Joan Baez’s Open Letter to The Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Four years ago, the United States ended its 20-year presence in Vietnam. An anniversary that should be cause for celebration is, instead, a time for grieving.

With tragic irony, the cruelty, violence and oppression practiced by foreign powers in your country for more than a century continue today under the present regime.

Thousands of innocent Vietnamese, many whose only “crimes” are those of conscience, are being arrested, detained and tortured in prison and re-education camps. Instead of bringing hope and reconciliation to war-torn Vietnam, your government has created a painful nightmare that overshadows significant progress achieved in many areas of Vietnamese society.

Your government stated in February 1977 that some 50,000 people were then incarcerated. Journalists, independent observers and refugees estimate the current number of political prisoners between 150,000 and 200,000.

What ever the exact figure, the facts form a grim mosaic. Verified reports have appeared in the press around the globe from Le Monde and The Observer to the Washington Post and Newsweek. We have heard the horror stories from the people of Vietnam – from workers and peasants, Catholic nuns and Buddhist priests, from boat people, the artists and professionals and those who fought alongside the NLF.

The jails are overflowing with thousands upon thousands of “detainees”.

People disappears and never return.

People are shipped to re-education centers, fed a starvation diet of stale rice, forced to squat bound wrist to ankle, suffocated in “connex” boxes.

People are used as human mine detectors, clearing  mine fields with their hands and feet.

For many, life is hell and death is prayed for.

Many victims are men, women and children who supported and fought for the causes of reunification and self-determination; those who as pacifists, members of religious groups, or on moral and philosophic grounds opposed the authoritarian policies of Thieu and Ky; artists and intellectuals whose commitment to creative expression is anathema to the totalitarian policies of your government.

Requests by Amnesty International and others for impartial investigations of prison conditions remain unanswered. Families who inquire about husbands, wives, daughters or sons are ignored.

It was an abiding commitment to fundamental principles of human dignity, freedom and self-determination that motivated so man American to oppose the government of South Vietnam and our country’s participation in the war. It is that same commitment that compels us to speak out against your brutal disregard of human rights. As in the 60s, we raise our voices now so that your people may live.

We appeal to you to end the imprisonment and torture – to allow an international team of neutral observers to inspect your prisons and re-education centers.

We urge you to follow the tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international Covenant for Civil and Political Rights which, as a member of the United Nations, your country is pledged to uphold.

We urged you to reaffirm your stated commitment to the basic principles of freedom and human dignity… to establish real peace in Vietnam.

Joan Baez

May 30, 1979


Ansel Adams
Edward Asner
Albert V. Baez
Joan c. Baez
Peter S. Beagle
Hugo Adam Bedau
Barton J. Bernstein
Daniel Berrigan
Robert Bly
Ken Botto
Kay Boyle
John Brodie
Edmund G. “Pat” Brown
Yvonne Braithwaite Burke
Henry B. Burnette, Jr.
Herb Caen
David Carliner
Cesar Chavez
Richard Pierre Claude
Bert Coffey
Norman Cousins
E. L. Doctorow
Benjamin Dreyfus
Ecumenical Peace Institute Staff
MiIni Farina
Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Douglas A. Fraser
Dr. Lawrence Zelic Freedman
Joe Fury
Allen Ginsberg
Herbert Gold
David B. Goodstein
Sanford Gottlieb
Richard J. Guggenhime
Denis Goulet, Sr.
Bill Graham
Lee Grant
Peter Grosslight
Thomas J. Gumbleton
Terence Hallinan
Francis Heisler
Nat Hentoff
Rev. T. M. Hesburgh, C.J.C.
John T. Hitchcock
Art Hoppe
Dr. Irving L. Horowitz
Henry S. Kaplan, M.D.
R. Scott Kennedy
Roy C. Kepler
Seymour S. Kety
Peter Klotz-Chamberlin
Jeri Laber
Norman Lear
Philip R. Lee, M.D.
Alice Lynd
Staughton Lynd
Bradford Lyttle
Frank Mankiewicz
Bob T. Martin
James A. Michener
Marc Miller
Edward A. Morris
Mike Nichols
Peter Orlovsky
Michael R. Peevey
Geoffrey Cobb Ryan
Ginetta Sagan
Leonard Sagan, M.D.
Charles M. Schultz
Ernest L. Scott
Jack Sheinkman
Jerome J. Shestack
Gary Snyder
I. F. Stone
Rose Styron
William Styron
Lily Tomlin
Peter H. Voulkos
Grace Kennan Warnecke
Lina Wertmuller
Morris L. West
Dr. Jerome P. Wiesner
Jamie Wyeth
Peter Yarrow
Charles W. Yost

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