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Vietnam must commit to measurable human rights progress at upcoming Universal Periodic Review

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GENEVA, 3 February (Vietnam Committee) – The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights urges U.N. member states to press Vietnam to commit to concrete, measurable improvements when it examines the second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Vietnam at the Human Rights Council on 5 February 2014.

The UPR is a four-yearly human rights review which all UN member states undergo. It 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 NGOs and civil society, and consists of an interactive discussion in which UN members may pose questions and make specific recommendations to advance human rights in Vietnam.

“The UPR process presents a rare 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 (VCHR). “However, we are concerned that Vietnam is using it as a stage to play out a cynical scenario before the international community and mask its gross abuses of human rights”.

Indeed, Vietnam made firm promises to improve human rights at its last UPR in 2009, accepting 93 recommendations by UN member states. In reality, however, it not only failed to uphold its pledges but, on the contrary, launched one of the most intensive crackdowns on freedom of expression, religion and assembly in recent years.

In a Joint Submission to the UN Human Rights Council submitted with the FIDH (International Federation on Human Rights), the VCHR cited cases of 160 persons condemned to a total of 1,052 years in prison between May 2009 and June 2013 alone under vaguely-worded “national security” provisions in the Criminal Code. These provisions seriously violate international human rights standards because they 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. “UN members should make it clear that such a situation will not be tolerated, especially for a member of the Human Rights Council such as Vietnam”.

During the same period, peaceful activists and human rights defenders were subjected to unprecedented Police brutality, including beatings, sexual assaults, harassments, arbitrary arrest and “administrative detention” in labour camps and psychiatric institutions. Vietnam also introduced new legal measures to restrict the exercise of human rights, such as Decree 72 on the Internet, and Decree 92 on religion.

In recent months, Vietnam has also launched a fierce crack-down on the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV). To prevent the UBCV from holding a gathering at Long Quang Pagoda in Hue on 10 January 2014, Police intercepted and harassed UBCV monks, nuns and followers all over the country, and tightened controls on UBCV Patriarch Thich Quang Do. Today, over 100 members of the Buddhist Youth Movement remain under house arrest without charge, including their leader Le Cong Cau.

In the Joint Submission, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and the FIDH also gave detailed cases of arbitrary detention, religious persecution, crack-downs on bloggers, netizens and human rights defenders, censorship of the press and Internet, abuses of worker rights, inhumane detention conditions, state confiscation of lands 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.

The VCHR and the FIDH call on UN member states to raise these urgent concerns at the UPR Review on Wednesday 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 under house arrest, in rehabilitation camps or in psychiatric institutions;

– 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 harassments, Police brutality and surveillance of human rights defenders, bloggers and peaceful activists who take part in demonstrations or otherwise seek to exercise their legitimate rights to freedom of expression, religion and peaceful assembly;

– 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, 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 and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and fix a date for the visit of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

In preparation for the UPR on Vietnam, the FIDH and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, co-sponsored by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are organizing an Information Meeting entitled “Banned Civil Society Voices”. Speakers include Mr. Vo Van Ai and Thich Giac Dang, with exclusive audio testimonies from UBCV Patriarch Thich Quang Do and Buddhist Youth leader Le Cong Cau, both of whom are currently under house arrest. The meeting is in Room XXIV, Palais des Nations from 1.00pm until 2.30pm on Tuesday 4 February 2014.

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