PARIS, 28 March 2008 (VIETNAM COMMITTEE) – The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Hanoi has just signed a $US 1.238-million project with the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry to help “implement human rights treaties in Vietnam”. The 4-year project, signed on 20 March 2008, is aimed at “raising Vietnamese officials’ awareness” of the international human rights treaties Vietnam has signed and help them understand Vietnam’s “commitments as well as obligations in the field of human rights”.
Mr. Vo Van Ai, President of Quê Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights expressed his indignation at the UNDP’s generosity towards a country which systematically violates the UN human rights treaties it has signed: “Spending money on human rights promotion is highly commendable. But spending money on perpetuating State-orchestrated violations of UN human rights treaties is both shocking and wasteful. Indeed, it undermines the UN’s founding principles and its credibility as a guarantor of human rights in the world”.
He stressed that, whilst Vietnam had signed the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1982, it refused to repeal draconian “national security” provisions in the Vietnamese Criminal Code that grossly violate the ICCPR and criminalize the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, opinion, religion and association. “As long as these laws remain in force, Vietnamese citizens can never enjoy the rights enshrined in the ICCPR. Hanoi will continue to imprison dissidents as common criminals and claim that there are no political prisoners in Vietnam. The UNDP’s million dollar project is useless if there is no pressure on Vietnam to urgently revise the Criminal Code and bring domestic legislation into line with /international human rights law”.
Vietnam’s vaguely-defined national security crimes carry extremely heavy prison sentences, and seven are punishable by death. They include “undermining the unity policy”, “sowing divisions between the religious people and non-religious people” (Article 87), “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” (Article 88), “abusing democratic freedoms to encroach upon the interests of the State and social organizations” (Article 258). Ignoring repeated demands by the UN Human Rights Committee (2002), the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom (1998) and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (1994) to urgently revise or abrogate these laws, Vietnam routinely invokes them to stifle all political and religious dissent. In 2007 alone, 22 pro-democracy activists were sentenced to a total of over 80 years in prison under “national security” laws in a government crackdown on appeals for democracy and human rights.
Whereas Deputy Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh told the UNDP that “Vietnam has signed almost all important international treaties”, Vo Van Ai declared: “Vietnam signs everything, but respects nothing”. All countries signing UN treaties undertake three binding obligations: (1) to respect the rights guaranteed therein (2) to bring domestic legislation into line with international human rights provisions and (3) to comply with UN treaty reporting obligations. “Vietnam fails abysmally on all three accounts” he said. “This is unacceptable for a country that sits on the UN Security Council”.
Press freedom is seriously restricted by an arsenal of Government Decrees, Directives and Regulations, despite guarantees of press freedom in Vietnam’s Constitution. Decree 56/2006 imposes tight controls on journalists and Internet users. Freedom to demonstrate, also enshrined in the Constitution, is nullified by Decree 38, which bans all demonstrations outside public buildings. Religious freedom is severely curbed by Vietnam’s 2004 Ordinance on Religion and Religious Beliefs, which bans the “abuse” of religious freedom to contravene Communist Party policies (article 8) and prohibits all religious activities deemed to “violate national security…sow divisions… negatively affect the unity of the people or the nation’s fine cultural traditions” (article 15).
Vo Van Ai also denounced Vietnam’s non-compliance with UN reporting obligations. Its periodic report on the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (due every 2 years) is 18 years overdue. Vietnam has not signed the Optional Protocols on the ICCPR, the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on Torture, which would enable victims in Vietnam to complain directly to the United Nations about abuses of their rights.
He called on the United Nations not to finance this project on human rights treaties until Vietnam respects its binding obligations and takes concrete steps:
a) to implement the recommendations of the 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 enshrined in the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; immediately release all citizens detained under these laws simply for the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, religion and association ;
b) to immediately abrogate Ordinance 44, adopted in 2002, on “Regulating Administrative Violations” which authorizes extra-judicial detention of suspected national security offenders. The Ordinance replaces Decree 31/CP, abrogated in 2007 under international pressure, but it is much more prohibitive, empowering local authorities to place people under administrative detention or intern them in psychiatric institutions without any due process of law ;
c) to cease harassment and lift all restrictions (travel, citizenship rights, residency, communications) on citizens who have not been convicted of any crime, but have simply expressed dissenting opinions or beliefs, e.g. the Supreme Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) and his Deputy, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Venerable Thich Quang Do, both of whom have spent over 26 years detention for their peaceful advocacy of religious freedom, democracy and human rights;
d) to comply fully with UN human rights mechanisms, beginning by issuing standing invitations to the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and the UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders. In fact, Vietnam has allowed no UN visits since 1998, when the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance Abdelfattah Amor criticised Vietnam’s religious freedom record after an in situ visit. Hanoi then announced it would never again “accept any individuals or organizations coming to investigate religious freedom or human rights”.