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UN expert’s report on minorities confirms the huge gap between human rights rhetoric and reality in Vietnam

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PARIS, 17 March 2011 (FIDH & VCHR) – The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organization, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), regret that Viet Nam has failed to cooperate in good faith with the United Nations Independent Expert on minority issues, Ms. Gay McDougall, in her country visit in July 2010. The Independent Expert presented her report of the visit to the Human Rights Council on 15 March 2011 and lamented the “obstacles that limited opportunities for unaccompanied meetings outside of the presence of Government officials.”  (1)

During the interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert, Viet Nam said it was the government’s commitment to do more to “ensure better enjoyment of human rights by ethnic minorities,” as it had promised during its Universal Periodic Review  (2). The reality, however, belies the empty and unfounded rhetoric that Viet Nam often employs at international fora. Its bland and insincere statement at the Council on 15 March also glossed over the more than 40 legitimate recommendations which it rejected at the UPR, including those related to freedoms of expression, assembly and the press  (3).

Viet Nam further boasted that it had “promoted laws and policies” in the last decades and “devised concrete national programmes, particularly those for poverty alleviation, basic health care, education and others.” Far from it, a wide range of legislations and decrees have been passed and issued to service the government’s aim to restrict fundamental freedoms and rights  (4). Even the legal provisions that in principle would protect human rights are not respected or implemented as such in reality. Indeed, the Independent Expert concluded in her report that despite “valuable constitutional and legal provisions, many belonging to minority groups continue to experience serious disadvantages…in all aspects of life.”  (5)

The Vietnamese representative also told the Human Rights Council that the policies and laws of the country “protected freedom of religion and belief.” However, all religious orders are subject to a system of recognition and control and all ‘non-recognised’ organizations are illegal and suppressed by the government. A case in point is the continued house arrest, without any charges, of Thich Quang Do, supreme patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and a human rights defender, at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon.

“Such incongruity between law and practice is nothing new in Viet Nam,” said Souhayr Belhassen, President of the FIDH. “In fact, the failure of the Vietnamese authorities to give the Independent Expert free and unfettered access to minorities is a sufficient indicator of the utter lack of progress on human rights, and the international community must hold Viet Nam to account for all the empty promises that remain unrealised.”

“Viet Nam ratified the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in 1982, almost three decades ago, yet the ethnic and religious minorities are still awaiting its implementation, and remain totally unprotected by law,” said Vo Van Ai, President of VCHR. “In fact, Viet Nam’s adherence to UN human rights treaties is simply a façade to placate international opinion. Behind this façade, the government brazenly and routinely suppresses its citizens’ fundamental freedoms and rights,” Mr. Vo added.


(1) A/HRC/16/45/Add. 2, para. 5.

(2) United Nations Office in Geneva press release, “Council holds interactive dialogue with independent expert on minority issues and general debate on human rights bodies and mechanisms,” 15 March 2011.

(3) A/HRC/12/11.

(4) See Chapter II in From ‘Visions’ to Facts: Human Rights in Vietnam under its Chairmanship of ASEAN, FIDH and VCHR, September 2010. Available here

(5) A/HRC/16/45/Add. 2, para. 76.

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