I just returned to Beijing after a wonderful week touring Vietnam. I took advantage of the May Day holiday to explore a country I have long wanted to visit. On Monday night after my Environmental Law class I flew from Beijing to Hanoi. On Tuesday afternoon I had a wonderful meeting with Dr. Tran Hong Ha, Director General of the Vietnam Environmental Protection Agency (VEPA). We met at VEPA’s offices in Hanoi.
Dr. Ha was accompanied by several of his top staff, including Duong Thanh An, director of VEPA’s International Division. We discussed the state of environmental law (“Moi Truong”) in Vietnam. Environmental protection was included in the Vietnamese Constitution in 1992 and the country’s first comprehensive environmental law was adopted the following year. In the subsequent decade considerable effort was devoted to improving environmental law, culminating in the enactment of the new Law of Environmental Protection on November 29, 2005. Dr. Ha presented me with a copy of the 2005 Law that includes an English translation.
Environmental law in Vietnam has not yet developed to the point where there is a specialized environmental bar, but both Hanoi University and Ho Chi Minh City University have departments of environmental law. VEPA is now focusing on developing regulations to implement the 2005 law and to conform to the requirements of international conventions that Vietnam has joined. The latter include the Convention on Biological Diversity, which we discussed with the VEPA official responsible for drafting the regulations. As in many developing countries, enforcement of environmental law has been a big problem in Vietnam. VEPA generally has been required to show actual harm to people before it can seek criminal sanctions.
We discussed various ways in which scholars from other countries could provide assistance to VEPA. I gave Dr. Ha a copy of my casebook and my compilation of U.S. environmental laws.
My visit to VEPA was arranged by Allison Moore, director of the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative in Vietnam. I first met Allison three years ago when she was directing the ABA’s efforts in China. On Tuesday evening we met with officials from the Vietnam Lawyer’s Association (VLA) and the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations (VUSTA). These included Pham Quoc Anh, president of the VLA who is a member of the National Assembly; Dr. Nguyan Hou Ninh, chairman of the Center for Environment Research, Education and Development (CERED); Ho Uy Liem, vice president and secretary general of VUSTA; Dr. Nguyen Manh Cuong, director of international relations for VUSTA; Dr. Nguyen Hoang Yen, deputy chief of the Vietnam Association for Conservation of Nature and Environment (VACNE); and Le Thi Kim Thanh, vice secretary general of the VLA.
Dr. Ninh was a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment Report. He gave me an autographed copy of his Nobel Prize commendation. He and other scientists in Vietnam are extremely worried about the impact of global climate change on Vietnam’s environment. Because so much of the country is coastline, sea level rise could have a particularly devastating effect on the country. Dr. Ninh showed us a chart of forecasts for how the Mekong Delta could be affected by sea level rise.
Vietnam has few environmental NGOs, but VUSTA and VLA have helped persuade the government to encourage the formation of more such organizations. I agreed to do whatever I can to assist, including returning to Vietnam to conduct a workshop on global environmental law later in the year.
While in Hanoi I visited the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where the embalmed remains of Vietnam’s former leader are on display. Ho Chi Minh and I share a birthday, May 19, which is now a national holiday in Vietnam. Wednesday April 30 was another national holiday, the 33rd anniversary of the “liberation” of Saigon. On Wednesday I toured Halong Bay, a World Heritage site that includes hundreds of spectacular karst islands northeast of Hanoi. On Thursday morning I flew to Hue and spent the next two days exploring the central coast between Hue and Hoi An. I flew to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) on Saturday and then back to Beijing on Sunday. Photos of my trip to Vietnam are available at http://gallery.mac.com/rperci/100217.