Vietnam Briefing September 19, 2022: International Community Urges UN Human Rights Council Members To Reject Vietnam’s Candidacy

The Vietnam Briefing, released every Monday morning Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s social and political developments of the past week.

Vietnam Briefing September 19, 2022: International Community Urges UN Human Rights Council Members To Reject Vietnam’s Candidacy
The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland; death-row inmate Dang Van Hien at his trial in the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court in 2018. Photo: ASEAN Today/ ANTV via RFA.

Vietnamese death-row inmate Dang Van Hien has his sentence reduced to life imprisonment

  • The Dak Nong People’s Court announced on September 15 that death-row inmate Dang Van Hien, who was sentenced to death in 2018 for the shooting death of three employees of Long Son Investment & Commercial Company, an agricultural developer, had his death sentence reduced to life imprisonment. President Nguyen Xuan Phuc approved Hien’s reduction of sentence.
  • The incident happened on October 23, 2016, when around 30 employees of Long Son Company came to confiscate agricultural land owned by Hien and other two local farmers. According to state media, the Dak Nong Provincial authorities in 2008 authorized the lease of local forest lands to Long Son for their agricultural development, but Hien and other farmers came to the area and started their cultivation there, leading to the deadly skirmishes between the farmers and the company. Dang Van Hien’s family said that they purchased that plot of farmland for around 40 million dong (US$1,691) in 2005.
  • The Long Son Company workers later used bulldozers to destroy the coffee and cashew nut crops of the local farmers, including those of Dang Van Hien. During a physical altercation with the workers, Hien deployed an improvised gun and killed three workers, while injuring another 13 people. His death sentence was confirmed by an appellate court in Ho Chi Minh City in 2019.
  • “[I am] extremely happy and moved. Everyone in our family cheered. Relatives from both sides and friends are all sending us their congratulations,” Mai Thi Khuyen, Hien’s wife, told RFA. Khuyen said that since her husband’s arrest, her family has encountered significant financial difficulties. She has had to work as a farmer to support her family and pay compensation to the victims of the incident.
  • Many Vietnamese people have shown their sympathy for Hien, who is a member of the Nung ethnic minority and who has very little education. Around 3,500 people signed an online petition asking the president of Vietnam to spare his life after his appeal was rejected.
  • Land conflicts remain a controversial problem in Vietnam, where local authorities regularly authorize private companies to appropriate land for large-scale projects, often at the expense of individual landowners. You can read more about other notorious cases of land conflicts in Vietnam here.

Wrongfully convicted death-row inmate Huynh Van Nen dies at 60

  • Huynh Van Nen, a former Vietnamese death-row inmate who was wrongfully convicted of homicide, died of hepatitis and pneumonia at Vung Tau City Hospital on September 13, RFA reported. It was reported that Nen suffered from severe mental health problems after he was released from prison. He was 60.
  • Nen is also known as the “prisoner of the century” in Vietnam. He received life imprisonment in August 2000 after being convicted of committing two consecutive murder cases, robbery, and vandalism in Binh Thuan Province. He was only acquitted of his crimes in 2016 after spending more than 17 years in custody. The provincial authorities later reimbursed Nen with 10 billion dong for their wrongful conviction.
  • Nen was one of many prisoners in Vietnam who claimed they were unjustly convicted in serious cases such as murder, robbery and rape. Wrongful convictions happen regularly in Vietnam due to improper judicial proceedings and hasty investigation processes. The prisoners who were already exonerated include Han Duc Long and Nguyen Thanh Chan.
  • The death of Huynh Van Nen nevertheless raises concerns among the families of other convicted prisoners in Vietnam. They are afraid that the health of their relatives is threatened by the severe living conditions in prisons. Other death-row inmates who pleaded not guilty and who are still being imprisoned include Ho Duy Hai, Le Van Manh, and Nguyen Van Chuong.

International organizations call on UN Human Rights Council to reject Vietnam’s candidacy

  • On September 13, 2022, more than 50 Goldman environmental prize laureates co-wrote a letter to members of the UN Human Rights Council, urging it to reject admitting Vietnam as a new member as the council meets for its 51st session, which lasts from September 12 to October 17. State media reported that Ambassador Le Thi Tuyet Mai, permanent representative of Vietnam to the United Nations, attended its opening ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland on September 12.
  • The letter emphasized the case of Nguy Thi Khanh, Vietnam’s first recipient of the Goldman prize in 2018, who was sentenced to two years in jail on charges of “committing tax evasion.” Khanh, a leader of the environmental NGO GreenID, has campaigned for the reduction of coal-fired energy in Vietnam and mobilized the country to adopt greener energy alternatives.
  • “What’s happening in Vietnam is just the tip of the iceberg,” the authors wrote. “We urge you to use this as an opportunity to demonstrate not only to Vietnam, but to all countries, that the criteria for obtaining an esteemed membership on the Human Rights Council are taken seriously, and that the international community is watching.”
  • A coalition of human rights and civil society organizations on the same day sent a joint open letter to the permanent member states of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), requesting them to refrain from voting in favor of Vietnam’s candidacy for membership in the Human Rights Council for the term 2023-2025.
  • The letter claimed that Vietnam “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 therefore “should not be elected to the Council.” It also provided specific evidence and information regarding the actual situation of human rights protection in Vietnam, including the crackdown on independent journalists and religious freedom, as well as the persecution of environmental defenders and land rights advocates.
  • Hanoi arrested numerous political dissidents in Vietnam in the run-up to the opening of the UNHRC meeting. They included Bui Tuan Lam, a beef noodle vendor who made a viral video mocking the country’s minister of public security, To Lam, after the minister’s scandalous gold-encrusted steak meal in London last year.
  • “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 and efforts to promote a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment are worrisome,” said Nada Al-Nashif, UN Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights. “I urge the government to ensure diverse and robust participation for civil society, including human rights defenders, and to release those who have been arbitrarily detained or imprisoned for such activities.”

Local Vietnamese Facebook user has his conviction of “defaming national leaders” upheld

  • Pham Tan Hoa, a Facebook user in Can Tho Province, had his prison sentence upheld in a local appellate court on the charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the State and individuals’ legitimate interests,” violating Article 331 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code, state media reported.
  • Hoa, 52, was previously sentenced to one year in prison for “sharing slanderous information” about the Vietnamese Communist Party and the Communist leader Ho Chi Minh. The Facebook user was accused of using his personal account named “Hoa Pham,” as well as other anonymous accounts, to share and comment on online posts containing illegal content.
  • The Can Tho City Police investigation claimed that the information Hoa shared contained “false information which affects the leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam and the role of the State in governing the country, while offending the prestige, honor and dignity of late President Ho Chi Minh and the leading cadres of the Party and State.”
  • To explain its decision for rejecting Hoa’s appeal, the appellate court’s judicial panel stated that Pham Tan Hoa “didn’t show the spirit of patriotism” despite being a “Vietnamese citizen and receiving a monthly allowance [from the government].” It added that Hoa didn’t present any new evidence and arguments that justify him having his prison term reduced.
  • The Vietnamese government often uses vague and controversial legal codes, such as Article 117 and Article 331, to prosecute critics of the regime and opposition voices.
  • Last January, a group of 86 individuals and civil society organizations in Vietnam and overseas introduced a petition call for the abolition and amendment of three controversial articles in Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code, including Article 117 and Article 331. In their letter, the petitioners stated that these vague and broadly defined laws effectively limit Vietnamese citizens’ access to the basic human rights guaranteed in the country’s Constitution.

Vietnamese authorities call Jesus Church in northern provinces a “false religion”


  • On Monday Vietnam’s state-controlled media quoted the Hai Phong City Police as saying the Jesus Church is operating in many localities without permission. The Government Committee for Religious Affairs has not yet recognized the “Jesus Church” as a religious organization, the news agency said. Vietnamese police and government authorities are trying to crack down on the sect, which is growing in popularity in the country’s northern provinces.
  • All religious groups in Vietnam are required to obtain government approval; otherwise, they are banned.
  • The “Jesus Church” is concentrated in provinces including Dien Bien, Lai Chau, Son La, Lao Cai, Yen Bai, and Thanh Hoa. It was founded around five years ago, according to the Ministry of Public Security, which called it a “false religion,” saying it was concerned about the rapid growth of the church among the Hmong community.
  • The ethnic group originally followed animist beliefs but many Hmong converted to Christianity in the 20th and 21st centuries. The Hai Phong City Police Department said there are about 100 Hmong people living there. Although these Hmong people are not followers of the sect, the police nevertheless issued a warning to try to stop them from joining it.

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

When Environmental Sustainability Masks Unsustainable Employment

Fulcrum/ Joe Buckley/ September 16

“Vietnam is, in the words of the World Bank Country Director for Vietnam, in the grips of a “plastic pollution crisis”. Per capita plastic consumption increased from 3.8kg in 1990 to 41.3 kg in 2018. Only around one-third of the plastics is recycled. Vietnam is in fact one of the top five plastic polluters of the world’s oceans.

The rise of food delivery platforms has worsened the issue, “drowning” Vietnam in plastics. The recent report by the World Bank showed that takeaway food packaging is the biggest cause of plastic waste. Through a survey of items polluting Vietnam’s waterways, the Bank found that plastic waste accounts for the majority of waste in Vietnam’s rivers and coastal sites (94 percent by the number of items, and 71 percent by weight). Of this, takeaway food packaging was the most abundant source of plastic waste (44 per cent by number and 35 percent by weight).”

Australia Needs a Smarter Strategy for Investing in Vietnam

The Diplomat/ Huong Le Thu/ September 15

“Shared strategic concerns more than political and economic interests have driven Australian engagement with this increasingly important Southeast Asian country. But souring relations with China have given Canberra a wake-up call about the need for economic diversification, on which Vietnam offers Australia good opportunities.”

China stokes encirclement fear in next-door Vietnam

Asia Times/ David Hutt/ September 13

“Potentially worse for Vietnam are persistent reports that Cambodia, its western neighbor, might allow China to station troops at its Ream Naval Base, which opens into the Gulf of Thailand and could potentially provide China a southern flank on the South China Sea.

Even if that doesn’t mean a permanent Chinese military presence – which Phnom Penh adamantly insists there won’t be – a small rotational posting could be used by Beijing for surveillance of Vietnam’s naval forces, most of which are based nearby.

Any Chinese military presence in Cambodia or Laos, another Beijing ally, would leave Vietnam threatened from the west and south.”

The Problems With Vietnam’s ‘Bamboo Diplomacy’

The Diplomat/ Nguyen Quoc Tan Trung/ September 12

“To the Vietnamese elites, Ukraine has long been a spurious political entity that does not represent the true will of the Ukrainian people. In this sense, “bamboo diplomacy” seems to be only a convenient sugar-coating of Vietnam’s skepticism and tendency to reject the new generation of Ukrainian governments. This perspective accords completely with Russia’s rhetoric. At the meeting of the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) on February 17, just prior to the Russian invasion, Moscow’s envoy hurled accusations that the Zelenskyy government was a “puppet government” controlled by the collective West.

If my observations are true, then “bamboo diplomacy” is not as impressive as it might sound in theory. The “roots” of the belief are not founded on “international justice,” “humanitarian principles,” or “peace”, but rather on political bias and traditional regional groupings festooned with the old banner of neutrality.”

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