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Vietnam fails to address serious human rights concerns at its 4th Universal Periodic Review at the UN

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GENEVA, 11 May 2024 (VCHR) – The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) welcomes the 320 recommendations made by 133 UN member states to improve human rights in Vietnam at the 4th Universal Periodic Review of Vietnam at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council in Geneva on 7 May 2024. The working report was adopted on Friday 10 May.

VCHR thanks the many countries that took up VCHR’s concerns in their recommendations. During the UPR pre-session in February, VCHR and its partner, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) met over 20 UN delegations from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas to discuss their deep concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation in Vietnam. VCHR/FIDH shared a briefer with suggested recommendations to the delegations, as well as a joint submission to the UPR and a joint report entitled “A history of Violence: violations of the right to peaceful assembly in Vietnam”.

The VCHR/FIDH submission to the UPR, posted on the UN website, was cited extensively in the Summary of Stakeholders Information prepared by the Office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR). This is one of the three official working documents presented to Vietnam’s UPR, alongside the National Report of Vietnam and a Compilation of UN Information, also prepared by the OHCHR.

VCHR deeply regrets, however, that Vietnam did not use the opportunity of this high-level dialogue to heed concerns expressed by UN members from all over the world. On the contrary, the 24-member Vietnamese delegation, led by Deputy Foreign Minister Đỗ Hùng Việt, not only failed to address these concerns, but rejected any form of criticism and provided misleading information on many issues during the UPR review.

In fact, even before the UPR began on 7 May, Vietnam showed its lack of political will to engage earnestly in this process. At a Press Conference in April, Hanoi’s Foreign Ministry spokesman virulently denounced the UN for publishing “false and unjustified information and many lies” in the Compilation of UN Information, in which the UN Vietnam country office reported that “at least 150 human rights defenders, independent journalists and pro-democracy, land rights and religious activists remain in detention for peacefully exercising their fundamental rights”. The UN country office also criticised restrictive legislation in Vietnam, including Decrees criminalizing the expression of “diverging political views” or “reactionary ideologies” on the Internet.

“Vietnam routinely rejects reports of human rights abuses from NGOs and civil society, but this is the first time Hanoi has blatantly accused the UN of telling lies. These are extremely serious accusations” said VCHR President Penelope Faulkner. “Vietnam has no place on the UN Human Rights Council, and now they even dare to present their candidacy for a second term in 2026-2028!”

The 320 recommendations at the UPR highlighted a wide range of issues such as arbitrary detention and harassment of journalists, human rights defenders and climate-change activists; inhuman detention conditions and lack of access to medical treatment; the widespread use of the death penalty, violations of freedom of expression, association, assembly and freedom of religion or belief, the rights of women and children, human trafficking, torture, worker rights and due process of law. Many states observed that “the shrinking space for civil society and the criminalization of activists” had intensified since Vietnam’s last UPR in 2019.

Responding to what he dismissively called the “so-called shrinking spaces for civil society”, the head of Vietnam’s delegation Đỗ Hùng Việt said “I do have to differ on this issue. While we always welcome constructive criticism, we cannot tolerate the spread of misinformation that may cause instability or infringe upon our national security”.  Stating that Vietnam only imprisoned people who had violated the law, he urged the international community to “take a bird’s eye view” of the human rights situation in Vietnam and see “a beautiful forest instead of a few broken branches” (sic).

Instead of responding to specific questions by the UN member states, the representatives of Vietnam’s Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Public Security, Justice, Information and Communications, Planning and Investment, Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, the Government Committee for Religious Affairs, Supreme People’s Procuracy, Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs and the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics delivered prepared statements extolling Vietnam’s promotion and respect of human rights in all fields.

In some cases, their statements provided misleading information. Commenting on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, the Ministry of Public Security said that Vietnam had not yet adopted a law on demonstrations, but “the people’s right to participate in large meetings and demonstrations is guaranteed under Decree 38 of 2005”. In fact, Decree 38/2005 prohibits gatherings outside state agencies and public buildings, and Circular 9/2005 on implementation of Decree 38 prohibits gatherings of more than five people without permission from the authorities.

Given the short speaking time (50 seconds per member state), several countries submitted questions to the Vietnamese delegation in advance. Germany asked how many individuals had been prosecuted under vaguely-worded “national security” provisions in Vietnam’s Criminal Code, such as articles 109, 117 and 331 during this UPR cycle, how many persons had filed appeals, and how many were released as innocent? Netherlands and the United States expressed concern on the recent crack-down on environmental rights defenders, including Đặng Đình Bách and Hòang thị Minh Hồng, sentenced to prison terms of up to five years for alleged “tax evasion”, asking “how does Vietnam explain their disparate treatment and sentencing when nearly 99% of tax evasion cases in Vietnam do not result in pretrial detention and lengthy prison sentences?” Following the forced exile of several defense lawyers from Vietnam to the USA to avoid harassments and prosecution, the United Kingdom asked “what steps will Vietnam take to ensure that lawyers are able to practice freely and represent clients in court cases without fear of harassment, intimidation or arrest”. None of these questions received a reply.

Several countries called on Vietnam to improve worker rights, guarantee the right to strike and establish independent trade unions, recommending that Vietnam ratify ILO Convention on freedom of association and protection of the right to organize as it had pledged when ratifying the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement in 2020.

The use of the death penalty was one of the major concerns, with many countries calling on Vietnam to initiate a moratorium on executions and consider fully abolishing the death penalty; eliminate the death penalty for non-violent crimes, including national security offences; and provide official statistics regarding death sentences and executions. The 320 recommendations covered many other issues, including reforming the legal system to ensure the right to a fair trial, issuing standing invitations to UN Special Rapporteurs; establishing an independent National Human Rights Institution in conformity with the Paris Principles. Vietnam must report back to the UPR Working Group before the 57th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in September-October 2024 to state which recommendations it rejects or accepts to implement over the next four years before its fifth UPR cycle.

This post is also available in: French Vietnamese

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