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World Report On The Situation Of Human Rights Defenders: UN Expert Urges Vietnam To Stop Criminalize Activists

This week, the office of UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst, released the first global survey on the situation of human rights defenders in 12 years, since the landmark Global Survey conducted in 2006 by the then UN Special Representative Hina Jilani.

Regarding the situation in Vietnam, the report states:

“Human rights defenders are physically attacked, criminalized, given long sentences, held in detention without trial, and tortured and subject to degrading treatment while imprisoned. The government retains strict control over the media, restricts the registration and activities of civil society organizations, and suppresses peaceful assemblies.”

The report noted that while Vietnam guarantees all citizens their human rights, in practice, several law decrees are regularly applied to restrict the rights of human rights defenders.

Citizens do not enjoy the right to a fair trial and to due process. Arbitrary detention is frequently used. The government tries to silence human rights defenders and bloggers, including through physical attacks, torture, criminalization, solitary confinement and degrading treatment in detention. The government exercises strict control on the media and the work of journalists. It takes harsh action against peaceful protests.

There are more than 100 political prisoners in Viet Nam, some serving lengthy prison sentences for the legitimate exercise of their rights. The right to fair trial and due process is not respected. Human rights defenders who face particularly high risks are those who criticize the government, including journalists, bloggers, labor rights defenders, and land and environmental rights defenders.

While Vietnam is party to most core international human rights treaties, the report pointed out that the country “has neither accepted any treaty-based individual complaints procedures nor treaty-based inquiry procedures.” Moreover, it also noted that Vietnam has yet to accede to the Optional Protocol of the Convention against Torture (CAT-OP), the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming to the abolition of the death penalty (CCPR-OP2-DP).

In 2018 alone, the report stated that the “2016 Law on Belief and Religion that came into effect in 2018 imposes strict registration requirements and enables state interference into the activities and internal affairs of religious groups. It provides the authorities with discretion to penalize unsanctioned religious activity. It includes a clause prohibiting religious practices that damage ‘the national great unity, harm state defense, national security, public order and social morale’ (Article 5).”

The Penal Code which was amended in 2015 and came into effect in 2018, is found by the Special Rapporteur to be regularly applied against human rights defenders, in particular, “activities aiming to overthrow the people’s administration (Article 109, previously Article 79 in the 1999 Penal Code); undermining 333 national unity policy (Article 116, previously 87); conducting propaganda against the State (Article 117, previously 88); disrupting security (Article 118, previously 89); causing public disorder (Article 318, previously 245) and abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State (Article 331, previously 258).”

The report also was alarmed by the provision of the newly amended Penal Code that would make defense lawyers liable for “not reporting some types of serious crimes committed by their client.”

On the issue of government’s regulating people’s use of the internet, Decree No. 72/2013/ND-CP of July 15, 2013, on the management, provision and use of internet services and online information, as well as Decree No. 174/2013/ND-CP of November 13, 2013 on penalties for administrative violations against regulations on post and telecommunications, information technology and radio frequency, were mentioned in the report to demonstrate how freedom of expression and freedom to access the internet are further curtailed in Vietnam.

The report raised serious concerns over the new Cybersecurity Law passed in June 2018, requiring “global technology firms such as Facebook and Google to store ‘important’ personal data in Viet Nam, open local offices, remove offensive content upon the request of the government. It also allows the government to conduct an audit of their information systems.”

The Special Rapporteur took note that “there are no laws, policies, or practices that protect the rights of human rights defenders,” and described various cases of human rights defenders being harassed, physically assaulted, arbitrarily arrested and detained, unfairly tried and imprisoned. From the April 2018 trial of the Brotherhood of Democracy to the harsh and unfair sentences given in the cases of Tran Kim And, Le Thanh Tung, Luu Van Vinh, Nguyen Van Hoa, Nguyen Viet Dung, and Le Dinh Luong, they were all mentioned with specific details in the report.

The prison conditions of Mother Mushroom and Tran Thi Nga, as well as the attack on human rights defenders and blogger Pham Doan Trang in August 2018, were used as examples for the treatment of women HRDs in Vietnam.

In regards to government’s suppression on demonstrations and disperses public assemblies, the report wrote: “When people gathered in 2016 to demonstrate against the Formosa company after the waste spill, the authorities used tear gas and excessive force to disperse the crowd. In June 2018, when thousands of people gathered in different places to protest a proposal to allow foreign firms to have 99-year leases in new special economic zones. The police detained protesters and subject some to beatings before releasing them.”

The report also noted that during the past 12 years, the office of the Special Rapporteur had sent numerous communications to the government of Vietnam with regards to the dire conditions of human rights defenders in the country, but most of them did not receive a reply.

The Special Rapporteur urges the government to “cease the criminalization of human rights defenders and to release all who have been detained and imprisoned for the legitimate exercise of their right to freedom of opinion, expression, assembly, and association.

He also “urges the government to ensure that the detention of prisoners adheres to the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) and that everyone enjoys the right to a fair trial and due process. He calls for the government to review, amend and/or repeal laws that restrict the rights of human rights defenders and to introduce legislation, policies and administrative practices that protect human rights defenders. He recommends that the government become party to the other core human rights treaties and to establish a national human rights institution that is fully compliant with the Paris Principles.”

The complete World Report can be accessed here.

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