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Vietnam Insight

Overview Of LGBTQ+ Rights In Vietnam

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Pride marches in Vietnam. Photos: The Jakarta Globe (background), Unknown (right-top), People’s World (right bottom). Graphics: The Vietnamese Magazine.

The Vietnamese Magazine’s “Vietnam Insight” introduces background information on political and human rights issues in contemporary Vietnam. 


Unlike other human rights issues, LGBTQ+ rights are among an extremely few issues in which Vietnam is not widely considered notorious. 

For example, a famous travel blog ranks Vietnam 87 out of 150 countries in its index on safe destinations for LGBTQ+ travellers [1], cited by prominent media outlets such as CNN, USA Today, and The Guardian. While this number might not seem impressive, it is essential to remember that Vietnam was ranked 137 out of 167 countries in The Economist’s democracy index [2] and at the bottom in Southeast Asia. 

This means that Vietnam’s handling of LGBTQ+ issues is not as alarming compared to how it handles other human rights. In a 2015 article, NBC News reported that when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, Vietnam can even be considered more progressive than the United States. [3] 

However, this does not mean that Vietnam is a paradise for LGBTQ+ people.

According to a recent report published by the Asia branch of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, many people in the Vietnamese LGBTQ+ community feel like the government is taking advantage of LGBTQ+ rights in Vietnam as compensation for other violations of human rights.[4]  

But what is the reality of LGBTQ+ rights in Vietnam? What rights do LGBTQ+ people have? Is the Vietnamese public and government accepting of LGBTQ+ people? What are some issues that LGBTQ+ people in Vietnam still face? These questions are answered in this article as we walk you through a brief overview of the LGBTQ+ community’s situation in Vietnam. 

Are same-sex relationships criminalized? 

No. Even though same-sex relationships were banned in Vietnam in the early 2000s, the government decriminalized such relationships in 2013.[5] 

In 2000, the law first mentioned same-sex relationships in legal documents. The Law on Marriage and Family was amended in 2000 to incorporate a ban on same-sex cohabitation and same-sex marriage, making it primarily illegal to have a same-sex relationship. 

Under these regulations, same-sex couples who attempted to organize a wedding ceremony, and people participating in these ceremonies, could get fined by the authorities. However, this law did not crack down on same-sex couples who did not co-habit or attempted to get married, even though the police frequently raided many LGBTQ+ friendly establishments. 

In the following years, Vietnam also outlawed various forms of same-sex relationships, such as the adoption of children by same-sex couples or surrogacy and same-sex marriages to foreigners abroad. 

The situation got better in 2012, as the then-Minister of Justice Ha Hung Cuong expressed disapproval of the existing legal discrimination of LGBTQ+ people. It was the first time a high-ranked Vietnamese government official publicly talked about the LGBTQ+ community in a non-discriminatory tone. 

In 2013, same-sex cohabitation and wedding ceremonies were decriminalized in Vietnam. 

Can same-sex couples get married? 

No. Up until now, the law in Vietnam does not recognize same-sex marriages. 

However, as mentioned above, co-habitation among same-sex couples is now permitted, in addition to wedding ceremonies. 

Can transgender people undergo gender transition procedures? 

In principle, yes. However, the situation in Vietnam is more complicated. 

In 2008, a law in Vietnam said gender affirmation surgeries were forbidden for “people whose gender is already correct”[6]. It means that while gender transition procedures were available for intersex people who were thought to have gender defects, they were banned for transgender people who were thought to have no gender issues. 

The situation got better as the country passed a change to the Civil Code in 2015 recognizing the rights to gender transition[7], official recognition of transgender people in Vietnam, making it one of the most progressive countries in Southeast Asia LGBTQ+ rights. 

Although this law was supposed to be implemented by 2017, the reality is that transgender people still faced extreme hardships in accessing gender transition procedures or getting their name and gender changed on paper. 

This was due to the inefficiency of lawmakers, who failed to take into account various specific details on transition procedures. For example, they could not detail the eligibility criteria for pursuing gender transition, the criteria for health providers to accommodate gender transition procedures, or the circumstances in which transgender people could legally change their name or gender on paper, among various other considerations.  

Therefore, even though transgender people technically could undergo gender transition in Vietnam, it remains extremely inaccessible. 

Can transgender people get married?

Yes, but there are some additional issues. 

Article 37 of the Civil Code states that “Individuals who have undergone gender transition have the right and obligation to change their civil status, and have the civil rights in accordance with this Code and other related regulations.”

This means that transgender people, after successfully changing their gender on paper, could get married to people of the opposite gender. For example, a transgender woman (male to female) could marry someone legally recognized as male. A transgender man (female to male) could get married to someone legally recognized as female. 

As same-sex marriage is not legally mandated in Vietnam, transgender people cannot marry people of the same gender after the transition. Thus, for instance, a transgender woman cannot marry someone lawfully recognized as female and vice versa. 

However, as mentioned above, the recognition of transgender people and their legal transition have not been implemented in practice. 

Therefore, even though transgender people can marry someone of the opposite gender after transitioning, they still cannot get married and have their marriage legally recognized in practice.  

Is there anti-discrimination law to protect LGBTQ+ people? 

Up to now, there is no anti-discrimination law explicitly aimed at protecting LGBTQ+ people. 

Is Vietnamese society accepting of LGBTQ+ people?

Even though the law in Vietnam has been more friendly towards LGBTQ+ people (or at least in principle) and the government has been pledging to improve the conditions of the community, LGBTQ+ people in Vietnam still face tremendous discrimination from society and pressure from their families to conform to a “normal” heteronormative life. 

For example, there is an issue of homosexual individuals marrying people of different gender due to the pressure from either society or their family.[8] Homosexual individuals also engage in marriage arrangements with other homosexual individuals of a different gender to please their families on both sides. 

Due to the government’s inefficiency in drafting regulations for transgender people, undergoing hormone therapy or other related medical procedures remains extremely difficult and dangerous, not to mention very costly.[9] 

LGBTQ+ adults are not the only ones facing hardship in their social life. LGBTQ+ students and children in Vietnam also reported violence and discrimination. Oftentimes when students come out as LGBTQ+ people to their family, teachers or friends, they are told that they have “a disease.”[10]

While Vietnamese society is becoming more open and accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, it can be seen that it is still generally tough for many LGBTQ+ individuals to live a happy and fulfilling life. 

Are there LGBTQ+ politicians or lawmakers? 

So far, there are no known openly LGBTQ+ politicians or lawmakers in Vietnam who hold office in the National Assembly or the local People’s Committee in different regions – the most crucial legislative organs in Vietnam. In Vietnam’s conservative political climate, even the existence of women in Vietnamese politics is scarce.[11]

The 2021 elections for the National Assembly and the local People’s Committee in Hanoi saw the appearance of Luong The Huy, the first openly gay candidate running for both offices. He is also an independent non-party candidate. At age 32, Huy is much younger than the typical member of the National Assembly or the People’s Committee.

Unfortunately, despite the enthusiastic support from young people, Huy did not win in both elections this year. 

There are very few notable non-governmental organizations which aim to further LGBTQ+ rights in Vietnam. The Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (ISEE) is currently directed by Luong The Huy in Hanoi and the ICS Center in Saigon. 

In general, the voice of LGBTQ+ people in politics and policymaking is still meager. Because of this, LGBTQ+ issues remain in the “non-priority” bracket of the country’s legislation. As LGBTQ+ people remain unheard of [12], it is not surprising that the government is primarily inefficient in making decisions related to the community.

Bibliography 

[1] LGBTQ+ Travel Safety – 150 Best & Worst Countries Ranked (2021). (2021, May 7). Asher & Lyric. https://www.asherfergusson.com/lgbtq-travel-safety/

[2] The Economist Intelligence Unit. (2021). Democracy Index 2020 In sickness and in health? https://www.eiu.com/n/campaigns/democracy-index-2020/

[3] NBC Universal. (2015, June 11). On Gay Rights, Vietnam is Now More Progressive Than America. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/gay-rights-vietnam-now-more-progressive-america-n285521

[4] ILGA Asia. (2021, June). Dare to dream: The ongoing voyage from invisibility to community empowerment, and foray into the region for LGBTIQ in Vietnam. https://www.ilgaasia.org/publications/2021/6/11/lgbtq-rights-report-vietnam-dare-to-dream

[5] UNDP & USAID. (2014). Being LGBT in Asia: Vietnam Country Report. https://www.usaid.gov/documents/1861/being-lgbt-asia-vietnam-country-report

[6] iSEE. (2019, January). Hiện trạng trải nghiệm y tế và nhu cầu chuyển đổi giới tính của người chuyển giới ở Việt Nam. http://isee.org.vn/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Report_Need-experience-on-medical-intervention-of-Transgender-community-in-Vietnam-FINAL.pdf

[7] Human Rights Watch. (2015, November 30). Vietnam: Positive Step for Transgender Rights. https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/11/30/vietnam-positive-step-transgender-rights

[8] iSEE. (2018, November). Sống chung cùng giới: Trải nghiệm thực tế và Mưu cầu hạnh phúc lứa đôi. http://isee.org.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/song-chung-cung-gioi-trai-nghiem-thuc-te-va-muu-cau-hanh-phuc-lua-doi..pdf

[9] Nguyen, S. (2019, June 21). LGBT rights: Vietnam recognises transgender people, but there’s a flaw in its law. South China Morning Post. https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/society/article/3015423/lgbt-rights-vietnam-recognises-transgender-people-theres-flaw-its

[10] Human Rights Watch. (2020, February). “My Teacher Said I Had a Disease” Barriers to the Right to Education for LGBT Youth in Vietnam. https://www.hrw.org/report/2020/02/13/my-teacher-said-i-had-disease/barriers-right-education-lgbt-youth-vietnam

[11] Trinh, H. L., & H.T. (2021, February 18). Vietnam’s 13th Party Congress: Women Have No Place In Politics. The Vietnamese Magazine. https://www.thevietnamese.org/2021/02/vietnams-13th-party-congress-women-have-no-place-in-politics/

[12] Nguyen. LGBT rights. South China Morning Post. 

Politics

Vietnam: How Powerful Is The Prime Minister?

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Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh. Photo: quochoi.vn

Among the “four pillars,” the position of prime minister possesses both power and prestige.


In the spring of 2021, Vietnam has a new leader: Pham Minh Chinh, a former police intelligence officer and former head of the Vietnamese Communist Party’s Central Organization Commission. On July 26, 2021, Pham Minh Chinh, once again, takes his oath to be the prime minister of Vietnam for the next 5 years.

One amongst “four pillars of the imperial court”

In the article “A few things you should know about Vietnam’s National Assembly chairmanship,” we wrote about the formation of the institutional division of power known as the “four pillars,” which includes the general secretary, the state president, the prime minister, and the chairman of the National Assembly.

If the state president and the chairman of the National Assembly, two among four of the most powerful positions in the Vietnamese Communist Party hierarchy, serve as primarily ceremonial positions, then the prime minister has both pomp and power, possessing broad authority in the governing system.

The prime ministership was once a position without any notable power. Before Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet’s term (1991-1997), previous prime ministers left a very little mark, except for Ho Chi Minh – who served as both state president and prime minister from 1946-1955.

Prime ministers after him, such as Pham Van Dong (1955-1987), Pham Hung (1987-1988), and Do Muoi (1988-1991), all served during periods where the government functioned according to the direction and management of the Party, rather than with tools of the executive branch. The same could be said during periods where Ho Chi Minh and Le Duan had overwhelming individual influence over the Party, causing other institutions and positions, including the prime ministership, to be subservient. 

In the 1980 Constitution, the government was called the Council of Ministers, with the prime minister position changed to the chairman of the Council of Ministers. This was an institution of collective leadership, with the powers of the chairman being minimal. With the 1992 Constitution, Vietnam reverted to the government mechanism in which the prime minister was head, concentrating greater power in his hands rather than practicing collective decision-making as in the past. Vo Van Kiet was the first prime minister to enjoy the new system under the 1992 Constitution.

With the depth and broadness of economic reform, the government’s role in managing national affairs grew by the day to more quickly, effectively, and dynamically respond to domestic and international developments. This increase in authority also served to more adequately address the increasing importance of foreign affairs in the age of globalization. The position of prime minister, thus, became extremely powerful. Nguyen Tan Dung (2006-2016) is seen as the most powerful prime minister ever and once competed fiercely for the position of general secretary. 

Who elects the prime minister?

Vietnam’s central government is modeled on the parliamentary system, with the central role (theoretically) held by the National Assembly. Constituents elect members of the National Assembly, and the National Assembly elects the government’s leadership figures, including the prime minister. (Obviously, everyone knows who actually “elects” the members of the National Assembly and the prime minister). The prime minister must be a member of the National Assembly.

Normally, electing the prime minister occurs during the first session of the new National Assembly term, after the general election, which occurs after the Party congress. In 2016, the procedure took an unusual turn: the National Assembly elected the new prime minister in the last meeting of its term in April, preceding the general election by more than a month. After the general election, the new National Assembly then repeated the election of the prime minister one more time. Nguyen Xuan Phuc was sworn into office twice in 2016. Pham Minh Chinh also had the same experience in 2021.

How powerful is the prime minister?

The prime minister’s powers are stipulated in Article 98 of the Constitution and Article 28 of the Law on Government Organization (ratified in 2015 and amended in 2019).

As head of state administration, this position has broad authority, from enforcing laws and organizing personnel to proposing and distributing the budget.

As a unitary state, the central government has overarching authority, with the prime minister’s power extending from the center all the way to the provinces and cities.

Outside his separate authority, the prime minister also has general authority over the collective decisions and resolutions of the cabinet.

For more details, please see the two documents described above. Here, we would like to list a few of the prime minister’s decision-making powers to demonstrate just how influential this position is in the economic sphere:

·      Regarding land: has the power to establish a council to assess land usage programs and plans at the national level; approves changes in land usage purposes on rice cultivation fields 10 hectares and above, protected and special-use forest land 20 hectares and above; decides the policy framework for compensation, support, and resettlement in special cases; decides price tables for province-level land in many cases; decides on several cases in which the usage rights for land the state allocates or leases are not auctioned.

·      Regarding investment: has the power to approve investment plans on the scale of airports, ports, oil and gas rigs, large urban areas, industrial zones, and export processing zones; approves investment plans overseas in banking, insurance, stocks, and telecommunications…from 400 billion dong and above, along with other projects involving capital of 800 billion dong and above.

Is prime minister the highest attainable position?

No. In the party power hierarchy, the general secretary remains at the top and is the most powerful position overall. 

There has never been a prime minister who has risen to become general secretary, except for Do Muoi, who was the chairman of the Council of Ministers. Nearly all served only one or two terms before retiring, except Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who served as prime minister and then stepped down to become state president, a much less powerful position. 

This article describes the power of the prime minister, but in actuality, we have only spoken of it in legal terms and in relation to the order of power in the party. The position’s power is also dependent on the individual’s level of influence within the party.

To put it another way, a leader’s power is the sum of his or her institutional power and individual sway. If the system bestows power but the individual leader doesn’t have the ability to wield it properly, then he does not have much power at all. Conversely, the system can bestow limited power, but an individual can exercise influence beyond his institutional limits. 


This article was written in Vietnamese by Trinh Huu Long and was previously published in Luat Khoa Magazine on April 6, 2021. The English translation was done by Will Nguyen.

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Politics

A Few Things You Should Know About Vietnam’s National Assembly Chairpersonship

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Former National Assembly Chairwoman, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, and Current Chairman, Vuong Dinh Hue. Graphic: Luat Khoa Magazine

Though it is one of the “four pillars” of the Vietnamese government, the National Assembly chairpersonship remains the weakest position.


Vietnam’s National Assembly has been preparing to change its window dressing in late March 2021. No need to wait until the general election wraps up in May 2021; the National Assembly chairmanship had a new occupant in the final days of March. To reaffirm that the election in May did not change Vietnam’s political situation, July 20, 2021 would mark Vuong Dinh Hue’s continuation to serve the same leadership position as the National Assembly chairman for the next 5 years when it re-elected him.

One amongst the “four pillars of the imperial court”

Beginning in the mid-1980s, Vietnamese politics slowly moved beyond the individual leadership model and the overpowering influence of Ho Chi Minh and his successor Le Duan. This, in combination with the economic reform process, led to the gradual development of a new institutional division of power. Over time, supreme power was divided among four positions: the general secretary, state president, prime minister, and chairperson of the National Assembly. 

Today, as war has receded into the distance and demands to join the international community grow, the political system functions have begun trending towards laws of the state rather than the directives of the Vietnamese Communist Party. As such, the National Assembly increasingly plays a larger and more dynamic role in the political system.

However, it wasn’t until 1992, when Nong Duc Manh was elected as National Assembly chairman, that a member of the Politburo occupied the position. Before that, Truong Chinh – a Politburo member – served as chairman of the National Assembly Standing Committee from 1960 to 1981. Still, as stated above, the National Assembly did not play a large role during that time, though it’s hard to say that its role today is large either.

The National Assembly chairmen after Truong Chinh all worked their way up to become members of the Party Central Committee (such as Le Quang Dạo) or outside the Party Central Committee altogether (e.g., Nguyen Huu Tho).

All National Assembly chairmen from Nong Duc Manh onwards were members of the Politburo. Though its numbers are among the “four pillars,” the National Assembly chairmanship remains the weakest position and must abide by party decisions.

Launchpad to power

Of the five National Assembly chairmen since 1992, two have become general secretary of the VCP’s Central Committee – the highest position in the entire political system: Nong Duc Manh (2001 – 2011) and Nguyen Phu Trong (2011- present).

In stark contrast, the prime minister’s office has been unable to propel its occupant any further. One after the other, Vo Van Kiet, Phan Van Khai, and Nguyen Tan Dung became prime ministers and then retired, failing to make it to the general secretary. The exception is Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who, rather than retiring after serving as prime minister, is set to become state president; that is, he is taking one step down the ladder of party power.

Is the National Assembly chairman the “boss” of the National Assembly representatives? 

No. 

In principle, the National Assembly chairman is simply a member of the National Assembly, with all members being equal and everyone retaining one vote. No representative can force another representative to do his or her bidding. The National Assembly chairperson cannot issue any order to a representative, except for limited powers during work assignments with vice National Assembly chairpersons.

Then what does the National Assembly chairman do?

He or she mainly coordinates the activities of the National Assembly and the National Assembly’s Standing Committee, presiding over meetings and sessions and ratifying adopted constitutions, laws, resolutions, and ordinances.

For more details, please see Vietnam’s Constitution and the Law on National Assembly Organization.

The National Assembly chairman also usually acts as head of the National Electoral Council. This arrangement contains a conflict of interest when a representative (and often also a candidate) organizes elections. In democratic countries, the council must, in principle, be independent of the National Assembly.  

A position almost always reserved for men

Of the 11 National Assembly chairpersons in Vietnam’s modern history, the only woman to serve in this position was Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, who held the position from 2016 to 2021. But truth be told, Ngan is the only woman to have ever served as one of the “four pillars.”

Her predicted successor, Vuong Dinh Hue, will carry on the near-exclusive tradition of men being at the helm of the National Assembly.

Hue has served as minister of finance (2011-2012), head of the Central Economic Committee (2012-2016), deputy prime minister (2016-2020), and secretary of the Hanoi party committee (2020-current). He has been a member of the Politburo since 2016.


This article was written in Vietnamese by Trinh Huu Long and was previously published in Luat Khoa Magazine on March 30, 2021. The English translation was done by Will Nguyen.

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