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#SaveTamDao: A Cry for Help from Vietnam’s Primary Rainforest

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Photo courtesy: Save Tam Dao Facebook group

One of Vietnam’s most famous preserved national parks – Tam Dao – is crying for help.

Tam Dao is among the country’s oldest primary rainforests, locates in the Red River Delta – arguably, the heart of Vietnam.

But the heart of Vietnam is bleeding from deforestation committed by business interest groups.

It faces imminent danger from a development project calls Tam Dao II, jointly sponsored by Vinh Phuc Province and Sun Group – a private enterprise.

Sun Group is among of the largest real estate development corporations in Vietnam, but it also faces the most accusations from environmentalists and environmental protection groups as one of the worst violators in major deforestations happening across the nation.

A group of Vietnamese discovered back in October 2018 that the National Park was closed and visitors were not allowed to enter.

Facebook’s community in Vietnam immediately suspected that a private company must have obtained the right to develop their real estate project in the area.

After all, in recent years, Vietnamese people have repeatedly uncovered one deforestation disaster after another in primary rainforests throughout this tropical country.

Every time, the citizens found out that the deforestation resulted from improper conducts of both the provincial government and the private company that won the bid for the development project.

Every time, the last line of defense in protecting the rainforests of Vietnam has been the online campaigns organized by ordinary citizens.

This time, it is the same.

A group of environmentalists created a new Facebook group with a new hashtag #SaveTamDao.

What are the people trying to save? What is Tam Dao?

Tam Dao National Park is a 36,000 hectares primary rainforest, preserving the original ecosystem of the Red River Delta that has been around for some 160,000 million years.

Standing tall at about 1,200 meters above sea level with the highest peak reaching up to 1,500 meters and about 80 km from Hanoi, Tam Dao is known not only for its natural beauty but also the sanctuary and profound spiritual impact it imprints on visitors.

Since 1996, the government has designated Tam Dao as a national park with the highest level of protection.

In 2006, an attempt to develop a resort in Tam Dao with Vietnam Partner, LLC (registered in the U.S.) as the investor was proposed. However, it quickly came to an indefinite halt after facing opposition and harsh criticisms from scientists and others who work on rainforest preservation.

Ten years later, it seemed as if the old development project was revived quietly by a new investor.

According to the Facebook group – Save Tam Dao – in 2016, the commencement of the resort development project was witnessed by Vietnam’s top officials, including Prime Minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and representatives from Sun Group.

300 hectares of forest land belongs to the national park will be converted to land that could be used in development projects this time.

Most worrisome, as in other development projects on forest lands across the country, the government did not disclose the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to the public.

The community and the people to date have not had the opportunity to participate in the EIA process.

They could not even take a look at the development’s map.

During an attempt to hike up Tam Dao recently, a group of citizens has obtained testimony from the residents living in a village at the bottom of the trail, that there must be a plan in place to build a “huge hotel.”

This group also took pictures along the way, showing logs from the rainforest’s hundred-year-old trees lying around after got chopped off.

According to Lonely Planet, “there are at least 64 mammal species (including langurs) and 239 bird species in the park” and added, “illegal hunting remains a big problem”.

From Vietnamnet online newspaper in 2016:

“Tam Dao National Park is covered by a rich flora, consisting of 490 species from 34 genera and 130 families.

Tam Dao National Park is also home to 281 species of fauna from 281 genera, 84 families and 26 orders belonging to 4 main classes: animals, birds, reptiles and amphibious ones.

Among the variety of life forms in the park are several rare species, including cheek black monkey, Tam Dao snake-head fish, silver pheasant wood grouse, etc.”

According to Save Tam Dao group, the development project, as planned, will cause detrimental and irreversible impacts on the rainforest’s rich ecosystem which in turn, will affect the livelihood of the nearby residential areas and the people who rely on it for their sources of clean water and air.

Pictures from Save Tam Dao Facebook group showing illegal logging and deforestation in Tam Dao National Park:

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COVID-19: Why Vietnam’s Second Positive Wave Might Not Be Entirely Negative

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Vietnamese people quickly wear masks as protective gears. Photo courtesy: The Vietnamese

After nearly 100 days of zero new confirmed cases in the local community, within the last 10 days, there has been a jump in the number of patients contracting the virus in various cities in Vietnam.

According to official figures, in the six months from January 23  to July 25, there were only 140 local cases, the rest were imported patients, and zero fatalities. Since July 25, in a period of less than two weeks, more than 300 new local cases have been confirmed with 10 deaths so far.

Da Nang, the third largest city of the country, has become the new epicenter of the pandemic. 

While this new surge seems to have caught the entire nation by surprise, in reality it is a scenario that was long written on the wall, with the pandemic having never really ceased to rock countries after it first appeared on the world stage in January 2020 (the first reported case outside of China). And though it has created a new scare among citizens, it is a positive and necessary alarm.

Empty street in Hoi An city in August 2020. Photo Courtesy: The Vietnamese

To the moon and back

More than three months without domestic positive cases had put the whole nation in a complacent mode. Even the health care staff at hospitals had lowered their guard. Most of the initial cases from July 25 were linked to patients and their caretaker relatives in Da Nang hospitals.

Since then, the virus has quickly spread throughout the community and to other cities.

Fortunately, it does not take long for the whole system to restart and quickly return  to crisis mode. Da Nang was almost immediately put under partial lockdown, with thorough contact tracing being carried out for every new case. People who had been in close contact with new positive cases were put under quarantine. Medical teams and personnel from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh were sent to the epicenter to help relieve the pressure and the wearing of face masks in public in big cities became mandatory again. 

There is reason to be optimistic about the ability of the country to contain the new wave despite it having caught everyone off guard.

Local wet market in Hoi An City. Photo courtesy: The Vietnamese

Through the looking glass of Taiwan

With the initial success in containing Covid-19, there has been an ongoing debate among citizens on whether Vietnam’s authoritarian system is better equipped than other democratic societies to cope with a pandemic. However, focusing on governing systems might miss some critical points.

Comparing Vietnam with Taiwan, an exemplary success in the fight against this pandemic, may provide some useful insights.

At first glance, the two countries could not be more different. One is a communist state, the other one of the most vibrant democratic systems in the world. At closer look, Vietnam and Taiwan share some vital similarities in the fight against Covid-19. 

They both are next to China, the origin of the pandemic. Both governments, and especially their people, have the same distrust of the Chinese Communist Party, hence the high alert mode from the very beginning, long before other countries took this infectious disease seriously. They also share painful experiences from the SARS pandemic in 2003, which also originated from China. With those scars still fresh in mind, going through this crisis is like bathing in the same river twice. They knew how and where to swim.

The culture and society also played an important role here. 

Both countries are still dominated by Confucious-like ideals about the need for a harmonious society where collectivism trumps individualism. In the case of major crises like a pandemic, this kind of mindset helps glue the community together faster, quickly putting everyone into the same “for the common good” mode. 

This particular pandemic, Covid-19, in which the elderly are the most vulnerable, also highlights one important aspect: how societies treat and value their aged populations.

In Vietnam, like Taiwan, most families have at least one senior member living under the same roof. Therefore, most people, even the younger generations, despite being in low-risk groups, still voluntarily took extra precautions to protect their family members.

Opportunities lie in the midst of every crisis, as the old saying goes. And there are many opportunities for a change-demanding society like Vietnam.

While the resurgence has shattered the illusion of exceptionalism, deflating many hardcore aficionados of the authoritarian system, it has also inflated the constant alert mindset, which is a life-and-death difference in the fight against most infectious diseases.

The health crisis also puts the whole governing system in the spotlight, pushing the need for greater transparency and accountability.

With the virus always seeming to have a head start, the authorities have had no other option than to constantly play catch-up. Around-the-clock updates and publicized data and numbers are now the new normal. Government officials are forced to focus on containing the spread of the pandemic. Even when the pandemic is over, it is hard to imagine returning to “the old normal”. 

The virus has also created space for a newborn civil society. With the government’s resources stretched thin and vastly inadequate, citizens and volunteer groups have organized themselves for a wide range of mutual-support activities, from donating basic necessities to setting up coordinating teams to offer transportation for supplies and people in need. Again, when the pandemic is over, citizens who have trained themselves in this new normal will not be easily caged again. Instead, they will demand a greater place on the stage in building a common and better society for themselves.

A deadly pandemic is obviously not an ideal scenario to push for a positive change in any society. But as in any crisis, a good response brings along good reforms. 

There are reasons to be optimistic about the emergence of some form of positive change after the country has gone through this extraordinary period. 

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9th Annual Vietnam Advocacy Day

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Vietnam Advocacy Day is an annual event, organized by Boat People SOS, where Vietnamese Americans across the United States come to Washington, DC to meet with their representatives to voice about human rights issues in Vietnam and to connect with other Vietnamese diaspora community, human rights witnesses and advocates. Due to COVID-19, the 9th annual VNAD 2020 will take place through several webinars.

Please register for the webinars at the links below.

Webinar 1: Friday July 31st, 9AM- 11AM EDT

Topic: Freedom of Religion and the Rights of Indegenous Peoples

Register for Webinar 1: http://tiny.cc/VAD2020-FORB-1

Webinar 2: Friday July 31st, 1PM- 3PM EDT

Topic: Freedom of Religion and the Rights of Indegenous Peoples continued

Register for Webinar 2: http://tiny.cc/VAD2020-FORB-2

Webinar 3: Friday August 7th, 9AM- 11AM EDT

Topic: Freedom of Expression, the Press and Internet

Register for Webinar 3http://tiny.cc/VAD2020-EXPRESSION

Webinar 4: Friday August 7th, 1PM- 3PM EDT

Topic: Freedom of Expression, the Press and Internet
Topic: Prisoners of Conscience and Torture

Register for Webinar 4: http://tiny.cc/VAD2020-POC

Webinar 5: Friday August 14th, 9AM- 11AM EDT

Topic: UN Mechanisms and Sanctions

Register for Webinar 5: http://tiny.cc/VAD2020-UN

Webinar 6: Friday August 14th, 1PM- 3PM EDT

Topic: Freedom of Expression, the Press and Internet
Topic: UN Mechanisms and Sanctions – continued

Register for Webinar 6http://tiny.cc/VAD2020-SANCTION

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Press Release

Luat Khoa and The Vietnamese’s Press Release on the Indictment of Three Members of The Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN)’s

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As media organizations, Luat Khoa and The Vietnamese magazines vehemently denounce the three recent arrests of the three members of IJAVN: Le Huu Minh Tuan (detained on June 12, 2020), Nguyen Tuong Thuy (detained on May 23, 2020, and Pham Chi Dung (detained on November 21, 2019).

All of these three journalists were charged with the crime “publish, store, and disseminate or propagandize information, documentation, and products against the Social Republic of Vietnam” (Article 117 of Vietnam’s current Penal Code). This penal code has already been viewed as a blatant violation of people’s freedom of speech and free press by many human rights organizations. 

IJAVN – together with running its Vietnam Thoi Bao newspaper – is a regular civil society organization formed under the right to associate, and it sets to implement the right for a free press and promote an independent and decent media for Vietnam.

Luat Khoa and The Vietnamese magazines share and support the values in which the IJAVN pursues. 

As journalists, we ultimately care for the safety of our other colleagues. We consider the reality of a government trying to silence any journalist to be an imminent threat to us and anyone who practices free speech.

Silencing journalists is also a violation of the right to read free and independent media of the people.

We have realized that the call for the government of Vietnam to release immediately and unconditionally these three journalists of IJAVN would be unrealistic in the situation of Vietnam. However, that action is the only righteous conduct that the Vietnamese government could act right now, and therefore, we call on them to immediately do so.

We also call on all of the journalists, the activists, the public, the international organizations, and the foreign governments to jointly monitor and pressure the Vietnamese authorities to release the three journalists, Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Le Huu Minh Tuan; and to call on the government to respect the Vietnamese people’s right for a free press and the freedom to form associations.

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To contact us, please email editor@luatkhoa.org

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