GENEVA, 15 September 2011 (VIETNAM COMMITTEE) – Speaking on behalf of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) and Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva today, Mr. Vo Tran Nhat called on Vietnam to cease recent repression of peaceful demonstrations, release all demonstrators still under detention and repeal anti-demonstration laws that contravene Vietnam’s international obligations under the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. He also called for a visit to Vietnam by the UN’s new Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Mr. Maina Kiai.
Describing unprecedented demonstrations that have taken place in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) since June 5th 2011 to protest Chinese incursions into Vietnamese territories and waters, and to denounce the submissive attitude of the Hanoi government, Mr. Vo Tran told the UN Human Rights Council that dozens of people in Hanoi had been arrested, and Police continue to threaten protesters with severe reprisals if they take to the streets again. A ban on demonstrations announced by the Hanoi People’s Committee on the grounds that they were “incited by hostile forces” has sparked off strong public discontent. On 18 August, 25 prominent Hanoi intellectuals, including academia, Communist Party members and military veterans sent a Petition to the government, and 10 others filed an indictment against the State-controlled TV and Radio, stating that the protests were by “patriotic Vietnamese”.
Calling on Vietnam to urgently abrogate Decree 38 and its Implementation Directive which prohibit gatherings of over five people outside public buildings, Mr. Vo Tran said: “As the new UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association begins his mandate, it is vital to inform the UN Human Rights Council that, at this very moment, these fundamental rights are being gravely and systematically abused in Vietnam”.
“Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights warmly welcome the appointment of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Mr. Maina Kiai. The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association are fundamental and inalienable rights, enshrined in Article 21 of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Yet in many countries in the world, these rights are gravely abused.
We are particularly disturbed by the suppression of peaceful protests in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, where over the past three months, a series of unprecedented demonstrations have taken place. From 5 June to 21 August, demonstrators have gathered every Sunday in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to protest incursions by China into Vietnamese territories and waters, and disputes over the sovereignty of the Paracel and Spratly Islands in the South China seas. These protests began after Chinese patrol boats harassed Vietnamese ships conducting a seismic survey in Vietnamese waters in May 2011.
The demonstrations were initiated by young people who used text messages and blogs to convene the rallies and bring together prominent intellectuals, former Communist party veterans, artists and students. They specified that these protests would be orderly and nonviolent, in conformity with the right to peaceful demonstration enshrined in the Vietnamese Constitution (Article 69).
However, in spite of these constitutional guarantees and Vietnam’s binding international obligations as a state party to the ICCPR, Vietnamese Police and authorities have stifled these peaceful and legitimate protests. On 5 June, Security Police intercepted monks belonging to the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) and surrounded the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery to prevent UBCV Patriarch and prominent dissident Thich Quang Do from attending the rally in Ho Chi Minh City. On 17 July, Police clamped down brutally on the demonstration in Hanoi, detaining scores of people in their homes and arresting at least 10 people. One man, Nguyen Chi Duc, was held by the arms and legs as a Policeman stamped on his face.
On 18 August, the Hanoi People’s Committee issued an order to “end gatherings, demonstrations and spontaneous marches”. It warned that people who did not comply with the order would be punished. The order sparked off strong protests in Vietnam. On the same day, 25 prominent Hanoi intellectuals, including economists, bloggers, a former vice-minister and a retired general (Nguyen Trong Vinh, Nguyen Quang A, Nguyen Ngoc, Nguyen Hue Chi, Le Dang Doanh, Nguyen Xuan Dien, Trinh Kim Tien, etc.) sent a Petition to the Hanoi People’s Committee denouncing the order as “illegal and unconstitutional”. On 5 September, a group of 10 intellectuals filed a law suit against the State-controlled Radio and TV for reporting that the protests were “incited by hostile forces”, stressing that they were “peaceful demonstrations by patriotic Vietnamese”.
When the protests continued on 21 August despite the government ban, Police cracked down heavily. 47 demonstrators were arrested. Although most were later released, a number are reportedly still under investigation. All demonstrations have been forbidden since then and Police have systematically visited the homes of all former protesters, threatening them with reprisals if they take engage in public protests again. On 28 August, after a meeting with the Chinese Defense Minister in Beijing, Vietnamese Deputy-Minister of Defense Nguyen Chi Vinh, announced that “we will strongly sanction any gatherings or rallies in Vietnam. We will not let this happen again”.
This is not the first time Vietnam has arrested demonstrators and crushed legitimate peaceful protests. We are particularly alarmed about the case of blogger Nguyen Van Hai, alias Dieu Cay, who is currently detained under charges of “propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” for staging peaceful demonstrations. He is currently detained incommunicado, and Police informed his wife recently that he has “lost his hand or arm” in prison. Dieu Cay was recognized by as a victim of arbitrary detention by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (Opinion 1/2009).
Moreover, Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme and the Vietnam Committee for Human Rights are deeply concerned that Vietnam is not only using state coercion to repress peaceful demonstrations, but that it has adopted anti-demonstration laws in flagrant contradiction with its obligations under the ICCPR. Decree 38/ND-CP, adopted in 2005, prohibits demonstrations outside state agencies and public buildings and bans all protests deemed to “interfere with the activities” of the state. The “Directives for the Implementation of Decree 38” issued by the Ministry of Public security in 2006 prohibits gatherings of more than five people without permission from the state.
We call upon Vietnam to promote and protect the right to peaceful demonstration and release all demonstrators who are still detained; to bring its domestic legislation into line with international standards by abrogating Decree 38 and adopting a law which fully guarantees the right to peaceful assembly; and to invite the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association to visit Vietnam at the earliest possible opportunity.