Minority Rights in Vietnam

By Scott Crichtonscott crichton

We had an outstanding meeting with a remarkable group, ISEE, the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and the Environment. ISEE is a nonprofit organization whose stated mission is “working for the rights of minority groups in society and helping to build a civilized, prosperous, free and equal society, where people are treated with fairness and values of humanity are respected.”

ISEE’s new Director, Luong Minh Ngoc, explained to us how they conduct their work as a nationwide civil society organization working with various marginalized populations. I was struck by a number of similarities between their work and that of the national ACLU, although clearly the two groups operate in very different political environments.

ISEE is largely based in Hanoi and in Ho Chi Minh City, although they discussed plans to expand their work and strengthen their presence in a number of strategic provinces where they intend to work with pre-exiting CBOs (community-based organizations). That made me mindful of how national ACLU devised a strategy a decade ago that took the initiative to strengthen a number of affiliates in a dozen states across the nation to enhance our nationwide presence.

ISEE works on many of the same issues s the ACLU. They have a radically different judicial system so they don’t much compare in terms of taking on litigation, but they do engage in efforts to help transform social values, attack social stigmas, and empower racial and ethnic minorities, as well as others including GLBT, PWD (People with Disabilities) and other marginalized groups.

We were pleasantly surprised to learn how much progress has been made regarding GLBT rights in particular. Clearly there is much more work that needs to be done both in Vietnam and the United State. Adoption is not an option for GLBT people in Vietnam. Neither is marriage. Still there is an increasing awareness and acceptance of people being able to love who they will as being a basic right.

In our far-ranging discussions they pointed out that the new United States ambassador to Vietnam, Ted Osius, is a gay man. He and his husband and their two children are a first for the U.S. Embassy here, and as I write this, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg – a.k.a., the Notorious R.B.G. – is in country to help them celebrate the renewal of their vows.

ISEE works with more than a dozen other civil and community-based organizations in innovative collaboration. I asked specifically about what drove their organizational model and was taken with their explanation of how theirs is an anthropological philosophy where they integrate concepts of urgency, with an insider’s perspective and a holistic vision.

They advance their work with exceptionally well-done publications that incorporate anthropological photography to tell stories of real people in a manner that unambiguous;y advances human dignity.

I look forward to spending time on our flight home giving an in-depth read of the books they gave us and hope to be able to be able to connect them with people in our organization working on similar issues. Many thanks to our host Nguyen Ngoc Lan for setting up this informative and inspiring meeting.


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