The Quality of Justice

By Sidney Tran

There were two significant court cases that I witnessed recently.  Both were quite informative in its outcome and judicial proceeding.  One was the case of Father Nguyen Van Ly and the other involved the bizarre but swashbuckling, Ly Tong.  The only similarity between the two cases was that they both took place in Southeast Asia.  There the similarity dissolves like water under a hot sun.  The court cases say much about the judicial system in Viet Nam and its neighbor Thailand.  The lack of rudimentary justice is not only telling about the court system but also it is an indication of the overall societal development.  The rule of law is one of most important concepts that a modern industrialized state should have.  In the social world of man, there will always be conflicts because human beings are social animals that must interact with each other.  This interaction will eventually cause friction and conflict.  Therefore, a judicial system was created in order to remedy these conflicts in a civilized, non-violent way.  Justice is an important component for a harmonious and peaceful society.  It is through the collective wisdom of jurisprudence that justice is served for a society.      

It is with utter sadness that I witnessed the judicial proceedings in Vietnam.  Father Ly’s case was a farce from the beginning to the end.  Someone should inform the rulers in Hanoi that this year is 2007.  In contrast, the United States is governed by a written living document called the Constitution for over 200 years.  The judicial system in the US is independent and has power to adjudicate cases without political interference.   In contrast, Vietnam is not even near the starting gate in terms of her judicial development and her acceptance of the rule of law.  Father Ly’s case illustrated the crude hand and mentality of the Communist Party of Vietnam.  These gray old men still think they can rule through the sheer implementation of terror and intimidation.  It is time for Viet Nam to let go of the brutish habits of the past.  A new era needs a new mindset to rule the realm.  If a society cannot change with the times, it will be relegated to the historical winds of change.  If the men cannot change, then the historical whirlwind will sweep them off into the dustbin of history. 

While the case in Thailand I had the chance to see how far Thai society has advanced for the better.  Her judicial system conforms to the international standards of jurisprudence.  Ly Tong’s case was transparent.  His case was reviewed by an appeals court that handled his case.  The case was free of political manipulation.  The opinion of the judge decided on this very fact that his offense was a political act; therefore, Ly Tong could not be extradited to Viet Nam.  On the other hand, Viet Nam sought to prosecute him on the basis of national security and sovereignty which would be a criminal offense.  The Thai judge recognized it was not a criminal act and threw out the case because Ly Tong’s action was political not criminal.  In Thailand I’m sure a person can access the court’s opinion as to how the judge derived his decision on the case.  The judge’s opinion can be reviewed by other jurists or members of the press.  This transparency is important for the maintenance of justice.  It takes a highly literate society to produce judges and lawyers.  In order for these judges and lawyers to have a meaningful impact on society, these professionals should be able to argue their views with the certainty of due process and fairness.  At one point in time, Viet Nam was as equal to Thailand in her societal development.  But if the court system is an indication of the gap between Viet Nam and Thailand’s development, then Viet Nam has a long, long way to go.  Viet Nam has been in a self-induced coma for over 30 years.  As a person of Vietnamese heritage, it pains me to see this is the reality of what Viet Nam has become.           

In Viet Nam, the case of Father Nguyen Van Ly was carried out because of Father Ly’s continuing advocacy for pluralism and human rights.  In Viet Nam it is illegal to go against the ruling mandarins of Hanoi.  They are the ones who will define what is legal and what is illegal.  Thus the concept of justice is based on the opinion of the policy makers not by the jurists who can rule on the basis of fact and law.  By this rationale justice could never be independent or impartial to manipulation.  Nothing speaks more volume than seeing the image of Father Ly’s mouth covered by some mean looking man of the secret police.  Father Ly’s case is no better than what had occurred in Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union.  Even totalitarian states seek the legitimacy of a court room to show to the world a façade of judicial proceedings.  This is the sad reality of post war, re-unified Viet Nam.  If injustice is tolerated in Viet Nam, how will she ever catch up with the rest of the civilized world?  Viet Nam lost her independence because of the very fact that her political leaders were unwilling to change with the times.  Will Viet Nam be relegated to an eternal fate of backwardness or will she have political leaders who will have the foresight to change for the better and to secure Viet Nam’s place among the civilized countries in the family of man?  If Father Ly’s case is an indication of a new direction, then Viet Nam’s march toward the light of civilization is as far away as the distance between the center of the Milky Way galaxy as to Earth.

For the Vietnamese community overseas, Father Ly’s case was an eye opening experience as to the nastiness of the Hanoi government.  It is especially an eye opening experience for people like me who has never witnessed first hand the crudeness of the Hanoi government.  Vietnamese Americans and other overseas Vietnamese were nurtured in a society where law, order, and justice are real concepts rather than empty words on a political poster without any real meaning.  It is quite shocking that our ethnic brethren are still subjected to this sort of abuse.  What the present government does not realize is that there will always be brave men and women like Father Ly who would sacrifice everything as long as injustice exists on the soil of Viet Nam.  The leaders in Hanoi are so out of touch with their own people.  Unfortunately, they do not see them as partners to share power with.  It is legacy that has endured for too long in Viet Nam.  Old totalitarian habits die hard in Viet Nam.  The rulers are so used to ruling by these methods they do not know what else to do. Dictators in power always seem to think they are immortal.  They think they are invulnerable to the winds of change.  Ultimately, the fight for the future of Viet Nam rests with the inhabitants inside Viet Nam; it is a fight between the Vietnamese people versus the Viet Cong not the Viet Kieu versus the Viet Cong.  All we can do is to tell the truth because the rulers in Hanoi will keep the populace blind as possible.   The word of mouth from the Viet Kieu community will be more powerful, more sincere, and more effective than any modern mode of communications.  Our testimony to our ethnic brethren will be an indictment of Hanoi’s cruel system.  Hopefully, one day the people will lose their fear and ask for their rights, property, and dignity back from the rulers who have fooled them for so long.  When that day comes a court proceeding like in Father Ly’s case will be the thing of a long, forgotten, painful, and tragic past.  Hope springs eternal for a Viet Nam that values justice for her people.   

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