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Vietnam Committee urges UN members to press Vietnam to pledge urgent reforms at its upcoming Universal Periodic Review

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GENEVA, 27 November 2013 (VIETNAM COMMITTEE) – In advance of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Vietnam which will be held on 28 January 2014, the Geneva-based UPR Info invited diplomats to hear the concerns of civil society organisations at a UPR pre-session at the International Conference Centre in Geneva today.

Ms Penelope Faulkner, speaking on behalf of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, an affiliate of the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), expressed deep concern about grave defects in Vietnams legal system, violations of freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief, as well as issues of forced evictions and the death penalty. She regretted that Vietnam had not implemented the recommendations it accepted at its first UPR in 2009, but in fact had “intensified political repression and adopted new laws that increased restrictions on the exercise of human rights”. Vietnam had launched one of the worst crackdowns ever on freedom of expression, she said, with 61 peaceful critics arrested in 2013 alone. She urged states to raise these and other grave human rights violations at Vietnams UPR next January, and proposed concrete recommendations for advancing human rights progress in Vietnam. Representatives from the Geneva-based missions of 32 attended the event.

See full text of the statement below:

at the Pre-session organized by UPR Info

Geneva, 27 November 2013

I thank UPR Info to inviting me to speak at this pre-session on the 2nd Universal Periodic Review of Vietnam which will take place on 28 January 2014. I speak on behalf of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, an affiliate of the FIDH. We have been involved in the UPR process since Vietnams first review in 2009 and have closely monitored its commitments and implementation.

Consultation with civil society is an essential part of the UPR process. Unfortunately, in Vietnams one-Party state, there are no truly independent civil society organizations, and only state-affiliated CSOs were consulted in preparing the report. The contribution of international NGOs such as ours is therefore most important in providing independent facts and information that are not reflected in the Vietnamese governments report.

At its first UPR, Vietnam accepted 93 recommendations and rejected 45. Regrettably, most of the accepted recommendations were very general, whereas those rejected were specific, concrete proposals that could have led to significant human rights progress in Vietnam.

Overall, Vietnams implementation of accepted recommendations was extremely disappointing. Not only did the government intensify political repression during this period, but it also adopted new laws to increase restrictions on the exercise of human rights in many domains.

I will focus on five key issues in which progress is seriously required. They are the rule of law, freedom of expression, religious freedom, forced evictions and the death penalty. In the joint submission with the FIDH, we raised many other important issues such as inhumane detention conditions, lack of due process of law, freedom of association, womens right etc.

1) Firstly, the Rule of Law, which is the most important issue in our view. Although Vietnam is a state party to many core human rights instruments and recognizes the harmonization of laws, Vietnams domestic legislation restricts the exercise of human rights by criminalizing acts perceived to “abuse democratic freedoms” to “encroach upon the interests of the State”. The concept of State interests taking priority over individual rights is totally inconsistent with international human rights law. Indeed, Vietnams National Assembly will vote this week on amendments to the Constitution which include for the first time a clause on the “abuse” of human rights. If it is adopted, this would virtually nullify all the other constitutional human rights guarantees and be a serious step backwards for human rights in Vietnam.

Other domestic laws in need of urgent reforms are the “national security” provisions in the Penal Code. These vaguely-defined offences, seven of which carry the death penalty, are grossly inconsistent with the ICCPR because they make no distinction between violent acts such as terrorism and acts of peaceful expression.

At its UPR, Vietnam accepted recommendations by Japan, Malaysia, the UK and Australia to bring domestic legislation – including the Penal Code – into line with its international human rights treaty commitments. But it did not fulfill this pledge. On the contrary, it increased arrests under national security laws on an unprecedented scale. Scores of dissidents, religious followers, pro-democracy activists and human rights defenders received heavy sentences under these provisions, such as blogger Dieu Cay, condemned to 12 years under Article 88 on “anti-Socialist propaganda” simply for calling for human rights and democratic reforms, or Than Huynh Duy Thuc, sentenced to 16 years in prison for demanding democratic reforms.

At Vietnams Second UPR in January 2014, we urge states to call on Vietnam (a) to set a firm timeframe for the reform of the Penal Code and ensure that all new legislation conforms with international human rights standards; (b) delete from the Constitution, Penal Code, Press Law and other laws all articles which criminalize the “abuse” of human rights and subordinate individual rights to the interests of the state. (c) abolish Ordinance 44 which authorizes detention without trial under house arrest, in rehabilitation camps or psychiatric institutions.

2) Freedom of Expression and Press Freedom:

Vietnam accepted recommendations by Italy, Sweden, Argentina, Australia, Korea, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Canada to guarantee freedom of expression and strengthen press freedom “in accordance with Article 19”. Not only did the government not respect this pledge, but on the contrary, it launched one of the worst crackdowns ever on freedom of expression online and offline. In 2013 alone, 61 peaceful dissidents were sentenced or are awaiting charge. This is more than any other year since Vietnams first UPR.

Bloggers, activists, journalists and netizens were seriously targeted. They faced police violence, harassments, arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, firing from jobs, ill-treatment in prisons and internment in psychiatric hospitals. In 2013, Vietnam adopted Internet Decree 72 which not only requires foreign companies to provide data to the authorities, but also restricts the content of social networks such as Facebook. There is no free press in Vietnam – all the media is controlled by the Vietnamese Communist Party.

We urge states to call on Vietnam to revise the Press Law, Internet Decree 72 and all other related laws so that freedom of expression online and offline is guaranteed; to allow privately-run newspapers to operate in Vietnam; and to extend a standing invitation to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and on Human Rights Defenders to visit Vietnam.

3) Freedom of Religion and Belief is important everywhere, but especially in a one-Party state such as Vietnam, where religious movements are amongst the sole independent voices of civil society.

Vietnam said that recommendations by Italy and Poland on “reviewing laws and provisions related to freedom of religion in order to align them with Article 18 of the ICCPR” were “in the process of implementation”. However, the only religious legislation adopted during this period was Decree 92/2013, which tightens state control and management of religions.

Religions in Vietnam are subjected to a strict system of registration and controls. “State-sponsored” religious bodies have been set up, and all independent religious activity is banned. Members of “non-recognized” religious organizations such as the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), suffer continuous harassments, intimidation and detention. UBCV leader Thich Quang Do has been under detention for almost 30 years because of his religious beliefs. Catholics, ethnic Christians, Cao Dai and Hoa Hao also suffer a similar fate.

We urge states to propose that Vietnam (a) review the 2004 Ordinance on Belief and Religion to align it with Article 18 of the ICCPR; (b) allow the banned UBCV and other non-recognized religious groups to conduct peaceful religious activities independently of officially registered religious bodies, and release Thich Quang Do and all prisoners detained for the peaceful exercise of their religious beliefs; (c) accept the recommendation of CERD to abolish the household registration system or “hộ khẩu”, which results in discrimination against minorities belonging to unrecognised religious groups, in the fields of employment, social security, health services, education and the right to freedom of movement.

4) Forced Evictions and Citizens Complaints

The problem of state seizure of land for development purposes has led to increasing human rights abuse. Forced evictions of farmers have been conducted with extreme violence, resulting in deaths and widespread arrests. Citizens are allowed to file complaints, but these routinely fail because of lack of the independence of the judiciary, official corruption and power abuse. One example: in October 2013, a government inquiry into citizens complaints on land seizures for Phuoc Long township project in the city of Nha Trang confirmed charges of corruption by local officials. Since no action was taken, a former official (Nguyen Manh Ha) and his colleague (Tran Anh Hung) leaked the report to the press. Instead of sanctioning the corrupt officials, the authorities arrested the two men and sentenced them to six and five years in prison for “revealing state secrets” (Article 263 of the Criminal Code).

States should press Vietnam (a) to establish an independent complaints mechanism respectful of international norms so that those who make complaints are protected from prosecution or harassment; (b) review legislation on “state secrets” to ensure that this concept is precisely defined, and never invoked to suppress legitimate information revealed in citizens complaints.

5) Lastly, the Death Penalty, which has such serious implications in a country where simple criticism of the Communist Party can incur capital punishment.

At its last UPR in 2009, Vietnam accepted, but did not implement the recommendations by Germany and Norway to reduce the number of crimes punishable by death, and continued to pronounce from 80-100 death sentences per year. This year, the government authorized the use of locally-made lethal substances for execution instead of the firing squad. Nguyen Anh Tuan, aged 27, was the first to be executed by these untested substances in August 2013. It took him two hours to die.

At the UPR in January, we ask states to urge Vietnam to (a) reduce the number of crimes subject to the death penalty, and revise national security provisions in the Penal Code to ensure that no-one may incur the death penalty simply for expressing peaceful views opposing the Communist Party; (b) publish statistics on the executions and death sentences; move towards a moratorium on the death penalty as a first step towards the abolishment of capital punishment.

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