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In an Open Letter to Vietnamese Prime Minister, FIDH and Vietnam Committee on Human Rights call on Vietnam to respect human rights as non-permanent member of the UN Security Council

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PARIS, 25 October 2007 (VIETNAM COMMITTEE) – Recalling the recent crack-down on pro-democracy activists and rural protesters in Vietnam, Ms. Souhayr Belhassen, President of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and Mr. Vo Van Ai, President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (both Paris-based) sent an Open Letter to Vietnamese President Nguyen Tan Dung calling on Vietnam to take concrete measures to improve its human rights record as part of its international responsibilities as a Non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Sole candidate for the Asian seat, Vietnam was elected to Security Council on 16 October at the UN General Assembly in New York. It will serve for 2 years, beginning on 1st January 2008.

The FIDH and the Vietnam Committee stressed the “special responsibility” of Security Council members in fulfilling UN objectives, particularly in the realm of human rights, and denounced the “criminalization of the peaceful exercise of human rights” in Vietnam (see full text of the letter below).

Ms. Belhassen and Mr. Ai expressed particular concern on the situation of Venerable Thich Quang Do, Deputy leader of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), detained under house arrest without charge at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon. Venerable Thich Quang Do, who has spent the past 26 years under detention for his advocacy of religious freedom, human rights and democracy, is currently the victim of a virulent vilification campaign in the State-controlled media for launching an appeal in favour of the “Victims of Injustice”, a movement of farmers and peasants protesting official power abuse and State confiscation of land.

In October 2007, over a hundred leading democracy and human rights activists, Members of Parliament and international personalities from 30 countries of Africa, Asia, Europe and the United States sent an Open Letter to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and members of the UN General Assembly condemning Vietnam’s non-compliance with UN standards, and calling on UN members not to support the candidacy of Vietnam.

Open Letter

Vietnam/UN Security Council

Mr. Nguyen Tan Dung
Prime Minister
Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Paris, 24 October, 2007

Re : Election of Vietnam to the UN Security Council

Dear Prime Minister,

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organization, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), seize the opportunity of the election of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam as a Non-Permanent Member of the UN Security Council for the period 2008-2009, to call upon you to take concrete measures in order to ensure a greater respect by your government of Vietnam’s international human rights commitments.

The United Nations Security Council is a prestigious institution, one of the “Principal Organs” of the United Nations. The United Nations Charter (Article 23) and the Rules of Procedure of the General Assembly (rule 143) specify that the criteria for electing members to serve on the Security Council should be: “the contribution of Members of the United Nations to the maintenance of international peace and security and to the other purposes of the Organization…”. One of the very basic obligations of UN member states is to uphold the principles enshrined in the UN Charter, and comply with international human rights standards and norms. Countries aspiring to become members of the UN Security Council have a special responsibility to fulfil these obligations.

Whilst Vietnam acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 1982, it still does not comply with the provisions of these treaties. In fact, Vietnam’s periodic report on the ICESCR is overdue since 1993 and the national authorities have ignored requests from the Special Rapporteurs to visit Vietnam since the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief in 1998 criticized Vietnam during an in situ visit. Vietnam then announced it would never “accept any individuals or organizations coming to investigate religious freedom or human rights”, thereby violating its international obligations.

Despite the recommendations issued by the UN Human Rights Committee (2002), the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief (1998), and the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (1994), Vietnam continues to detain citizens under unclear “national security” provisions of the Criminal Code, which criminalize the peaceful exercise of human rights. These provisions make no distinction between violent acts such as terrorism and the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression. Offenses such as “sowing divisions between religious and non-religious people”, (article 87) or “abusing democratic freedoms to encroach on the interests of the state” (article 258) carry heavy prison sentences, while seven ”national security” provisions incur the death penalty.

In 2007, Vietnam invoked “national security” provisions to arrest and detain numbers of human rights defenders, religious followers, democracy activists, cyber-dissidents, journalists and trades unionists, for circulating petitions on democracy or calling for the respect of human rights. In a series of unfair trials held between March and May 2007, twenty pro-democracy activists were sentenced to a total of eighty years in prison and thirty years of house arrest for their peaceful activities.

Peasants and farmers are also the subject of severe police repression, arrests and detention for their peaceful protests against official power abuse, corruption and State confiscation of land. Known as the “Victims of Injustice”, these hundreds of thousands of peasants and farmers, expropriated by the State with little or no compensation, have filed complaints and demonstrate outside government buildings.

In July 2007, prominent Buddhist dissident Thich Quang Do, Deputy Leader of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) and 2007 Nobel Peace Price nominee, launched a humanitarian appeal for the “Victims of Injustice”, and visited farmers demonstrating in Ho Chi Minh City to express his solidarity. Since then, your government has launched a virulent slander campaign against Thich Quang Do in the state-controlled media.

FIDH and VCHR call upon you to address those issues in light of Vietnam’s election to the Security Council. We request a formal pledge from the Vietnamese authorities to improve their human rights record, in particular by taking the following actions :

l immediately release all persons detained for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, religion, assembly and association;

l cease repression against members of all non-recognized religious communities such as the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, ethnic Christian Montagnards, members of Protestant “house churches” and Hoa Hao; re-establish the legitimate status of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam;

l implement the recommendations of UN Human Rights Committee (July 2002) by revising “national security” provisions in the Criminal Code and repealing all legislation that curbs the exercise of human rights; immediately repeal Ordinance 44 on administrative detention which empowers Security Police to detain dissidents without trial for up to two years or intern them in psychiatric institutions;

l extend a standing invitation to the UN human rights special procedures.

We thank you for your consideration,
Yours sincerely,

Souhayr Belhassen
FIDH President
Vo Van Ai
President
Vietnam Committee on Human Rights

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