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European Parliament warns EU to increase vigilance on human rights abuses in Vietnam

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PARIS, 21 December 2015 (VCHR) – As it ratified the economic and political Partnership and Cooperation agreement (PCA) between the European Union and Vietnam on 17 December 2015, the European Parliament passed a Resolution  (1) urgently pressing the European Union to “live up to the expectations” raised by the agreement to effectively “advance the respect for human rights, the rule of law and good governance” in Vietnam.

Whilst welcoming the strengthening of EU-Vietnam relations (the EU is currently Vietnams largest export market, and the EU and its members states is the largest provider of Official Development Aid to Vietnam), Members of the European Parliament called for a greater role in monitoring human rights abuses and ensuring “proper democratic oversight” of the agreements implementation. The European Commission (EC) should ensure that MEPs are “immediately and fully informed” in writing of all developments so that they can monitor whether or not the EU-Vietnam partnership effectively promotes democratic freedoms and human rights in Vietnam.

The MEPs highlighted the importance of the PCA in light of an upcoming EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement, which contains a legally binding link to PCA political and human rights rules and gives EU right to take “appropriate measures” in case of a violation.

“The 45-point recommendations of the EP Resolution show the deep concerns of MEPs for a whole range of abuses of economic and political rights in Vietnam” said VCHR President Vo Van Ai. “Freedom of expression, both offline and online, freedom of the press, religious freedom, worker rights, human trafficking, abuses of womens and childrens rights, state grabbing of lands, forced evictions, lack of independent judiciary and unfair trials are all covered in this important Resolution. The EC should take these recommendations seriously, and ensure that EU trade agreements lead to substantive human rights progress in Vietnam”.

The EP Resolution reflected many concerns raised by the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) in joint reports submitted to the EP. For example, the negative impacts of Vietnams policy of Đổi Mới (economic liberalization under authoritarian political control) has led to an alarming increase in the poverty gap, increased protests over State-seizures of land and gross abuses of worker rights. Discrimination against women and children is perpetuated by discriminative mechanisms such as the hộ khẩu (family register) “which blocks many families, and particularly children, from being registered and thus having access to education and social services”, trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation or exploitation for labour.

The MEPs denounced violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, pressing Vietnam to release all “prisoners of conscience, including human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers, as well as land rights activists, workers and environmental activists held in Vietnamese prisons, sentenced in summary trials”, and initiative key reforms, i.e. to reform the criminal justice system, abrogate or review clauses in the Criminal Code that criminalize peaceful activities on the grounds of “national security”, and establish an independent criminal justice system.

In view of the 2016 elections in Vietnam, the MEPs called on the Vietnamese Communist Party to allow enhanced citizen participation “by allowing the creation of opposition parties, civil society movements and NGOs.”

The EP Resolution expressed particular concern on violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief, as reported by the UN Special Rapporteur Dr. Heiner Bielefeldt following his visit to Vietnam in July 2014. Paragraph 24 of the Resolution called for an end to discrimination and repression, “including harassments, surveillance, intimidation, detention, house arrest, physical assaults and travel bans” against religious minorities, “in particular the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, as well as Montagnard Christians and Khmer Krom Buddhists”. It called on Vietnam to review legislation which regulates registration of religious groups, and, in conclusion, recalled “the tragic fate of Venerable Thich Quang Do, a 87-year-old Buddist dissident, who has been under house arrest at his momastery for over 30 years without charge and reiterates the call for his release”.

In November this year, 90 international personalities and civil society organisations called for the release of Venerable Thich Quang Do in a letter to US President Barack Obama.

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