Vietnam's Place in the Global Human Rights Landscape

Vietnam's Place in the Global Human Rights Landscape

In the first three months of 2023, Vietnam has shown no commitment to improving human rights standards within its borders; instead, it continues its harsh crackdown on freedom of speech and association. The country remains marred by controversy surrounding its many questionable arrests, the suspicious deaths of political and religious figures, and allegations of widespread use of torture in jails and detention centers, among many other cases of abuse.

Given this information, multiple international organizations have continued to publish statistics and data that illustrate the magnitude of human rights violations committed by Vietnam. Research conducted by Human Rights Watch, CIVICUS, and Freedom House has collectively concluded that the Vietnamese government fails to take adequate measures to protect human rights and actively participates in these transgressions.

Amnesty International releases its findings on Vietnam in the spring of 2023, further portraying the country negatively.

Amnesty International Report 2022/23

On March 23, 2023, Amnesty International published a report on the global state of human rights. This document briefly overviews each country's most significant and persistent human rights abuses while offering concrete examples of such violations. While the ongoing Russian-Ukraine conflict is given primary focus, the report does not neglect the many struggles faced by other nations.

Regarding Vietnam, Amnesty International stated that civic space remains limited, and it lists the arrest of at least 48 journalists, activists, and NGO leaders, despite the country's selection to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last year. Aside from these examples, the report also highlights the nation’s challenges regarding freedom of expression, the plight of human rights defenders, restrictions on freedom of association, instances of torture and other forms of mistreatment, and the right to health.

According to Amnesty International, Vietnam still experiences ongoing violations of freedom of expression, and the Vietnamese government continues to show zero tolerance towards any form of dissent. The report highlights the persistent use of Articles 117 and 331 of the 2015 Penal Code to “arbitrarily detain and prosecute human rights defenders, journalists, religious practitioners and others who criticize the government or the [Vietnamese Communist Party].”

Aside from this, the report mentions concerns surrounding the implementation of Decree 53, which requires tech companies to store user data and share it with authorities if requested. It authorizes the formation of a cybersecurity task force that ensures the proper observation of the oppressive 2019 Law on Cybersecurity.

Amnesty International also relayed the stories of several individuals who were arrested under these oppressive laws. All were accused of some variation of “abusing democratic freedoms” or of producing and spreading propaganda or false information against the state through their posts on social media.

Regarding the situation of human rights defenders in Vietnam, the report notes that the government uses prolonged prison sentences as a means to dissuade activists from speaking out.

The situations of Pham Doan Trang, Do Nam Trung, Le Van Dung, Nguyen Thuy Hanh, and the farmers involved in the Dong Tam land dispute were mentioned by Amnesty International. The first three individuals were sentenced to nine, 10, and five years imprisonment, respectively; meanwhile, Thuy Hanh is being detained in a mental health institution while awaiting trial and expected transfer to a prison. The four activists from Dong Tam face sentences ranging from six to 10 years.

Amnesty International has also raised concerns about violating freedom of association in Vietnam. The organization has pointed out the arrest of the leaders of three environmental NGOs and the passing of Decree 58. Nguy Thi Khanh, Mai Phan Loi, Bach Hung Duong, and Dang Dinh Bach were arrested in 2022 under the vague charge of “tax evasion” and remain imprisoned.

Additionally, the passing of Decree 58 on August  31, 2022, is worrying as it grants the Vietnamese authorities the power to shut down any NGO on vague grounds such as protecting “national interests” or “social order.”

The report also highlights the widespread use of torture and other forms of ill-treatment in Vietnam. While the country is a signatory to the 1984 United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), this has not stopped state authorities from committing heinous acts against prisoners and detainees.

Amnesty International highlights the situation of imprisoned land rights activist Trinh Ba Tu, who was “beaten, placed in solitary confinement, and shackled for days while serving part of an eight-year sentence for spreading ‘propaganda against the state.’ ”

Lastly, the report tackles Vietnam’s shortcomings in safeguarding the right to health. In this report section, Amnesty International presents the situation of four individuals, Do Cong Duong, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, Le Huu Minh Tuan, and Tran Bang.

Do Cong Duong, who was arrested in 2018 for “disturbing public order,” passed away on August 2, 2022, in Nghe An Hospital. He was allegedly healthy before his conviction, but his family asserts that he was constantly denied timely access to healthcare during his imprisonment.

Furthermore, 72-year-old Nguyen Tuong Thuy was also “refused medical treatment by prison authorities despite reportedly being in poor health” until fairly recently. After a long period of being denied medical care, he started to receive medication for his high blood pressure.

Le Huu Minh Tuan, an Association of Independent Journalists member, suffers from hearing loss and malnourishment.

Tran Bang was also denied proper medical treatment despite concerns that he had developed a tumor in his stomach.

A UNHRC Member's Failure to Uphold Human Rights

Vietnam’s assessment by Amnesty International shows that the country is not only negligent in its duties to protect human rights but is also actively engaged in violating them, despite its many international obligations and membership in the UNHRC.

The nation continues to pay lip service to its duties merely and shows no initiative in improving the state of human rights within its borders. Notably, the state is reluctant to improve human rights for activists, journalists, or anyone with dissenting views, who often face persecution and marginalization by the authorities.

Amnesty International states that as a member of the UNHRC, Vietnam commits to “uphold the highest human rights standards.” However, the country’s actions have been contrary to this ideal. The incidents mentioned in the report represent only a tiny fraction of the total human rights violations committed by the Vietnamese government. Innocent individuals are subjected to torture, illegal detention, arbitrary arrest, solitary confinement, and other inhumane forms of treatment. To make matters worse, many of these cases remain unreported, indicating widespread and systematic abuse of power by the state.

Ideally, Vietnam should be at the forefront of championing the protection of human rights. Its membership in the UNHRC should serve as a turning point that would lead to genuine change within the nation. Yet, those who hold the reins of power in the country continue to disrespect Vietnam’s position on the global stage and merely use it for prestige and political gain.

Vietnam's membership in the UNHRC should present a unique opportunity for the country to lead by example in defense of human rights. However, the reality is that the country's leaders have failed to embrace this responsibility and have treated their membership as a mere status symbol.

Vietnam’s place in the global human rights landscape should be one of commitment and progress, where the country actively works to uphold the values of the UNHRC and its international obligations to bring about lasting, positive change for the entire nation. However, the actions of its leaders and those under their control have turned the country into a land which “treats its people as second-class citizens, and where corruption festers underneath a facade of modernity and perceived economic gains.”

Nevertheless, Vietnam’s newfound notoriety puts the country in a precarious position where the world watches and monitors its every move. The government cannot hide its immoral actions and decisions from prying eyes any longer and must be held accountable. With prestige comes attention, and with attention comes scrutiny. In some form or another, Vietnam has to change or risk further damage to its reputation and relationships with other democratically-aligned nations.

Ultimately, Vietnam's willingness to address its issues and make meaningful progress towards its commitment to uphold human rights will be key in determining its future standing in the international community.

Amnesty International’s 2022/23 Human Rights Report can be accessed here.


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