MAC: Mines and Communities

Who is Cu Huy Ha Vu? A brave man, for sure

Published by MAC on 2010-11-16
Source: Associated Press, VietNamNet (2010-11-06)

Some readers may remember that, in July 2009, we highlighted the case of an activist lawyer who was brave enough to sue the Vietnamese prime minister.

Cu Huy Ha Vu accused Nguyen Tan Dung of violating his country's environmental laws by promoting a potentially huge bauxite-aluminium enterprise. See: Vietnam bauxite battle intensifies

Earlier this year, the Chinese regime's imprisonment of Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, provoked protests from human rights lobbyists around the world.

In contrast, hardly anyone outside Vietnam - with the notable exception of Human Rights Watch - has called for the release of Cu Huy Ha Vu.

Yet he's facing a term of imprisonment as long as that now being endured by Xiaobo.

Just before Vu's arrest several high-profile Vietnamese citizens issued a letter, strongly urging the regime  to temporarily halt work on the bauxite mining projects.

The signatories cited last month's red mud disaster in Hungary as an example of what Vietnam might have to confront, if the projects go ahead.

Vietnamese police arrest activist lawyer who sued prime minister over mining projects

The Associated Press

6 November 2010

HANOI, Vietnam - Police in southern Vietnam arrested an activist lawyer who recently sued the prime minister, accusing him of spreading propaganda against the state, his wife and uncle said Saturday.

Cu Huy Ha Vu, 53, was taken into custody in Ho Chi Minh City on Friday, accused of violating Article 88 of the Penal Code, said his wife Nguyen Thi Duong Ha, who runs a law firm in Hanoi.

Vu could face up to 12 years in prison if convicted.

Police raided Vu's hotel room in Ho Chi Minh City and confiscated his laptop computer and cellphone, his uncle Cu Huy Chu said. They later searched Vu's house in Hanoi and seized his desktop computer, Chu said.

Vu, who obtained a doctorate in law in France, is the son of Cu Huy Can, a famous poet and minister of agriculture in a government formed after revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh declared independence from France in 1945.

He is also a nephew of Xuan Dieu, one of Vietnam's most renowned poets.

Last year, Vu irked authorities by suing Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung for allegedly violating laws on environmental protection, national security and cultural heritage by approving Chinese-built bauxite mining projects in the Central Highlands.

Court officials dismissed the lawsuit, saying they don't have the authority to try the prime minister.

Last month, he again sued the prime minister over a decree that banned groups from filing petitions and complaints with the government, saying it violated a constitutional guarantee of the right to "gather, form groups and protest in conformity with the law."

Over the past month, authorities have arrested three bloggers in an apparent crackdown on dissent ahead of a five-year Communist Party Congress scheduled in January.


Human Rights Watch calls on Vietnamese government to release jailed legal activist

Associated Press

11 November 2010

HANOI, Vietnam - Human Rights Watch has called on the Vietnamese government to release an outspoken legal activist and end its crackdown on people challenging the government on human rights.

Cu Huy Ha Vu, 53, was arrested last week and accused of conducting a propaganda campaign against the communist state.

Authorities accused Vu, who obtained a doctorate in law in France, of calling for a multiparty system, distorting the government's leadership and defaming the Communist Party and government leaders, state media have reported.

He was also accused of having ties with government critics inside the country and unspecified "hostile forces" from outside.

"Cu Huy Ha Vu's arrest is the Vietnamese government's latest salvo in its campaign of repression against independent lawyers and activists who defend human rights and challenge official misconduct," Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch said in a statement late Wednesday.

Vu is the son of Cu Huy Can, a famous poet and minister of agriculture in a government formed after revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh declared independence from France in 1945.

Last year, Vu irked authorities by suing Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung for allegedly violating laws on environmental protection, national security and cultural heritage by approving Chinese-built bauxite mining projects in the Central Highlands.

Court officials dismissed the lawsuit, saying they didn't have the authority to try the prime minister.

Last month, he again sued the prime minister over a decree that banned groups from filing petitions and complaints against the government, saying it violated a constitutional guarantee of the right to "gather, form groups and protest in conformity with the law."

New York-based Human Rights Watch cited a list of eight lawyers and activists who have been jailed, detained or disbarred over the past few years.

"Vietnam's donors, especially those supporting legal and judicial reform, should insist that the government uphold the rule of law and stop harassing and jailing independent lawyers and rights defenders," Robertson said.

The ruling Communist Party tolerates no challenge to its rule. Hanoi maintains that no one is arrested or jailed for their beliefs, only for breaking the law.


Intellectuals urge the Party and State to halt bauxite projects

Following the spill of toxic mud in Hungary, former Vice President Nguyen Thi Binh, as well as many intellectuals issued a letter to the Party and the State requesting a temporary halt of the bauxite mining projects in the Central Highlands.

VietNamNet

23 October 2010

Besides Madam Binh, the letter was signed by other high-profile people, including Major-General Le Van Cuong, Prof. Ho Ngoc Dai, researcher Phan Hong Giang, Prof. Chu Hao, researcher Duong Danh Dy, writer Nguyen Khac Mai, economist Pham Chi Lan, cultural researcher and writer Nguyen Ngoc, researcher Tran Duc Nguyen, poet Tran Viet Phuong, poet Vu Quan Phuong, researcher Nguyen Trung, Dr. To Van Truong, Prof. Hoang Tuy and Prof. Dang Hung Vo.

In the letter, Madam Binh, together with the country's intellectual elite "strongly urged" the Politburo, the Party Central Committee, the National Assembly and the Government to reconsider the implementation of the bauxite mining projects in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

"Fearing Vietnam's inability to deal with possible spills of toxic red mud from alumina production," intellectuals demanded that the Party and the State immediately halt the construction of the alumina processing plant in Tan Rai, Lam Dong province, and conduct more research on the methods of dealing with the toxic mud. They also demanded that the Nhan Co project in Dak Nong province, currently negotiated with a foreign partner, to be temporarily halted; The same demand was issued with regards to other current bauxite mining projects in the Central Highlands.

Furthermore, they proposed that an independent research group be formed to conduct a comprehensive study of bauxite mining in the Central Highlands, The group would include renowned scientists, economists and social activists.

The result of the research would be then presented to the National Assembly and made public for people to express their opinions, the intellectuals suggested.

"The media has recently reported that the Chinese government closed many bauxite mines to avoid environmental disasters. Therefore, we have a strong basis to negotiate with the foreign partner," the letter says, referring to the Chinese company that is participating in the bauxite project in Vietnam.

Also in this letter, the authors drew attention to the adverse aspects of two bauxite mining projects in the Central Highlands, which had been previously pointed out by scientists during the workshops held in 2008-2009. Specifically, they said, these projects are uneconomic and harmful for the environment, and they will cause serious economic, political and social consequences, as well as seriously threaten national security.

The letter describes the lucrativeness of the bauxite projects as "unrealistic", saying that instead it is nearly certain to cause losses. Constructing a road system and seaports needed for production and export of alumina will also prove problematic, at least in the next few years. This means that even if the construction of the Tan Rai alumina plant is completed, it may then have to close for a period of time.

Moreover, if Vietnam can only produce several tons of alumina a year, it will only be able to export to one market -- China. In other words, Vietnam would become dependent on Chinese market, the letter analyses.

The authors of the letter also point out that producing one ton of alumina creates three tons of toxic red mud. The more alumina is produced, the more red mud is discharged and the bigger the threat of an environmental disaster.

"The disaster in Hungary is a serious warning for Vietnam," the letter says.

"Red mud reservoirs will be like bombs hung over the heads of millions of people," it says, "while our management ability and technological knowledge is poorer than those in Hungary".

Based on scientific analyses, they further say stopping the bauxite projects and conducting a comprehensive research about bauxite in the Central Highlands is the safest option.

In the worst case, Vietnam may have to entirely cancel bauxite mining in the Central Highlands. If this happens, it will be "a very painful decision and it will be a great loss for the economy, with the Tan Rai alumina plant having already been built and a lot of effort put into the Nhan Co alumina plant."

However, according to the authors of the letter, this great loss is still a smaller price than what Vietnam would have to pay in the future in the highly possible case of a disaster occurring during bauxite mining.

"Only with the State and the Party leaders' courage and highest sense of responsibility" to the country's fortune and the support of the people can this difficult decision be made, the authors of the letter emphasised.

So far, more than 1,500 people have signed the letter.


Hungarian disaster revives Vietnam's bauxite mine fears

While the government wants to exploit the world's largest reserves of the ore, others are not so keen.

By Jonathan Manthorpe

Vancouver Sun

8 November 2010

Protests in Vietnam against plans for six massive bauxite mines coupled with fears of Chinese economic imperialism have revived following last month's toxic spill in Hungary that killed nine people and destroyed three villages.

The government of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has grudgingly agreed to review the bauxite mine and alumina production projects planned for the Central Highlands after receiving a much-publicized letter from 1,500 noted former politicians and intellectuals calling for new studies of the scheme.

"The disaster in Hungary is a serious warning to Vietnam," said the letter, whose signatories included former vice-president Nguyen Thi Binh and former deputy minister of natural resources and environment Dang Hung Vo.

But although government spokesmen have said "It is necessary to listen to concerns of the public and intellectuals," the tone and body language suggest there is no enthusiasm for halting the development of what, at 5.5 billion tonnes, are said to be some of the world's largest reserves of the ore from which aluminum is produced.

Indeed, since the protests against the developments started in 2008 the Hanoi government has used all the regular powers of a one-party authoritarian state to try to suppress the movement.

Some critics have been detained and an enormous amount of government energy has been spent on sabotaging a website, Bauxite Vietnam, created by opponents.

Among those arrested was the webmaster who was forced to give up the site's passwords so government hackers could try to erase it or infect it with viruses.

But the government has had to step with some caution. One of the early and persistent critics of the bauxite mines development is that great national hero, now 100 years old, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap.

It was the general who defeated the French colonial masters at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, who fought the United States and its allies to standstill in the 1970s, and who masterminded the final onslaught to unify Vietnam in 1975.

In an open letter to the prime minister in January last year, Giap called for the mine development to be halted until proper environmental impact studies have been made.

But Giap, who has become known fondly as the "Green General," went on to warn of the security implications of the development being undertaken primarily by China's state-owned aluminum company Chalco in partnership with the Vietnam National Coal-Mineral Industries group.

Giap, who humiliated Beijing when his army easily defeated a massive Chinese military invasion in 1979, warned that Chalco would insist on bringing in thousands of Chinese workers for the project and that these people would be a security risk for Vietnam.

Large contingents of imported Chinese workers are now employed at the sites. One Chinese construction worker died in an accident at one of them last week.

After the first questionings about the safety of the bauxite projects, Dung promised to order a full environmental impact report to be produced by the end of last year. But none has been made public.

Instead the projects, which will require a $15-billion investment, have gone through the full process of approval by the Communist Party's Central Committee, the government and the National Assembly.

This investment of political prestige makes it very difficult for the government to backtrack without losing authority.

And Dung is known to be a very determined man who is usually unfazed by opposition, even when it comes from an illustrious national hero like the general.

Even so, the stories of the generous cash and other gifts Chinese companies are reported to give African leaders in return for access to resources have left many Vietnamese wondering if similar considerations have been given to Dung and his family.

The persistent rumour is that Chalco gave the prime minister's family $150 million to secure the contract. Dung has not addressed these allegations.

Having tried without success to silence opposition with the usual tools of the police state, Dung's government is now trying reassurance.

Enough precautions have been taken, say spokesmen, to ensure Vietnam does not face the same risks as Hungary when, on Oct. 4, a reservoir of toxic residue from the alumina plant near Ajka, 160 kilometres from Budapest, burst and sent a wave of poisonous sludge cascading through three villages and on into the Danube River.

Duong Van Hoa, deputy director general of the Vietnamese partner in the first stage of the project involving two bauxite mines and processing complexes, said eight sludge reservoirs are being built, enough to store 12 years worth of toxic waste.

The waste, he said, is toxin-free after three years.

Sixty-six per cent of the first bauxite mining project has been completed at Tan Rai in Lam Dong Province and it is due to start production at the end of this year. Construction of the second project at Nhan Co in Dak Nong Province is due to start in March.

 

 

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