Human Rights Advocacy in Vietnam

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to work we go

After an easy introduction to Vietnam that involved a day of touring Hanoi and sampling street food, it was time to go to work.

Our first day of meetings was intense. In the morning, we visited two law firms – NACI Law and Viet Sunshine.

NACI Law is a fairly young firm, specializing mostly in corporate and intellectual property. A number of legal trainees work with the director, Dang Quy Tien, in much the same way interns do in the United States.

Viet Sunshine, headed by Nguyen Thi Bich Lien, is more established, and also focuses largely on corporate law, including small businesses and trade with Australia. One thing immediately became apparent during our conversations with lawyers in both firms: That in Vietnam, as in the United States, the law is a complex and time-consuming thing.

Something particular to Vietnam are the “guidance documents” issued whenever a new law is enacted, or a court decision is handed down. Lawyers in each firm told us that it can take as much as a year for these documents, which explain how the law or decision applies, to be issued. Then, of course, everyone must study them for the correct interpretation, so the process takes even longer.

The Sunshine Law Firm also participates in a free legal-services hotline, and has a sub-specialty in family law. They were especially interested in the human rights aspect of the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana’s work. Scott presented the case of Raistlen Katka, who as a juvenile spent months in solitary confinement in Montana State Prison, despite being mentally ill.

Because of the ACLU’s work on his behalf, he was transferred to the state hospital where he received treatment for his illness.

In the afternoon, we met with two groups together – the ACDC, headed by our YSEALI host Ngoc Nguyen Lan, and LERES, the Center for Legal Research and Support, whose executive director is Nguyen Vinh.

At the ACDC offices, Lan enjoys pointing to a wall display of staff photos, and asking visitors to comment on a unique aspect of the organization. As she puts it, ACDC comprises “50 percent women and 50 percent females.”

Scott spoke about the ACLU’s advocacy for people with disabilities. He found several areas in common with LERES, and was particularly interested in that organization’s program to place law students with groups working on behalf of addicts, ethnic minorities and so on.

The day was not all business, however. The Sunshine Law Firm invited us to a celebratory lunch on behalf of Bo Moon, a young attorney who had just passed his exam. The restaurant featured bun cha, a noodle dish with barbecued pork and spring rolls (nem), which Gwen declared her new favorite.

The next day featured a meeting with ISEE, an LGBT advocacy group that will have its own blog post, as well as a visit to a mountain monastery. More on that later!


ACDC staff


NACI Law Group


Scott with NACI legal trainees


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