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Vietnam Committee urges U.N. members to raise urgent human rights concerns at the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review on Vietnam

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GENEVA, 8 May 2009 (VIETNAM COMMITTEE) – The Socialist Republic of Vietnam will be examined by the United Nations Human Rights Council for its first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) today. The review, which is based on information from three reports – Vietnam’s country report, a compilation of information from UN treaty bodies and Special Rapporteurs, and a “stakeholders’ report” of concerns raised by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), consists of an 3-hour interactive discussion in which all UN members may pose questions and make recommendations on specific measures to advance human rights in Vietnam.

“The UPR process presents a unique opportunity to engage Vietnam in a constructive critical dialogue on its human rights record”, said Mr. Vo Van Ai, President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, who submitted a Joint report on the UPR with the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH). “However, we are concerned that Vietnam is attempting to subvert this process to obtain a “license for impunity” and mask its gross human rights abuses”. Vietnam specifically requested states from the Asian group to make “complimentary speeches” at the UPR, he said, as well as fellow members of the “Axis of Sovereignty”, a group of 19 states including China, Russia, Cuba, North Korea, Burma, Egypt, Algeria, Iran, Sudan, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. This group makes up only 10% of UN members, but wields significant influence because of its membership and regional power. It routinely seeks to protect its members by swamping the UPR debate with praises, as it did for China in February 2009.

Vietnam also seeks to stifle all criticism in the run-up to the UPR. When Mr. Vo Van Ai took the floor at the Human Rights Council in March 2009 to report recent human rights abuses, the Vietnamese Ambassador wrote to the Council demanding that he “never be allowed to speak at the Human Rights Council again”. “Vietnam is not accustomed to dialogue. Just as it suppresses peaceful dissent at home, it tries to muzzle free expression internationally, even at the United Nations”, said Mr. Ai.

Vietnam’s country report to the UPR also reveals serious shortcomings, lack of transparency, and grave misrepresentations of human rights practices and policies. For example, Vietnam claims that:

a) its report was prepared “through a broad consultation process at the national level” in accordance with UN Resolution 5/1 (18.6.2007). In fact, there was no consultation with civil society. All 14 organizations quoted as having contributed to the report are “mass organizations” controlled by the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) and the Vietnam Fatherland Front;

b) it has amended domestic laws to ensure implementation of core human rights treaties that Vietnam has ratified, notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This is not true. Vietnam’s Constitution, Penal Code, Press and Publications Laws, Ordinance on Religions etc. all contain provisions that completely nullify the rights enshrined in these treaties. Most prohibitive are the vaguely defined “national security” crimes in Vietnam’s Penal Code, seven of which carry the death penalty. Today, hundreds of human rights defenders and civil society activists are detained under these laws, which make no distinction between violent crimes and acts of peaceful expression. “In Vietnam today, planting a bomb or sending an E-mail abroad carries the same punishment”, deplored Vo Van Ai;

c) that all citizens enjoy human rights and protection by law. This is wrong. Vietnam’s citizens live in a “legal limbo” due to practices of administrative detention, probationary detention, unlimited pre-trial custody and house arrest on “oral orders” by Police. Under Ordinance 44, dissidents may be detained under house arrest or in psychiatric institutions for 2 years without trial. Buddhist monk Thich Quang Do, leader of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), is in his 27th year of detention simply for non-violent advocacy of religious freedom and human rights;

d) that Vietnam respects the universality of human rights. This is contradicted in the report itself, which states that human rights must be linked to cultural and political specificities. This is the “Asian values” argument, used to justify Vietnam’s suppression of individual freedoms and rights;

e) that Vietnam complies with UN obligations. This is far from the truth. Whilst Vietnam is a State party to several core human rights treaties, it fails to fulfil reporting requirements and refuses visits by UN Special Procedures. Five Special Rapporteurs have asked to visit Vietnam to investigate repeated allegations of human rights violations without avail, and in 1998, after the Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom’s critical report, Vietnam announced it would “never accept any individuals or organisations coming to investigate religious freedom or human rights”;

f) that Vietnam respects religious freedom. Only State-sponsored religious organizations are authorized; all others are banned, their members routinely harassed or detained.

In reality, Police repression, ill-treatment, discrimination against religious, political and ethnic minority groups are daily practices in Vietnam. In their Joint Submission to the UPR, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and the FIDH gave detailed cases of arbitrary detention, religious persecution, crack-downs on human rights defenders, censorship of the press and Internet, abuses of worker rights and the widespread use of the death penalty. It also raised grave concerns on women’s rights, such as sex-trafficking, denial of land rights and coercive birth control policies – Vietnam’s abortion rate is one of the highest in the world (see Report).

The Vietnam Committee and the FIDH call on UN member states to raise these urgent concerns at the UPR Review today and recommend specific reforms for human rights protection in Vietnam, such as:

– Repeal national security provisions in the Penal Code and bring domestic legislation into line with international human rights law; release all prisoners of conscience detained under national security provisions in violation of the ICCPR;

– Abrogate Ordinance 44 on Administrative Detention which legalizes detention without trial;

– Re-establish the legitimate status of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) and all other non-recognized religious organizations; release UBVC leader Thich Quang Do;

– Cease censorship of the press, Internet and Blogs; authorize the publication of independent newspapers; release all journalists detained unjustly for legitimate professional activities;

– Repeal Article 4 of the Constitution on the mastery of the Communist Party and allow the establishment of independent political parties, as well as free trade unions and independent civil society;

– Improve women’s rights by enforcing anti-trafficking legislation, ceasing coercive birth control by abortion, and implementing provisions in the Land Law that ensure women’s right to land;

Cooperate with international human rights mechanisms by extending a standing invitation to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders, Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Religion and Belief, and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

* The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights is organizing a demonstration at the Place des Nations outside the UN from 9.00am – 3.00pm today. Vietnamese human rights defenders and religious leaders from France, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Scandinavia, the USA and Australia are gathering to alert international attention to the grave on-going violations of human rights in Vietnam.

Press Contact: Penelope Faulkner: + 33.6.11.89.86.81 (mobile)

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