Đoàn Thanh Liêm – My Two Passions in Life

Đoàn Thanh Liêm

Here is another text I have just received from my Vietnamese friend, dissident Đoàn Thanh Liêm.

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My Two Passions in Life

I used to tell my friends: “I have only two simple passions in life, that’s books and friends.” Now, let me elaborate on that.

1 – My grandpa was a teacher of Chinese characters in the early 20th century. He passed away when I was only 6 years old, and I never had the chance to learn Chinese from him. Instead, I studied French, Latin and English as foreign languages. As a young boy from a peasant family in the rural area of North Vietnam, I was much encouraged by elders to pursue studies consistently and for as long as possible. They used to remind me of this saying: “Biển học mênh mông” (The learning is like a limitless ocean). Unfortunately, due to the war erupting at the end of 1946, my schooling was interrupted as I moved around at least three different localities in the Red River Delta. I only started attending regular classes in the 1950’s and finally completed high school in Hanoi during June 1954. Continue reading “Đoàn Thanh Liêm – My Two Passions in Life”

Đoàn Thanh Liêm – From Social Action to Human Rights Advocacy

By profession, I am a lawyer, a jurist. But as a volunteer, I’ve spent much of my time in social work in Vietnam during the war and in human rights action at the time being in the United States.
In the mid-1960’s as the war escalated, a lot of people from the insecure countryside flocked into the outskirts of the capital city of Saigon. They lived in slum areas in miserable conditions without basic facilities such as clean water, toilet, electricity or medical care etc…, let alone school for their children.
That is why a group of young urban folks like us got together to start an action program called “The Saigon District 8 Development Project” in 1965 to help these war victims help themselves in the most underpriviledged area of Saigon. The youngest volunteers were then about 20 years old and the eldest about 30.
To begin with, we submitted a request to the government asking to be allowed to set up a community development program for the benefit of the local people in the slums – most of whom are war victims coming from the adjoining countryside. Thereupon, the Prime Minister agreed to our proposal and even provided us with a little fund for the operation of the program. And right away, by mid-August 1965, we came to district 8 and wholeheartedly launched ourselves into the long term social action aiming at serving the people in the community. Details of the running of this cooperation between us the volunteers and the administration can be summarised as follows:

I – The key success to the experience : “The Three With Approach”
As volunteers, the only thing we had in common that is the high morale of deeply motivated and dedicated young people. But to put it frankly, we were all naïve and inexperienced facing the enormously hard problems of poverty, insalubrity and even illiteracy in the area. With sheer perseverance, we had to practice the “Three With Approach” (Tam Cùng) – that’s to Live With, to Eat With and to Work With the local population – thus sharing with them all hardships in their daily life.
As time went by, we were gradually seen and accepted with sympathy by the local residents as “good guys’, “well educated folks”. And that favorable attitude opened up to the sincere and close cooperation between the community and our group of volunteers all coming from outside of the locality.

Continue reading “Đoàn Thanh Liêm – From Social Action to Human Rights Advocacy”

Doan Thanh Liem – Some Brief Notes on The Vietnam War (1945 – 1975). A Vietnamese Perspective

We are now in 2015, it’s a remarkable time to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Independence of Vietnam (1945 – 2015) and also the 40th anniversary of “ the cessation of hostilities” (1975 – 2015).

Let’s reflect on the war that lasted almost 30 years and killed more than 3 million of Vietnamese on both sides communist and non-communist. In this short paper, I’d like to present the general understanding of the majority of the Vietnamese people who are both victims and ultimate witnesses of the war that was primarily “brothers killing brothers” – rather than the war that was imposed upon them by foreign powers. Here are very briefly some main points :

I – The war started already in the Summer of 1945, right after the Vietnamese communists had the power in hand at the defeat of the Japanese in Asia. In two years 1945 – 1947, the communist forces had systematically liquidated all non-communist elements all over different parts of the country – that’s in the North, Central and South Vietnam.

In the North, most of the Đại Việt and Quốc Dân Đảng elite members were killed – the best known being Ly‎ Đông A, Trương Tử Anh, and Khái Hưng the famous writer etc…

In the South, most of the Trotskysts like Tạ Thu Thâu, Phan Văn Hùm, Trần Văn Thạch etc… as well as the founder of the Hòa Hảo Buddhist sect Hùynh Phú Sổ were killed. Continue reading “Doan Thanh Liem – Some Brief Notes on The Vietnam War (1945 – 1975). A Vietnamese Perspective”

Doan Thanh Liem – Justice and Dignity for All of Us


Celebrating the 60 th Anniversary of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In view of commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the Proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR : 1948-2008), the United Nations has adopted this motto “Justice and Dignity for All of us” as the theme to launch worldwide action for the promotion and protection of Human Rights in the year 2008.

As we all have known it, at the proclaiming of the UDHR in Paris on Decenber 10, 1948, Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt, the prestigious American First Lady had unequivocally qualified it as “the Magna Carta for all mankind”. And it took almost 30 years later for the UN to promulgate in 1976 “The International Bill of Human Rights” that consists of the UDHR and two International Covenants, one on “Economic,Social, and Cultural Rights” and another on “Civil and Political Rights”. This Bill is the first universal document ever attained by mankind all over our planet guaranteeing the respect of human rights and dignity. It really gives us hope for a more peaceful and compassionate world that is worthy of the supreme value of human being.

And in recent thirty years, thousands of Human Rights Advocacy organisations have boomed everywhere in the world to serve as an valuable counterpart/counterbalance in demanding national/local governments to respect human rights of their own citizen. Remarkably such non-governmental organisations as Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), Green Peace (GP) etc…have served as solid components for the emerging “Global Civil Society” that eventually could help deal better with complex situation in our present day world, for the benefit of the most underpriviledged, downtrodden people under whatever politically oppressive environment in any particular country.   Continue reading “Doan Thanh Liem – Justice and Dignity for All of Us”

Doan Thanh Liem – A Very Short Introduction into the Vietnamese Culture

In a narrowest sense, the culture of a people can be defined as the way this people live, grow, expand and survive from generation to generation throughout their long history. Thus we can say that their culture is the national patrimony that has been constantly accumulated since the foundation of the nation-state.

Even as a small country, Vietnam has started its history more than 4,000 years ago with its distinct language, laws, customs, traditions, and administration. Facing its giant neighbour China, Vietnam has acquired both positive and negative aspects of this “big brother’s” influence. Continue reading “Doan Thanh Liem – A Very Short Introduction into the Vietnamese Culture”

Doan Thanh Liem – How I became a political prisoner in Vietnam in the 1990’s


As a senior jurist, in early 1990 I wrote a text in Vietnamese entitled “Five Points of Basis Consensus” – containing not more than 300 words.

This text was intended to serve as a guideline for the discussion on the drafting of a new constitution for Vietnam. It focused on the following principles, each one in a separate paragraph :

1 – No State Religion, No State Dogma.

2 – A multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Vietnam Society.

3 – Human Rights as foundation for the legal/political system.

4 – The primary role of the State is to serve as a Referee, not as a Partner in business activities.

5 – A General Amnesty shall be proclaimed for the sake of National Reconciliation and Concord. Continue reading “Doan Thanh Liem – How I became a political prisoner in Vietnam in the 1990’s”

Doan Thanh Liem – Poems from Prison – 2

A Message to Youth

Young friends of mine
Let’s have the Right Thinking
To discover the wonders
In the Nature& Human society
Let’s have the Nice Feeling
To love everybody
Even our enemy. Continue reading “Doan Thanh Liem – Poems from Prison – 2”

Doan Thanh Liem – Poems from Prison – 1

Friends, Stand Up

Friends of mine, be ready
It’s now time for us
To openly and directly
Launch ourselves into the battle
We ask for
Not only food and clothes
But also Dignity and Love.
Against the Brutal Tyranny
We fight, equipped with
Undaunted Courage
Perseverance, Sacrifice
And Non-Violence. Continue reading “Doan Thanh Liem – Poems from Prison – 1”

Doan Thanh Liem – Reflections on My Days in Jail

Doan Thanh Liem

Human endurance has its own limits. I suffered terribly in the first two years in jail. I fell into despair. I fell hopeless and helpless. When I was alone in my dark cell, I could rarely sleep soundly. I did not sense any joy whatever in the world. That really was the darkest time of my life.

But gradually I have recovered from this internal crisis, thanks to some inmates who are also political prisoners. I regained my enthusiasm for social service, making some plans for my future action. As my age advances, I will mainly devote my efforts to sociocultural rather than political activities. Certainly I could act as an adviser and supporter to young activists in the political sphere, but personally I like to keep a low profile in public life. Continue reading “Doan Thanh Liem – Reflections on My Days in Jail”