On 22 January 2019, Vietnam underwent for the third time a comprehensive peer review of its human rights record at the Human Rights Council (a process known as Universal Periodic Review or UPR), amidst what many rights groups and observers have called the worst wave of crackdown on dissent, activism and civil society in years.
121 governments took to the floor and made close to 300 recommendations on a wide range of human rights issues. Under the rules of the UPR, Vietnam can choose to “accept” or merely “note” the recommendations it receives and must do so in writing by the time the 41st session of the Human Rights Council begins in late June 2019.
Governments have the primary responsibility to implement those recommendations that they have accepted and report progress therein in the next cycle of review.
Many of the issues raised during the third review are the subject of recommendations that Vietnam had accepted to implement or noted in the two previous UPR cycles. Critics say that Vietnam not only failed to implement them but have taken actions to the contrary.
Prior to the latest review, numerous independent civil society organizations, both inside Vietnam and internationally, submitted parallel reports to the United Nations on the non-implementation of previously accepted recommendations and the overall deteriorating human rights situation in Vietnam.
Below are some highlights of recommendations clustered by several major recurring thematic issues (the number preceding each recommendation refers to the paragraph number in the draft outcome report of Vietnam’s third UPR, followed by the name of the recommending country in parentheses):
- Civil Society and Human Rights Defenders
- Restrictive Laws and Regulations
- Death Penalty
- Discrimination, Inequalities and Vulnerable Groups
- Fundamental Freedoms
- Judicial System, Fair Trials and Due Process
Civil Society and Human Rights Defenders
6.55 Take steps to protect human rights defenders, particularly by repealing or revising the provisions of the Penal Code that make reference to the concept of national security (France)
6.145 Immediately release prisoners who have been arbitrarily or unlawfully detained and allow them to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms in Vietnam, including Ho Duc Hoa, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Tran Thi Nga, Nguyen Bac Truyen, and the members of the Brotherhood for Democracy (United States of America)
6.175 Release human rights defenders sentenced to prison for exercising the right to freedom of expression (Iceland)
6.177 Take the necessary measures to ensure the freedom of expression of human rights defenders and journalists, in particular by investigating and punishing perpetrators of threats and reprisals against them (Argentina)
6.180 Protect human rights defenders and prosecute all persons guilty of violence or intimidation against them (Luxembourg)
6.186 Review regulations impeding the operation of Civil Society Organisations, to enable a more open space and ensure that national security provisions are not used to prevent peaceful debate and dissent (Ireland)
6.191 Release all human rights defenders as well as political and religious activists detained for the peaceful expression of their political opinions or religious belief (Poland)
6.198 Adopt measures in line with international standards to guarantee freedom of association, opinion and expression, including online, and to ensure that journalists, human rights defenders and NGOs can freely operate (Italy)
6.202 Guarantee Fully freedom of speech, the rights of peaceful assembly and association as well as the safety of journalists, and review cases of persons convicted for having freely expressed their opinion, including human rights defenders (Switzerland)
6.203 Improve protection of the rights to peaceful assembly and expression by reviewing existing legislation, and publishing and implementing clear, transparent guidelines on security personnel conduct in managing peaceful demonstrations (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
6.205 Ensure consistent implementation of the Law on Belief and Religion particularly at the local level, including with respect to registration of Protestant groups and other groups in Northwest Highlands provinces, and remove undue restrictions on access to religious materials and clergy for those imprisoned and cease any harassment of independent groups on account of their religion (United States of America)
6.211 Publicly recognize human rights defenders and provide an environment in which they can carry out their human rights work safely (Belgium)
6.214 Nurture a culture of free expression online and offline, release all imprisoned human rights defenders, including bloggers and political dissenters, and put an end to their harassment (Czechia)
6.215 Create an enabling environment for independent civil society and ensure that the prepared Law on Association facilitates the registration, work and funding of NGOs free from undue State interference and restrictions (Czechia)
6.216 Lay ground for political plurality and democracy and guarantee its citizens the full enjoyment of the rights to vote and to be elected and to take part in the conduct of public affairs (Czechia)
Restrictive Laws and Regulations
6.73 Adapt the Code of Penal Procedure to international standards and amend Articles 109 and 117 on “activities against the State” in the Penal Code, in line with human rights standards (Switzerland)
6.167 Repeal or amend provisions in the Penal Code and Cyber Security Law so that provisions relating to national security are clearly defined or removed, to ensure that they cannot be applied in an arbitrary manner to endanger any forms of freedom of expression, including internet freedom (Finland)
6.171 Review all convictions based on laws restricting freedom of expression and opinion, in particular articles 79 and 88 of the Penal Code, according to the revised penalty ranges (Germany)
6.174 Consider revising national legislation, including the Law on Belief and Religion and the media Laws, in order to harmonize it with international standards regarding the right of freedom of expression and of religion (Brazil)
6.183 Amend, within one year, the 2015 Penal Code, Decree 174/2013, Decree 72/2013, Decree 27/2018, the 2018 Law on cybersecurity and articles 4, 9, 14 and 15 of the 2016 Press Law, to guarantee offline and online freedom of press and expression, and the right to privacy, in line with articles 17 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Netherlands)
6.185 Related Cybersecurity Decrees should include clear provisions for interpretation of the Law on Cybersecurity according to international standards on freedom of expression (Ireland)
6.187 Ensure that the legal framework protects freedom of expression both offline and online and accordingly amend the Penal Law and Law on Cybersecurity to ensure consistency with international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (New Zealand); Ensure that freedom of expression is protected online and offline by amending national security provisions in the Penal Code, and the Cybersecurity law and its implementing decree, so as to comply with article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other commitments (Sweden); Guarantee the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and amend the penal code and the Cyber Security Law to make sure that the limitations on the right of freedom of expression are in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Austria); Review the Criminal Code and the law on cybersecurity to harmonize it with international standards related to the freedom of expression, association and assembly (Canada)
6.188 Revise the provisions of Articles 117 and 331 of the 2015 Penal Code and other relevant laws that restrict the ability to exercise fundamental freedoms and allow free operation of national and international media (Norway)
6.193 Ensure full implementation of its international human rights obligations regarding freedom of religion and belief by reviewing the Law on Belief and Religion to bring it into line with article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Poland)
6.194 Abolish prior censorship in all fields of cultural creation and other forms of expression, both online and offline, including by bringing the restriction to freedom of expression under the 2016 Press Law in line with international standards and fostering a pluralistic and independent media environment (Portugal)
6.197 Review and amend national legislations in order to enable the effective exercise of the rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in line with the standards enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Seychelles)
6.212 Review the law on religion and belief to enable religious groups to practice freely (Canada);Review the 2016 Law on Belief and Religion and bring it in conformity with international human rights standards and freedom of religion or belief standards (Croatia)
6.5 Accede to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aimed at abolishing the death penalty (El Salvador); Ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty (Montenegro); Ratify, without reservations, the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty (Slovenia); Ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of the death penalty (Croatia)
6.140 Initiate a moratorium on the imposing of capital punishment and especially for non-violent crimes (Finland); Consider implementing a full moratorium on the death penalty (Georgia); Impose a moratorium on executions and abolish the death penalty (Iceland); Establish a de facto moratorium on the death penalty with a view to its abolition (Portugal); Establish a moratorium on the application of the death penalty as a step towards its definitive abolition and modify the Penal Code to reduce the number of crimes for which the capital punishment can be imposed (Spain); Impose a moratorium on executions with the goal of abolishing the death penalty (Albania); Establish a moratorium on the death penalty as a step towards complete abolition of this practice (Australia); Immediately adopt a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to ultimately abolishing it (Austria); Take the necessary measures to establish a moratorium on executions of death row prisoners as well as to repeal the death penalty from their national legislation (Argentina)
6.141 Abolish the death penalty and, without delay, reduce the number of offences punishable by the death penalty (France); Abolish definitely the death penalty and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty (Luxembourg); Continue reform towards abolition of the death penalty, including by continuing to reduce the list of crimes punishable by the death penalty under the Penal Code 2015, in particular non-violent crimes, and by providing greater transparency about the numbers, methods and associated crimes relating to its use (New Zealand); Abolish the death penalty for all crimes, and consider ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aimed at abolishing the death penalty (Uruguay)
6.142 Further reduce the list of offences punishable by death, eliminate the death penalty for “activities against the people’s government”, “espionage”, “embezzlement”, and “taking bribes” as well as for serious drug offences (Germany); Continue to reduce the number of crimes subject to the death penalty and consider introducing a de facto moratorium on its application (Mexico); Continue to reduce the scope of crimes subject to the death penalty only for “most serious crimes” and consider introducing a moratorium (Norway); Continue the process of reduction of offences subject to death penalty, until the abolition of the capital punishment and to publish statistics on the use of death penalty in Vietnam (Romania); Further reduce the offences punishable by death penalty and provide official figures regarding death sentences and executions; consider to introduce a moratorium of death penalty (Italy)
6.143 Reduce further the list of crimes punishable by the death penalty, in particular economic crimes and drug-related offences, and envisage a complete moratorium on the application of the death penalty (Switzerland)
6.144 Assist the process of national discussion on death penalty with a view of its eventual abolishment (Ukraine)
6.146 Restrict the use of the death penalty to crimes that meet the threshold of “most serious crimes” under international law (Belgium)
6.290 Cease applying the death penalty for non-violent crimes, including drug offences (Australia)
6.291 Introduce a national moratorium on the death penalty, aiming at complete abolition. Until then, reduce the number of crimes subject to the death penalty, ensuring that it does not apply to offences other than the “most serious” crimes, in accordance with International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Sweden)
Discrimination, Inequalities and Vulnerable Groups
6.90 Continue efforts in eliminating inequalities in access to public services (China)
6.92 Increase efforts in addressing discrimination, in line with its international obligations, and towards improving its legal framework against gender-based violence (Greece)
6.93 Enact legislation to ensure access to gender affirmation treatment and legal gender recognition (Iceland)
6.96 Continue to conduct studies with a view to amend existing or introduce new legal instruments to eliminate all forms of discrimination against people living with HIV (Malaysia)
6.97 Take further steps to ensure the protection of all vulnerable groups in society including LGBTI persons (Malta)
6.98 Legalize same-sex marriage before the next UPR (Netherlands)
6.99 Explicitly provide “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as a forbidden ground of discrimination in the revised Labour Code and other relevant laws (Norway)
6.107 Take further measures to reduce inequalities and enhance access to services especially to vulnerable persons, including women, children and disabled (Bhutan)
6.108 Review the Labour Code and the law on gender equality to include a detailed definition of sexual harassment (Canada)
6.109 Develop legislation against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity (Chile)
6.153 Set up a robust legislative framework prohibiting and sanctioning all discriminatory practices, enabling victims access justice (Madagascar)
6.170 Take measures to combat religious motivated violence and harassment and ethnic discrimination and inequality (Brazil)
6.217 Revise the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code and criminalise all forms of violence against women, raise public awareness on gender equality and combating discrimination against women and girls, enhance efforts and measures to prevent and combat human trafficking, especially that of women and children (Hungary)
6.229 Adopt marriage equality legislation, extending full marriage rights to same-sex couples (Iceland)
6.230 Review the Law on Marriage and Family with a view to setting the same minimum age for marriage for women and men (Zambia)
6.231 Review the law on marriage and the family to guarantee the equality to same sex couples (Canada)
6.259 Step up the efforts for the participation of woman in political and public life and their representation in the decision-making bodies (Ethiopia)
6.260 Prohibit all forms of violence against women and strengthen women’s access to justice (Iceland)
6.261 Continue to strengthen measures to prevent abuse and violence against women (Japan)
6.262 Adopt a national plan of action to prevent all forms of violence against women and assign sufficient resources for its implementation (Spain)
6.263 Further invest in women’s economic empowerment and promote decent work for women in partnership with relevant international organizations (Thailand)
6.268 Implement the policy on promoting gender equality and bridging the gender gap, which focusing on enhancing the role and participation of women in the political, economic and social spheres (Cambodia)
6.284 Develop, in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, community-based and people-centred mental health services that do not lead to institutionalization and over medicalization and that respect the free and informed consent of persons with mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities while combatting stigma and violence against them (Portugal)
6.288 Pursue efforts to adopt national legislation to ensure further respect of the rights of migrants, to prepare the ground for the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (Egypt)
6.289 Continue its efforts on prevention and reduction of statelessness through among others reacquisition of Vietnamese nationality and prevent children statelessness (Kenya)
6.42 Enhance efforts to comply with the recommendations accepted during the second Universal Periodic Review cycle on guaranteeing the right to freedom of expression (Chile)
6.168 Take steps to guarantee freedom of opinion and freedom of expression, including on the internet, in the context of the adoption of the law on cybersecurity (France)
6.179 Protect civil and political rights, especially freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association (Luxembourg)
6.184 Restrictions on freedom of expression, and particularly online freedom, be lifted in line with Vietnam’s obligations under international law (Ireland)
6.189 Strengthen efforts to ensure the freedom of expression, including in the digital environment (Peru)
6.195 Ensure freedom of expression, including online, and promote actions to ensure freedom and independence of the media (Japan)
6.196 Continue the measures aimed at lifting all restrictions on the right to freedom of opinion and expression and to allow bloggers, journalists and other internet users to promote and protect human rights (Romania)
6.199 Enhance efforts to guarantee freedom of religion or belief, also by further reducing administrative obstacles to peaceful religious activities and by combating violence and discrimination on religious grounds (Italy)
6.200 Adopt legislative changes to guarantee the protection and free exercise of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly (Spain)
6.206 Take the necessary measures to eliminate administrative barriers in order to guarantee exercise of freedom of worship (Angola)
6.207 Enact laws to provide for freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Australia)
6.209 Take further steps to ensure an independent and pluralistic media landscape, including by reducing political influence on media outlets (Austria)
6.210 Safeguard freedom of religion and believe for all in Vietnam (Kenya)
6.213 Increase and ensure Vietnamese citizens’ access to information, including by increasing radio and television coverage in all parts of the country (Cyprus)
6.236 Allow for the establishment of independent trade unions and to recognize their right to organise (Canada)
Judicial System, Fair Trials and Due Process
6.147 Ensure that evidence obtained through torture is inadmissible in trial in keeping with Viet Nam’s obligations under the Convention against Torture (New Zealand)
6.148 Take steps to prohibit harassment and torture during the investigation process and detention and punish the perpetrators (Togo)
6.150 Abolish immediately at all levels the exercise of outdoor trials to ensure the right to the presumption of innocence, effective legal representation and fair trials (Denmark)
6.152 Revise the judicial system to provide a safer environment to victims in case of all crimes (Hungary)
6.156 Pursue judicial and institutional reforms to bring them into line with international human rights standards (Senegal)
6.158 Ensure that fair trial guarantees and due process rights, as provided in international law and standards, are respected and upheld in all cases (Slovakia)
6.164 Amend the Criminal Procedural Code so that persons are represented by a lawyer immediately following their arrest and to guarantee their right to a fair trial (Canada)
|About the Author
Shiwei Ye is an Asia-based independent human rights analyst, strategy advisor, trainer, and civil society consultant.
This Land Is Our Land: 100 Years Of Blood Spilled Over Land Rights In Vietnam
A 100 years have passed in Vietnam, but the people continue to shed their blood over the ownership of their land.
We all wish to live in peace and harmony. But try to imagine, just for once, if we were put into the shoes of the people whose lands are taken away by others, what would we do?
Whether being ruled by the French during colonization or under the dictatorship of the Vietnam Communist Party, the people who lost their land all faced the same despairing fate. One step forward and they could become criminals facing jail sentences or even the death penalty. One step backward and they could lose everything.
Throughout this 100 years, Vietnamese people have gone from Noc Nan Field to Senh Field, from Ninh Thanh Loi Village to Lac Nhue Village, from the Tay Nguyen Uprising to the Thai Binh Uprising, from Dak Nong Province to Hai Phong Province, and still there is no end in sight for the land ownership disputes.
We will take a look at 10 notorious cases of land disputes in Vietnam over the past 100 years.
1. Ninh Thanh Loi, Rach Gia Province
Time of dispute: January to May, 1927
Area of dispute: around 300 acres
Victim: Boss Chot
Offender: A local chief (cai tổng) named Tr.
Location: Ninh Thanh Loi Village, Phuoc Long District, Rach Gia Province (now located in Bac Lieu Province)
Time after time, local officers seized 90 percent of the agricultural land of this Khmer village. They learned all about the law on land confiscation and also the tricks to get around them.
At that time, a local chief named “Tr.” ordered the village chief to prepare land confiscation papers. They planned to confiscate a 300-acre plot of land that belonged to a Khmer local boss who was of Chinese origin named Chot. Boss Chot was not an easy target. He sued the village chief and won the case. To protect his land against the local officials, Boss Chot initiated a plan.
In May 1927, a French field supervisor broke up a traditional ritual set up by Chot to boost his men’s spirit. Chot then captured four farmers on the land of the supervisor and took them home. Next, he set up lines of white thread surrounding his land and prohibited any trespassing.
On May 7, 1927, the chief of Phuoc Long District set up an ambush on Chot’s group but neither side suffered any damage. That night, Chot’s men came to the house of local chief Tr. to take revenge but did not find him. They killed his father instead.
The next fight broke out following an order from the chief of Rach Gia Province, which resulted in six deaths on Chot’s side and three deaths on the side of the authorities. During the final encounter, the vice chief of Can Tho Province sent men to back up Rach Gia. And this time, Chot’s men were completely outnumbered. He, His daughter, and 12 other people were killed right at the scene.
After the incident, the chief of Phuoc Long District and officers of Ninh Thanh Loi Village reported to their superiors that it was an uprising against the state, instead of a land dispute. The French governor disagreed with the claim. He believed Chot’s initial purpose was to fight against the local corrupt officials who robbed his land, and that with just 40 men Chot could not create an uprising against the state. Instead, it must have been a normal land dispute. The French governor recommended that the governor-general of Indochina review the land law for the Khmer people, and pledged to solve land dispute cases in Ninh Thanh Loi Village in a fair manner.
2. Noc Nan Field, Bac Lieu Province
Time of dispute: 1919-1928
Area of dispute: 72.95 acres
Victims: The families of Bien Toai and Muoi Chuc
Offenders: Mother-in-law of a brother of the chief of Gia Rai District
Location: Ninh Thanh Loi Village, Phuoc Long District, Rach Gia Province (now in Bac Lieu province)
A year after the Ninh Thanh Loi Incident, southern Vietnam was again rocked by the Noc Nan case. Confiscated lands represented the blood and bones of the farmers. When pushed against the wall by injustice, they were ready to sacrifice their own lives to keep the land. The Bien Toai and Muoi Chuc families did exactly just that for their lands.
After the fight that led to the death of four family members of the Bien Toai and Muoi Chuc families, and a French policeman, the case was brought to Can Tho Criminal Court. Two French attorneys voluntarily took the case and defended the two families. Most newspapers in Saigon sent their staff to follow the case live in the courtroom.
Before the deadly face-off, the Bien Toai and Muoi Chuc families had tried all legal means to protest to the authorities but to no avail. They had been working on their agricultural land that was inherited from their grandfather which had a legal leasing paper. Then a Chinese named Ma Ngan secretly plotted with local officers to rob their land.
In 1917, Ma Ngan bought a piece of land next to Bien Toai’s property. He paid extra to the landowner to put into the contract that the purchased area included the Bien Toai family’s land. In 1926, Ma Ngan obtained official legal ownership of the land through bribery. The Bien Toai and Muoi Chuc families now suddenly became farmers working for other people but on the land which they always thought was theirs. Meanwhile, Ma Ngan was aware of his dirty tricks so he did not plan to make a big scene out of it. Instead, he silently sold the land to Ho Thi Tr., the mother-in-law of a brother of the chief of Gia Rai District.
Mrs. Tr. then asked the court for an order to collect all taxes on the land by confiscating all the rice produced by the Bien Toai and Muoi Chuc families. On February 16, 1928, two French policemen accompanied by four soldiers and the village officials carried out the court order on the two families.
At first, Ms. Ut Trong represented the families to monitor the rice calculation process. When the calculation was completed, she asked for an invoice for the rice taken but the group refused and a fight broke out. Members of the Bien Toai and Muoi Chuc families showed up to fight the authoritie’s men. This resulted in the deaths of one French policeman, three younger brothers of the Bien Toai family named Muoi Chuc, Nhan, and Nhin, together with Nghia, the wife of Muoi Chuc.
In court, even the prosecutors defended the farm families. The French prosecutor stated that the Bien Toai and Muoi Chuc families were put in incredibly unjust circumstances. Their land was seized by a conman and their rights were ignored by local officers. It was so cruel because the farmers were ordered not only to hand over all of the rice they produced as a tax, but also had to pay extra money for using their own land.
The two attorneys argued that these genial farmers were victims of a legal system built by the French that was full of loopholes which was abused by men in power.
The court later announced that Bien Toai, his youngest brother, and his son were to be released. Ms. Ut Trong received a six-month sentence, which was the time she had already been held in prison, and so she was also released immediately. Bien Toai’s brother-in-law received a two-year sentence due to his prior record of stealing.
The court ruling was widely celebrated and reported by newspapers all over southern Vietnam.
3. The FULRO Uprising, Central Highlands
Time of dispute: 1955-1970
Victims: Indigenous people in Cao Nguyen (Central Highlands) and other areas in southern Vietnam
Offenders: The government of The Republic of Vietnam and migrants
Beginning in 1954, the government of President Ngo Dinh Diem carried out an “absolute equality” policy to assimilate all the communities in the Cao Nguyen area. This policy allowed the confiscation of land of the ethnic Thuong people and transfer to Kinh people, the Vietnamese ethnic majority, and banned all traditional customs and rituals in Cao Nguyen. That was a rollback of the previous authority’s policy where the French had granted Cao Nguyen a special autonomy policy. Before, under French rule, the government restricted the migration of ethnic Kinh people to this area, respected the land rights of the locals and prioritized the use of traditional customs to resolve disputes.
After years of peaceful protest without progress, some local people formed a military group called FULRO (United Liberation Front for the Oppressed Races) in 1963. The group represented not only various ethnic peoples in the Central Highlands, but also the Cham and Khmer. They also received support from the Cambodian government.
Below are some noteworthy incidents.
On September 20, 1964, FULRO men opened fire on a military camp in Buon Me Thuot, captured six American soldiers as prisoners and occupied the radio station. The next day, the force captured an American colonel. In September 1965, FULRO attacked a Vietnamese military camp. In December 1965, Pleiku and Phu Bon were attacked by the force, which led to the authorities carrying out death sentences against four FULRO soldiers.
The years-long conflict put ethnic Kinh people under constant panic. FULRO demanded that the Saigon government carry out many policies, including evicting all the ethnic Kinh out of Cao Nguyen and returning the land to the Thuong ethnicity. It took the Saigon government a great amount of time and effort to settle this racial conflict. They had to implement land policies which gave priorities to the Thuong people.
4. Lac Nhue, Ha Nam Province
Time of dispute: 1990 – 1993
Area of dispute: 75 acres
Victims: Lac Nhue Village
Offenders: Kim Bang district government
Location: Lac Nhue Village, Dong Hoa Parish, Kim Bang District, Ha Nam Province
After so many futile attempts to make appeals for land disputes and against local official corruption, the Lac Nhue village people decided to take matters into their own hands under the leadership of a person whom they all trusted named Trinh Khai. Details about this dispute were scarcely reported since the government wanted to suppress all related information involving the case.
After many years of teaching at the Marine University, Trinh Khai, an engineer who studied in Soviet Russia, retired to his hometown in the early 1990s. At the time, the local officials in Kim Bang District implemented a new agricultural land leasing system. They cut off 75 acres of land in Lac Nhue Village and granted it to another village. Mr. Khai, who had good knowledge of the laws and also experience with the dirty tricks used by local officials, helped the village farmers to make appeals at the parish level, the district and even all the way up to the central government.
After many incidents in which strangers snuck into the village and threatened Mr. Khai and other people’s safety, the villagers decided to build a fortress to protect them from the outside world.
The peak of the conflict came when two young men from outside of the village were beaten to death by villagers in the middle of the night. The villagers believed the authorities sent the men to assassinate Mr. Khai. State media meanwhile reported that these two men were just normal citizens who came to buy fingerlings.
After this incident, it was reported that Mr. Khai was arrested when he showed up at the parish office to cooperate with the authorities. There was also information stating that the authorities had ordered the police to hunt down and arrest him. In the end, the leader who protected the land rights of the farmers was given a death sentence. According to veteran journalist Pham Thanh, two villagers also died while being held in prison and six others were given jail sentences.
In a nutshell, this incident was no different than the case in Ninh Thanh Loi, except that the current government did not act fairly like the lieutenant governor of Cochinchina in the past. This time, the government did not judge this case in an unbiased manner. Instead, the authorities consistently claimed the Lac Nhue incident was a case of land dispute where people distorted state policies and constituted conspiracies against the state. The government even published novels and made a movie about the incident (titled “The story of Nho Village) to defame Lac Nhue villagers and Mr. Trinh Khai, letting them go down in history in eternal shame.
5. The Thai Binh Incident, Thai Binh Province
Time of dispute: 1987 – 1997
Victims: Citizens of Thai Binh Province
Offenders: Officials of Thai Binh Province
Location: The entire area of Thai Binh Province
In the 1990s, petitions from citizens of Thai Binh Province regarding land issues and local officials’ widespread corruption piled up yet remained unresolved.
In May 1997, furious after years of being bullied by local officials, a group of army veterans led about 3,000 farmers to stage a sit-in protest in front of the Communist Party’s headquarters in Thai Binh Province. This event led to a series of uprisings demanding justice throughout the province.
Two retired officials told journalist Huu Tho about the root cause of the uprisings: “Do you believe that we are the bad guys or the reactionary force?” he asked. “How could we put up with these officials when they bully us even worse than the feudal landlords?!”
Tens of thousands joined the protests and riots, captured at least 64 officials and policemen as hostages, and vandalised many government buildings and private houses of local officials. The unrest lasted until November 1997. Many people were sentenced to prison for taking part in these protests.
6. Ethnic Thuong Uprising, Central Highlands
Time of dispute: 2001 – 2004
Victims: Indigenous people in the four provinces of the Central Highlands
Offenders: Authorities, migrants
Fatalities: At least 33
Location: Central Highlands
The Communists learned nothing from the mistakes of the earlier administration of Ngo Dinh Diem. They also understood nothing about the Central Highlands. The government thought this area was still covered with vast uncultivated lands. They then created new economic zones, built vast agricultural farms, and allowed unrestricted migration from other parts of the country. The result was that the land area of the indigenous people was disproportionately scaled back and the native people in the Central Highlands found themselves in unprecedented harsh living conditions.
Researchers Neil L. Jamieson, Le Trong Cuc and A. Terry Rambo in their 1998 report, The Development Crisis in Vietnam’s Mountains, East-West Center predicted a crisis in the making in the Central Highlands:
“A lot of people in the highland areas start to realize they are poor and left behind. They feel inferior to the people from the lowlands, […]. Lack of money, lack of food, lack of access to natural resources, public services (education, healthcare, information), they are in danger of losing their most valuable assets: their confidence and dignity. […] The problem is more and more people are aware that they are poor.”
As if pouring gas on a fire, the Communists also destroyed the most sacred thing in the lives of the ethnic Thuong people: religion. The government completely banned religious freedom in the Central Highlands. Traditional rituals were terminated, Protestantism was almost disallowed, and Catholics were stringently restricted.
A crisis suddenly arose in 2001 and especially in 2004 with the uprising of the ethnic Thuong people. It led to the biggest protests up until then and many violent encounters with the police. The Thuong demanded that the government return their lands and guarantee their freedom of religion. The protests forced thousands of ethnic Thuong either to become refugees in Cambodia or to be sent to education camps and prisons in Vietnam. According to Human Rights Watch, the conflict resulted in eight deaths in the protests and 25 deaths in prisons. However, these figures are impossible to verify since the government prohibited international observers from entering the Central Highlands at the time.
7. Doan Van Vuon, Hai Phong Province
Time of dispute: 2009 – 2012
Area of dispute: 19.3 hectares
Victims: The Doan Van Vuon family
Offenders: People’s Committee of Tien Lang District
Location: Vinh Quang Village, Tien Lang District, Hai Phong City
The situation of the Doan Van Vuon family was exactly what the Bien Toai and Muoi Chuc families had faced about 80 years before, but with a different outcome. Although the local officials’ decisions were completely wrong and there were no fatalities in the conflict, the members of the Doan Van Vuon family still faced jail sentences.
Doan Van Vuon, a military veteran, received a five-year sentence while three family members were given sentences ranging from two to five years in prison and suspended sentences.
On the government side, there was only one local official sentenced to 30 years in prison, with the rest given suspended sentences.
The incident started in 2009, when Tien Lang District reclaimed land that had been given to the Doan Van Vuon family.
In 1993, the local authority handed Vuon’s family 21 hectares and it determined that this decision was legal.
However, in 1997, the local authority handed him another 19.3 hectares and this was later concluded as an illegal decision.
The local authority’s decisions, from the second handing of 19.3 hectares of land to the forced reclaiming of land of the Vuon family, did not have any legal basis. Then Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung pointed out that the overlapping and confusing regulations regarding land management and officials’ inability to implement the laws were the root causes of the conflict.
8. Van Giang, Hung Yen Province
Time of dispute: 2012 – now
Area of dispute: 73 hectares
Victims: A number of families in Cuu Cao Village
Offenders: Government of Van Giang District
Location: Cuu Cao Village, Van Giang District, Hung Yen Province
The citizens of Van Giang took a step forward to protect their land and they became criminals. In these types of conflicts, when the government sided with corporations (in this case it was Ecopark) to shrink compensation for reclaimed land, the people had no other choice but to stand up and fight.
In April 2012, the authorities sent between 2,000 and 4,000 military police to sweep away a group of citizens who vowed to protect their land. There were 20 citizens arrested after this incident.
In August 2013, a number of families captured and tied up village officials for trespassing on their uncompensated lands. The incident resulted in one man receiving a 21-month sentence and one other receiving a two-year sentence.
In October 2014, two security guards of a backfilling company were beaten to death and one excavator truck was burnt. This led to six people receiving three-to-four year sentences, despite their statements that they neither beat anyone nor vandalized any assets.
9. Dang Van Hien, Dak Nong Province
Time of dispute: 2008 – now
Victims: Dang Van Hien and other families
Offenders: Long Son Co.
Location: Small zone no. 1535, Quang Truc Village, Tuy Duc District, Dak Nong Province
This area witnessed many fiere conflicts. There were many fights between migrants and agricultural companies who were offered the land by local authorities. Fist fights, house burnings, field vandalizing, and gun shootings were all familiar to the local people. They chose to rely on themselves to protect the land rather than counting on the authorities.
Dang Van Hien did not want any trouble, but he had no choice. Since 2008, local authorities had offered Long Son Co. an area that included land belonging to Hien and other families. Many violent encounters broke out over the years between the company and the families, yet all levels of government, from province to state, looked away.
One early morning in October 2016,about 30 people came to Hien’s house in a heavy rain to bulldoze his farm. Hien opened fire that day. Ninh Viet Binh, a neighbor, came to back him up. Ha Van Truong, Hien’s cousin, later was also accused of murder, despite the fact that he only handed Hien the bullet magazines.
The incident resulted in the deaths of three workers of the Long Son Co. In court, Hien was given a death sentence, Binh received a 20-year sentence later reduced to 18-years jail time, while Truong was given a 12-year sentence, later reduced to a 9-year prison sentence.
10. Dong Tam, Hanoi
Time of dispute: 2014 – now
Area of dispute: 28.7 hectares
Victims: A number of families in Dong Tam
Offenders: The authorities of My Duc District and Viettel Corporation
Location: Dong Tam Village, My Duc District, Hanoi
From Dang Van Hien to Doan Van Vuon, from Van Giang District to Dong Tam Village, the message of the Vietnam government could not be clearer: despite their lives being threatened, despite their lands being taken away, the people still have no right to fight back. Any act of defiance that creates damage to the authority’s side will be severely punished, whether the government is right or wrong.
Twenty-nine defendants in the Dong Tam case, including a 77-year old man, were forced to fight back against thousands of police ambushing their village in the middle of the night. Since 2007, there have been many violent incidents in Dong Tam yet the government has been unable to resolve the issue in a fair manner.
The government of Vietnam used to denounce the brutality of French colonial rule. However, nearly 100 years ago under French rule, the trial of the Noc Nan field case was open and the press freely took part, reported and conducted independent investigations. Meanwhile, 100 years later, the trial for the Dong Tam Incident was closed and family members of the defendants were not allowed to even get near the court. Independent press was barred from entering the courtroom, and the attorneys were prohibited from making contacts with the defendants at trial.
If there is no fundamental change in the land law in Vietnam to allow the private ownership of land, blood may still be shed over land issues for another 100 years.
This article was written in Vietnamese by An Nam and previously published on Luat Khoa Magazine. The translation is done by Y Chan.
Recap: Sentencing in the Dong Tam Trial
As reported earlier, after four days of a predicted 10-day trial, the Hanoi People’s Tribunal took a recess beginning on the afternoon of September 10 to deliberate. At 3 pm on September 14, 2020, an initial verdict was announced.
These are the details of the sentencing and the developments surrounding them:
The range of initial sentences
The Tribunal sentenced Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc to death for the crime of murder.
Also prosecuted for murder was Le Dinh Doanh, who was sentenced to life in prison. Three other defendants who were charged with murder received prison sentences ranging from 12 to 16 years.
The 23 remaining defendants were prosecuted for obstruction of officials. Among them, nine received prison sentences ranging from three to six years, and the remaining 14 were sentenced to between 15 to 36 months of probation.
Compared to the recommendations by the Hanoi People’s Procuracy, the Tribunal’s sentencing only differed in granting 7 defendants probation instead of prison time.
Noteworthy is that while nearly all of the defendants received sentences equal to or lesser than the Procuracy’s recommendations, Bui Thi Noi received a heavier sentence than what was recommended.
The Procuracy recommended 4 to 5 years of prison for Bui Thi Noi. The Tribunal sentenced her to 6.
Bui Thi Noi, adopted daughter of Mr. Le Dinh Kinh, who died in the early morning attack on January 9, directly challenged the Tribunal during questioning on the second day of the trial, asking: “We have laws, but why are they not carried out? Why was my father (Le Dinh Kinh) lured out to a field and his leg broken, instead of being arrested properly…?”
When the presiding judge asked Noi three times why she bought gasoline, Noi responded “I bought gasoline to burn the corrupt!”
The court’s determinations
As reported by Thanh Nien, the Tribunal determined “This was a serious criminal case that [was] particularly dangerous, denigrating the law and human life.” Judges assessed that “the defendants’ behaviors were extremely barbaric, cruel, and inhumane.”
According to information from Zing, the Tribunal also required the ring-leading defendants to compensate each victim’s family 116 million dong (US$5000) and provide child support to the deceased police officers’ children until they all reach the age of 18.
Responses from lawyers and relatives of the defendants
Speaking with RFA, Mrs. Nguyen Thi Duyen, Le Dinh Kinh’s granddaughter-in-law, stated: “To be honest, I’m not very surprised and had already mentally prepared myself. I knew for certain they would keep the sentencing as is.”
“The next steps must be taken gradually; there’s simply no way to change [the government’s] hearts or minds,” she continued. “It will most certainly force [those] Dong Tam residents to suffer through long prison sentences.”
Lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng, on the other hand, asserted: “There is not enough evidence to conclude that those three [police officers] died because of Chuc, Cong, and the others. Handing out two death sentences and a life imprisonment is completely unreasonable!”
Mieng shared the view that all four deaths must be re-investigated.
Appeals and future developments
Le Dinh Cong and Le Dinh Chuc, who were both sentenced to death, stated that they would appeal.
We have provided an analysis here regarding the next possible developments in this case.
If at any point, a defendant, victim, or his or her representative appeals, the case will be forced into retrial. The entire case will be presented and re-tried in a higher court, which in this instance is the People’s Supreme Court in Hanoi.
According to the law, the deadline for retrial ranges approximately from December 2020 to January 2021.
In the meantime, the Procuracy, defendants, and lawyers have the right to provide additional evidence.
Lawyers and relatives still have the right to see the defendants. Other individuals and organizations (journalists, social organizations, international organizations) are also able to submit requests to see the defendants.
This article was written in Vietnamese by Y Chan and previously published on Luat Khoa Magazine. The translation is done by Will Nguyen.
The Dong Tam Case: What happens next?
On September 14, 2020, the Hanoi People’s Court delivered the judgments in the trial of the Dong Tam case.
What will happen next?
First of all, we need to understand this is a first-instance trial and the judgments have not yet come into force. The enforcement of criminal judgments therefore is not yet initiated.
Within 15 days of the first-instance trial’s verdict, which is from September 14-29, 2020, there are two possible scenarios.
(Note: According to the instruction from the Supreme People’s Court, the time limit for appeal is calculated from the day after the verdict is delivered, which is September 15, 2020.)
1. If the rulings are not appealed, they will automatically come into force on the 16th day after the verdict was delivered, which will be on September 30, 2020. The sentence enforcement procedure will also be initiated on that day.
2. If the rulings are appealed:
- Appeal by the defendants: If any of the defendants, victims or their representatives appeal against the rulings, the case will move into the appellate trial phase. The whole trial will be restarted. In this case, the time limit for making an appeal is September 29, 2020.
If an appeal is filed beyond the 15-day limit, the appellate court can still consider it permissible “on condition that the appellant has been obstructed by force majeure or objective obstacles from lodging an appeal within the time limit as defined by this Law.” (Article 335, 2015 Criminal Procedure Code)
- Appeal by the Procuracy: If the Hanoi People’s Procuracy appeals against all or parts of the judgments, the case will also move into the appellate trial phase.
- Appeal by the Supreme People’s Procuracy in Hanoi: according to law, they have a 30-day limit to appeal the rulings after the verdict was delivered.
What is an appellate trial?
According to Article 330, 2015 Criminal Procedure Code, “Appellate trial means that the immediate superior Court re-tries a case or re-considers the decisions passed by the first instance trial, whose judgments and rulings pronounced for the case are appealed before coming into force.”
In other words, all or parts of the rulings will be re-considered by the immediate superior court.
What is the superior court in this case?
The Supreme People’s Court in Hanoi
When will the appellate trial take place?
At the moment, there is no detailed instruction document on how to calculate the time frame to open the appellate trial, but based on the 2015 Criminal Procedure Code, we can estimate a number of markers for what happens next:
- Within 75 days upon the admission of a case, the Supreme People’s Court in Hanoi has to issue a decision to hear the appellate case. Therefore, we can estimate in case of appeal, that the last day to issue the decision will be December 13, 2020 (Sunday). Since it is a non-working day, the time limit can be extended to December 14, 2020 (Monday).
- Within 15 days upon issuing the decision to hear the appellate case, the court has to start the appellate trial. Therefore, we can estimate in case of appeal the last day to start the appellate trial will be December 29, 2020 (Monday).
- Within 10 days upon issuing the decision to hear the appellate case, the court has to send this decision to the Procuracy–which is on an equal level of hierarchy–and to the defense counsels, crime victims, litigants and protectors of legitimate rights and benefits of crime victims, litigants, appellants, persons incurring interests and duties from the appeal. The last day of this time frame will be December 23, 2020 (Monday).
- The court can delay the appellate trial for no more than 30 days, which means the last day in this case could be on January 28, 2021 (Wednesday).
In practice, however, the court can violate the time limit regulations. The appellate trial therefore can be delayed to a much later time than the above estimated number of days.
While awaiting the appellate trial, what can happen?
- The Supreme People’s Court can make decisions on changing or terminating preventive measures such as detention. Although practically, there is no possibility some defendants will be released on bail awaiting the appellate trial, yet it is still an available legal option.
- If the appellants withdraw the appeals, the court will suspend the appellant trial. In practice, this is also unlikely.
- The Procuracy, the defendants and their lawyers can submit additional evidence.
- The lawyers and family members are entitled to meet the defendants. Other individuals, organizations (the media, social organizations, international organization, etc.) can file proposals to meet with the defendants.
In order to better understand this case, we need to study thoroughly the Law on temporary detention and custody.
What are the possible outcomes of the appellate trial?
According to Article 355, 2015 Criminal Procedure Code, the possible outcomes of an appellate trial could be:
- Reject appeals and sustain the first-instance court’s judgments;
- Alter the first-instance trial’s judgments;
- Annul the first-instance court’s judgment and send the case back for re-investigation or retrial;
- Annul the first-instance trial’s judgments and dismiss the case;
- Terminate the appellate trial if the appellants withdraw their appeals.
In case of altering the first-instance trial’s judgments, if the appeals are filed by the defendants, the appellate court cannot deliver a harsher sentence than what has already been given to the defendants.
In case of altering the first-instance trial’s judgments, if the appeals are filed by the procuracy or the crime victims, the appellate court can deliver rulings that are disadvantageous to the defendants.
What may happen after the appellate trial?
The rulings from the appellate trial will come into force immediately.
If the appellate court sustains the first-instance trial’s judgments, or alters the judgments but sustains the sentences, the enforcement procedure will be initiated. The defendants become convicts (serve jail sentences, face death penalties). In this case, one must study thoroughly the Law on execution of criminal judgments.
The convicts with death sentences still have a chance to file pardon petition for commutation of death sentence with the state president (within 7 days after the appellate rulings were delivered), petition for a cassation trial, or file for a retrial of the case.
If the appellate court chooses to delivers other outcomes, then there are corresponding legal options for each scenario.
This article was written in Vietnamese by Tran Ha Linh and previously published on Luat Khoa Magazine. The translation is done by Y Chan.
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