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European Commission fails to address the human rights impacts of its trade agreement with Vietnam

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PARIS, BRUSSELS, 7 October 2015 (FIDH & VCHR) – In their latest submission to the EU Ombudsman, dated 30 September 2015, FIDH and its member organisation, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), reiterated their call on the EU Commission (EC) to conduct a human rights impact assessment (HRIA) and introduce the necessary clauses and safeguards before finalising the EU-Vietnam free trade and investment agreement (FTA). FIDH and VCHR detail the reasons why, if finalised without conducting a HRIA and without introducing the necessary human rights safeguards, the FTA would be concluded in violation of EU law. FIDH and VCHR also call upon the other EU institutions to demand that the EU fully comply with its obligations.

Despite recognising in its memo dated 4 August 2015 having reached a deal that has “never before been achieved with a developing country”, and that is going “largely beyond […] any other FTA that Vietnam has concluded”, the EC still refuses to assess the impact of the agreement on human rights. It argues, in its opinion to the draft recommendation of the EU Ombudsman, Ms Emily O’Reilly, that a Human Rights Impact assessments (HRIA) is not necessary because the “mix of instruments” it uses to deal with human rights in Vietnam fulfils the “very same overarching purpose of an HRIA” and is sufficient to address the negative impacts the FTA may have.

Indeed the EC proposes to rely on dialogues, démarches, development cooperation, and provisions that “are normally included in FTAs”. However despite these tools have shown their limitations in practice and fall far short of providing appropriate mechanisms to measure and respond to the potentially negative impacts of the FTA.

“The threat that trade and investment agreements risk causing to human rights is well documented and demands a comprehensive revision of these deals. Instead, the EC turned a blind eye on its own responsibilities and invoked ineffective instruments that have demonstrably failed to prevent the negative impacts that trade deals may have on human rights,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

“From the outset, the European Commission has knowingly disregarded any human rights considerations in its quest to conclude its free trade agreement with Vietnam. Without strong human rights safeguards, the EU-Vietnam free trade agreement is likely to cause an increase in abuses of social, economic and political rights in Vietnam,” said VCHR President Vo Van Ai.

In their 30 pages submission to the Ombudsman (on 30 September), FIDH and VCHR demonstrated the EC’s failure to inform the ombudsman’s procedure and, more broadly, the democratic debate. FIDH and VCHR have clearly documented how superficial the EC’s analysis of the human rights impacts of the FTA is. The submission details the reasons why the solutions proposed by the EC are inadequate to address the new challenges the future EU-Vietnam FTA will pose for human rights, as well as some of the problematic provisions of the FTA and similar agreements. The submission also provides specific recommendations to enhance the human rights safeguards and to revise the agreement. Such safeguards notably include human rights flexibilities, redress and accountability mechanisms for affected communities, and a modification of the substantive provisions regarding investment protection.

Press contacts
FIDH: Ms. Gaëlle Dusepulchre (English & French on EU issues and FTA) – Tel: +32479491959 (Brussels); Mr. Andrea Giorgetta (English on Vietnam) – Tel: +66 886117722 (Bangkok); Mr. Arthur Manet (French, English, Spanish) – Tel: +33 672284294 (Paris)
VCHR: Ms. Penelope Faulkner (English, French, Vietnamese) – Tel. + 33 145983085 (Paris)

Background documents
Read the complaint
Read our Joint FIDH-VCHR response to the Commission’s comments regarding the request for information issued by the European Ombudsman ref. 1409/2014/JN
Read the Ombusdman’s draft recommendation
Read our press release following the Ombudsman’s recommendations: EU Commission’s refusal to conduct a human rights impact assessment in the context of trade agreement negotiations constitutes maladministration, says EU Ombudsperson
Read our press release and our open letter In hurrying trade deal with Vietnam, the EU is bypassing its human rights obligations

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