Taiwan Congressman Handy Chiu speech at the Legislative Yuan meeting with Foreign Affairs Ministry and Defense Ministry on 12/5/2022 in regard to Formosa lawsuit

Vietnam today reminds me of Taiwan in the old days.

Economy first. Authoritarian rule. Compromised environment. The livelihoods of peasants and fishermen were being ignored. Those who voiced demands for justice were harshly persecuted.

Multinational corporations polluted our land and harmed our citizens. Nonetheless, the government sided with the offenders; meanwhile, the victims, living in the dark, fought hard for a flickering hope of justice.

Have we forgotten what we went through?

In 2016, Formosa steel plant in Ha Tinh Province [Vietnam] discharged toxic water, causing an environmental calamity. Fish died in large quantities in the ocean; the lives of more than 200,000 inhabitants were severely affected. Many people were contaminated in the disaster.

Subsequently, Formosa only reached a compensation agreement with the Vietnamese government while the large majority of Vietnamese people affected were not compensated. Under the autocratic government in Vietnam, the court has rejected the victims’ complaints.

However, the people did not give up hope. With the help of the Formosa Oversight Alliance — of many Taiwanese NGOs and international organizations — over 7,000 victims filed complaints at Taiwanese court, asking for compensation from Formosa. The Supreme Court agreed last year to hear the case.

While we saw a glimmer of hope, we now face a new problem: The court requires that the attorney representation agreement of the victims be approved by the Taiwanese diplomatic mission in Vietnam. And according to the current procedure of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the attorney representation agreement must also be approved by the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

This is a major problem!

To suppress criticisms and activities from Vietnamese people [affected by the disaster], the Vietnamese government has adopted brutal means of oppressive actions. As of today, at least 16 Vietnamese citizens have been arrested or prosecuted, many with sentences of more than 10 years in prison.

Having seen victims of this environmental disaster facing political prosecution and being sentenced, Taiwan Foreign Minister Mr. Wu Jian Luan said that it reminded him of the prosecution in Taiwan after the Kao-Hsiung Incident years ago.

Requiring the Vietnamese government’s approval of the victims’ attorney representation agreement essentially means that each victim will have to stand trial.

The investigation by the United Nations Human Rights Commission found that the Vietnamese government since 2019 has repeatedly used tactics of coercion, threats, violence, random arrests and imprisonment to brutally repress human rights activists and social workers.

The 2021 U.S. State Department Report on Vietnam Human Rights also reported random arrests and imprisonment by the government, especially against political activists, as a very serious issue in Vietnam.

At today’s Commission on Foreign and Defense Affairs, I’m asking the Foreign Affairs Ministry to collect data on international human rights, voices from the local community, and to reassess the Vietnamese Human Rights issue, to seek a way to ensure victims safety and human rights in order to warrant the [Formosa] victims a fair chance of justice in the court of law.

Vietnamese people are on the same path we have gone through. Let’s not forget that on our path to democratization, we received a lot of help from our friends globally. We should help the victims of the Formosa disaster.

(Translated from Mandarin by Tâm Đàm)