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EU Delegation raises serious human rights concerns during visit to Vietnam

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PARIS 7 April 2023 (VCHR) – A delegation of Members of the European Parliament visiting Vietnam from 4 – 6 April 2023 expressed serious concerns about violations of social and political rights including freedom of expression and association, Internet freedom, freedom of religion or belief and repression of human rights and environmental rights defenders.

Recalling that Vietnam had committed to improve human rights as part of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), the delegation said they were “deeply disappointed” that the government had failed to deliver on its promises, and observed  that there had been absolutely no improvement in human rights since EVFTA came into force almost three years ago, on 1 August 2020.

The cross party delegation was made up of members of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on human rights, led by its Chairman Udo Bullmann (S&D, Germany) and including Gheorghe-Vlad Nistor (EPP, Rumania), Leopoldo López Gil (EPP, Spain), Isabel Santos (S&D, Portugal), Nacho Sánchez Amor (S&D, Spain) and Urmas Paet (Renew, Estonia).

At a Press Conference in Hanoi on Thursday, Mr. Bullmann said the delegation were particularly concerned about “the shrinking space for civil society, abuse of the vague provisions of the criminal code to suppress critical voices, harassment of  activists, repression of freedom of expression, notably in the online space, and of freedom of religion and belief.”

They raised the cases of several political and religious prisoners with the Vietnamese authorities, deploring the lack of access to a fair trial, and called for the “immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, including NGO leaders, journalists and environmental activists.”

In a separate interview, MEP Nacho Sánchez Amor said that the mission conducted by the EP Human Rights Sub-committee was “very much related to trade. In the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) there is a chapter dedicated to democratic conditionalities. We decided to come to the country to examine what is the current status of improvements and the commitments made by the Vietnamese authorities when they signed the free trade agreement.”

Whereas the delegation “observed that the trade aspects of the agreement are running more or less well”, Sanchez Amor said that “concerning the respect of human rights and democratic reforms we are very, very disappointed. There is no progress, no improvement in human rights, no freedom of expression. Non-governmental organizations have a lot of problems in conducting their activities. We could not see any openness or willingness of the Vietnamese authorities to respect the commitments that they made when signing EVFTA.”

MEP Sánchez Amor said the visit enabled the EP delegation to have a clearer overall picture of the human rights situation in Vietnam. “There are certain areas where we can work together with the government – there is political will to deal with child labour and human trafficking, that’s clear. But other aspects such as the general situation of human rights, the activities of NGOs, the space for civil society is clearly curtailed. There is no apparent political will whatsoever to advance on political reforms. This is why we are so disappointed, because these political reforms are an integral part of the free trade agreement to which we are both committed”.

The Spanish MEP added that the delegation was very concerned about worker rights, which constitute an essential element of EVFTA’s Trade and Sustainable Development Chapter. “We insisted strongly about Vietnam’s promises to ratify ILO Convention 87 concerning the creation on independent trade unions. But so far we cannot see any steps that Vietnam is taking to deliver on these promises.”.

The delegation was able to meet with non-state actors, including some representatives of civil society. But “for obvious reasons”, Sánchez Amor said, he could not disclose the names of their interlocutors. During the last visit of the EP Human Rights Subcommittee in 2017, civil society activists were subjected to harassments, threats and tightened Police surveillance after meeting the EP delegation. —

This post is also available in: French

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