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Vietnam: International Human Rights Day and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

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PARIS, 10 December 2013 (VIETNAM COMMITTEE) – Today, as the world celebrates International Human Rights Day and the 65th Anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, activists in Vietnam are facing harassments, threats, Police violence and arrest simply for publicly advocating their rights. Over the week-end, Police and plain clothed security agents (known in Vietnamese as “côn an” – security hooligans instead of “công an” – security police) forcefully disbanded gatherings in Hanoi, Nha Trang, Danang and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) marking International Human Rights Day, and assaulted young bloggers and young activists.

The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) strongly denounces this governmental repression. We remind Vietnam that the right to promote human rights is a legitimate activity, protected by a key UN instrument which celebrates its 15th Anniversary this year – the “UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms”, more generally known as the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Young activists celebrate International Human Rights Day in Saigon - Courtesy Danlambao  
Young activists celebrate International Human Rights Day in Saigon – Courtesy Danlambao
 

This important text, adopted in 1998 by the UN General Assembly in New York on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was the fruit of more than ten years of collective effort between States and civil society. It defines the rights of all people not just to enjoy human rights, but to engage peacefully to defend the rights of others. It also specifies the role and responsibility of States in establishing legal safeguards to protect this right and enable human rights defenders to conduct their activities without fear of repression or prosecution.

To ensure the implementation of this Declaration, in 2000 the UN created the mandate of a Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, renewable every three years. The Special Rapporteur’s work is to receive complaints and information from human rights defenders, take up their cases with governments, report to the UN Human Rights Commission and the UN General Assembly and undertake country visits. In 2012, in the wake of a serious crack-down on human rights defenders, the current UN Special Rapporteur, Ugandian legal expert Margaret Sekaggya, asked to visit Vietnam. The government turned down her request. At Vietnam’s first Universal Periodic Review in 2009, Vietnam also rejected recommendations by Norway to extend greater protection to human rights defenders who simply sought to debate issues of multiparty democracy and political reform.

To reaffirm the rights of Vietnamese human rights defenders on the occasion of International Human Rights Day, the VCHR recalls some of the key provisions of this important UN Declaration:

Article 1: “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”.

Article 5: “For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels: (a) to meet or assemble peacefully; (b) to form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups; (c) to communicate with non-governmental or intergovernmental organizations”.

Article 6: “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (a) to know, seek, obtain, receive and hold information about all human rights and fundamental freedoms…; (b) to freely publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms; (c) to study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters”.

Article 7: “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to develop and discuss new human rights ideas and principles and to advocate their acceptance”.

Article 8: “1. Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to have effective access, on a nondiscriminatory basis, to participation in the government of his or her country and in the conduct of public affairs. 2. This includes, inter alia, the right, individually and in association with others, to submit to governmental bodies and agencies and organizations concerned with public affairs criticism and proposals for improving their functioning and to draw attention to any aspect of their work that may hinder or impede the promotion, protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

Article 9: “2. Everyone whose rights or freedoms are allegedly violated has the right, either in person or through legally authorized representation, to complain to and have that complaint promptly reviewed in a public hearing before an independent, impartial and competent judicial or other authority established by law… 3. to the same end, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, inter alia: (a) to complain about the policies and actions of individual officials and governmental bodies with regard to violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, by petition or other appropriate means, to competent domestic judicial, administrative or legislative authorities… (b) to attend public hearings, proceedings and trials so as to form an opinion on their compliance with national law and applicable international obligations and commitments;”

Article 12: “1. Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights calls upon Vietnam, which will take a seat on the UN Human Rights Council next year, to respect its international obligations by immediately and unconditionally releasing all human rights defenders detained for peaceful activities to promote and protect universally-recognized human rights, e.g. Buddhist monk and prominent dissident Thich Quang Do, detained for the past 30 years in prison, internal exile and under house arrest for protesting violations of religious freedom, state confiscation of lands and the environmental dangers of Bauxite mining in the Central Highlands; blogger and human rights defender Dieu Cay Nguyen Van Hai; land rights activist Nguyen Ngoc Cuong; labour activists Do Thi Minh Hanh, Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung and Doan Duy Chuong; Hoa Hao Buddhists Mai Thi Dung and Nguyen Van Lia; poet and anti-corruption campaigner Nguyen Huu Cau etc.

The UN website carries translations of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 42 languages – except Vietnamese. As our contribution to the 15th Anniversary of this important text, the VCHR has translated the Declaration into Vietnamese and sent it today to the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights.

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