Human Rights Organizations Protest Vietnam’s Bid To Rejoin The UN Human Rights Council

Human Rights Organizations Protest Vietnam’s Bid To Rejoin The UN Human Rights Council
The United Nations' office in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo by Mathias Reding / Unsplash

On September 13, 2022, several human rights, civil society, and non-governmental organizations sent a joint open letter to the permanent member states of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), requesting that they refrain from voting on the issue of Vietnam’s inclusion into the 2023-2025 Human Rights Council (HRC).

The letter was written with the assistance of the International Human Rights Law Clinic from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, and was released prior to the 77th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA77) which will be held in October 2022.

The signatories* claim that “Viet Nam is a serious and persistent violator of human rights, has not lived up to its past pledges and commitments, has a poor track record of cooperation with the HRC, and should not be elected to the Council.”

They likewise implore the members of the UNGA to adhere to the standards and regulations, established in General Assembly Resolution 60/251, when electing new members into the HRC. The signatories highlight paragraphs 8 and 9 of the aforementioned resolution which state that:

Member States shall take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights and their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto […];


[M]embers elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights [and] fully cooperate with the Council […].

The letter also provides several instances that highlight the deteriorating state of human rights in Vietnam such as the Vietnamese government’s crackdown on NGOs, the arbitrary arrests of independent journalists, the several restrictions placed on religious groups, the ongoing and widespread harassment of environmental defenders and land rights advocates, and the constant denial of the right to due process of detained human rights defenders and other prisoners of conscience.

The Case for Vietnam’s Re-election

A 2021 news report from VietnamPlus presents the words of Deputy Prime Minister and then-Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh as he attempts to argue for Vietnam’s membership into the 2023-2025 HRC. He states that “ensuring a safe society against epidemics like COVID-19 is the best way to ensure that each and every member of the society can fully enjoy their human rights” as the world moves towards a “new normal.”

He praises Vietnam’s pandemic response and their handling of the situation. Despite the worldwide damage caused by COVID-19 in terms of loss of life, the strain on public health and social services, and the virus’ negative impact on the well-being of billions all over the world, he claims that Vietnam was able to “put emphasis on the protection and promotion of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of our people, even in this most difficult of times.”

The report also mentions Vietnam’s past tenure in the 2014-2016 HRC and claims that the country “fully and responsibly” participated in all the council’s activities and programmes, attended all annual high-level meetings, put forward many initiatives, and “engaged in promoting human rights.”

Another article by the Hanoi Times states that “Vietnam is committed to protecting vulnerable groups, combating violence, promoting gender equality, and addressing global issues.”

Hanoi Times quotes Vietnam’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bui Thanh Son, as he promises that Vietnam will work together with other council members in the spirit of “mutual respect, dialogue, and cooperation” during the UNHRC’s 49th Regular Session on March 2, 2022.

Son also claims that Vietnam will focus on “the protection of vulnerable groups and combating violence and discrimination against them; the promotion of gender equality, especially for women and girls in the era of digital transformation; as well as addressing global issues, especially climate change” while keeping COVID-19 and other diseases under control. He adds that Vietnam will do all this while working towards the proper implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The Case Against Vietnam’s Re-election

Vietnam was accepted as a member of the HRC in 2013 and served from 2014-2016. And even though the VietnamPlus news report states that, during this time, the country was active and participated in the council’s activities and programs, the signatories of the joint open letter argue against this. They claim that Vietnam’s consistent transgressions against its own people and its non-observation of human rights indicate that the country has “failed to keep key pledges and commitments made in 2013 and is already violating those made in 2022.”

Related to this, the open letter provides specific examples and information which contradicts the claim that Vietnam was an active participant during their previous tenure in the HRC. The signatories state that:

  • Vietnam has not participated in any regional group statements (the average is 73);
  • Viet Nam has not accepted visit requests from Special Procedures mandate holders including the Special Rapporteur (SR) on human rights defenders, the SR on freedom of assembly, the SR on freedom of expression, and the SR on torture; and
  • Viet Nam, while a member of the HRC, interfered with the country visit by the SR on freedom of religion by surveilling the SR, and harassing, intimidating, and surveilling people that he planned to meet with.”

The open letter also states that Vietnam has “failed to ‘adopt policies and measures’ to ‘better ensure’ human rights, and to strengthen grass-roots democracy” while intensifying restrictions on “freedom of expression through arbitrary arrests, harassment, and illegal surveillance of human rights defenders.”

These claims can be seen in the reports and research of various international civil society and human rights organizations. Freedom House’s 2021 annual report, titled Freedom on the Net, gives Vietnam a very dismal rating in all its metrics and highlights several inconsistencies with what the Vietnamese government says compared to what is actually happening on the ground.

Likewise, the 20th World Press Freedom Index ranks Vietnam 174/180 and describes the country as a place where “traditional media [is] closely controlled by the single party” and where “[independent] reporters and bloggers are often jailed.”

CIVICUS’s annual year-end report titled, People Power Under Attack, also describes Vietnam as closed, indicating that Vietnam remains a hostile place for independent journalists to operate in; they have to constantly contend with the threat of illegal arrest, detention, and wrongful conviction in the practice of their profession.

The United Nations itself has questioned Vietnam on the situation of jailed activists in their country. Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports that the UN Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nada Al-Nashif, has grown concerned over “[the] government’s growing restrictions on civic space and fundamental freedoms, as well as the sentencing of people on charges related to their human rights work.”

The various human rights, civil society, and non-governmental organizations, who submitted the joint open letter, express a firm belief that Vietnam does not uphold international human rights standards and that the country does not deserve a seat on the HRC. They end the letter by stating that “Viet Nam is not a fit candidate for the HRC, and we urge you [the permanent members of the UNGA] to leave your ballot blank and refrain from voting for Viet Nam.”


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