirit of reconciliation, tolerance, and the way of nonviolent, peaceful struggle. In all compassion, we should never forget that our struggle is the struggle for righteousness, for love and for peace. Those principles must be pursued by such means, and with a compassion, that are worthy of them."

In response to his continuing advocacy, the Vietnamese government has transferred Prof. Hoat five times, finally placing him in a remote camp in northern Vietnam, where he has been in solitary confinement since April 1994. His wife and son were allowed a brief supervised visit with him in July 1994, before their departure for the United States. Since that time, his brother has been permitted to meet with him once, for 15 minutes and under guard.

Mr. Kailash Satyarthi, the other 1995 RFK Human Rights Award laureate, heads the South Asian Coalition on Child Servitude, an independent non-governmental organization that carries out public awareness campaigns, advocacy, legal action, and direct intervention to end child labor and bonded labor in India and coordinates the work of 200 NGOs in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal that address the same issues. Since 1980, Mr. Satyarthi and his colleagues have liberated more than 40,000 individuals from bonded labor allowing consumers, primarily in the United States and Europe, to make an informed choice in purchasing carpets.

Founded in 1968, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial is dedicated to Robert Kennedy's belief in moral courage and his unequivocal opposition to tyranny. The Memorial and its Center for Human Rights present the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award each year to individuals who have stood up to government oppression at great personal risk. The three 1995 award winners will share a $30,000 prize, and each will receive a bust of Robert Kennedy.

The RFK Center for Human Rights supports, enhances and complements the efforts of the Human Rights Award laureates. The Center investigates and publishes report on human rights conditions and campaigns to heighten awareness of these issues, seeks to gain the release of prisoners of conscience, and encourages governments and international organizations to adopt policies that help ensure respect for internationally recognized human rights.

Judges for the 1995 RFK Human Rights Award are Rose Styron, poet and human rights activist; Robert L. Bernstein, Chair, Human Rights Watch; Greg Craig, a partner with the Washington DC law firm of Williams and Connolly; Pat Derian, former Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights; and the Honorable A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., Chief Judge Emeritus, US court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

The judges made their selection from the nominations submitted by an International Advisory Committee of more than 60 members known for their work in the field of human rights.

Past RFK Human Rights Award laureates are:
- imprisoned Chinese dissidents Wei Jingsheng and Ren Wanding (1994)
- Indonesian human rights attorney Bambang Widjojanto (1993)
- Malawi trade unionist and pro-democracy leader Chakufwa Chibana (1992)
- Human rights lawyers Avigdor Feldman of Israel and Raji Sourani of Gaza (1991)
- Guatemalan human rights activists Amilcar Mendez Urizar (1990)
- Chinese astrophysicist and democracy advocate Fan Lizhi (1989)
- Kenyan human rights activists attorney Gibson Kamau Kuria (1988)
- South Korean labor organizer Kim Keun Tae and prisoners' rights activist In Jae Keun (1987)
- Polish Solidarity's Zbigniew Bujak and Adam Michnik (1986)
- South African anti-apartheid activists Alla Boesak, Dr. Beyers Naude and Winnie Mandela (1985), and
- the Co-Madres, a Salvadoran women's organization working to end human rights abuses in their country (1984)