Rights Groups Slam Vietnam For ‘Obsolete’ Rights Report

By Roseanne Gerin
vietnam-ho-chi-minh-police-aug-2011.jpg A policeman, flanked by local militia members, guards the outside of the Ho Chi Minh City People's Court in a file photo.

A periodic human rights report submitted by Vietnam to the United Nations after a more than two-decade interruption contained “obsolete” information about the country’s rights record and failed to address a complex set of challenges that had arisen in recent years, two groups said Tuesday.

Vietnam’s first submission in 21 years to the U.N.’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) does not accurately portray the country’s rights situation, Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) and International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said in a joint report.

“By delaying its reports over decades, Vietnam is not only failing to comply with U.N. reporting obligations, but also seriously undermining opportunities to strengthen protection of its citizens’ economic, social, and cultural rights,” the rights groups said in their report, presented Tuesday at a CESCR meeting in Geneva, Switzerland.

The 35-page report, which documented evidence and analysis of various violations in the three areas by Vietnam, was issued in response to one submitted on Monday by a delegation of 19 Vietnamese officials led by Vice-Minister of Planning and Investment Nguyen Chi Dung to the CESCR.

It pointed to several articles of the country’s constitution, Land Law, Labor Code, and Law on Trade Unions that had been amended or replaced during the reporting period and which it said were no longer relevant.

Furthermore, the report noted that laws adopted after 2008, many of which imposed serious restrictions on human rights, were not covered in Vietnam’s submission.

Since the late 1980s, it said, Vietnamese society has undergone profound changes with its transition from a planned economy to a “free market economy with Socialist orientations.”

But while the changes have improved the economic situations and lifestyles of millions of people, they also have created complex economic, social, cultural, and political challenges which were not addressed in Vietnam’s submission.

“If the CESCR experts are not provided with timely and relevant data, they cannot fully evaluate these challenges and make fitting recommendations to improve the protection of economic, social, and cultural rights in Vietnam,” the report said.

International obligations

The CESCR consists of 18 independent experts who monitor the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) by countries that have ratified it.

The ICESCR is a multilateral U.N. treaty under which countries agree to work towards the granting of economic, social, and cultural rights to individuals, including labor rights and the rights to health, education and an adequate standard of living.

Vietnam, which ratified the treaty in September 1982, is obligated to submit reports to the committee on a regular basis, but has failed to do so since 1993.

“The ICESCR is one of the pillars of international human rights protection,” Vo Van Ai, the president of VCHR told the U.N. committee, according to a statement released by VCHR and FIDH.

“Vietnam’s 21-year delay in submitting the report and the empty rhetoric of its submission show its lack of concern for the people’s’ economic, social and cultural rights,” he said.

“Victims of abuses—especially vulnerable populations such as women, children, ethnic minorities and the rural and urban poor—have no mechanisms to protect their rights and no means to redress them. Human rights defenders who denounce rights abuses are harassed and detained.”

‘Deeply concerned’

The two human rights organizations based their findings on information from civil society activists, state-controlled media, U.N. agencies, academic research, and reports by four U.N. independent experts.

They said while they have closely monitored Vietnam’s human rights situation since the country acceded to the treaty, they were “deeply concerned” that violations of these rights had been increasing in some areas.

The report noted the rise of wealth disparities and social inequalities in Vietnam since it opened to a free market economy in the 1980s, but said they were caused not only by the rising income gap, but also by discrimination based on political opinions, religions affiliations, or ethnicity.

The report also denounced state censorship and pointed out that Vietnam detains bloggers, land rights and human rights activists, and defenders and members of religious minorities for their activities advocating economic, social, and cultural rights.

Ai, who presented the report to the CESCR, denounced Vietnam’s use of the law as a tool to suppress human rights and maintain political control, the statement said.

The report proposes 37 recommendations for the country in the areas of trade, human rights, trade union rights, the right to health and education, nondiscrimination, land rights, and freedom of expression and cultural rights.

Among the recommendations, it calls on Vietnam to unconditionally release people who have been detained for peacefully advocating for or exercising their economic, social, and cultural rights, grant autonomy to religious organizations, and authorize the publication of independent media.

The report also asks Vietnam to recognize the universality of human rights, authorize the establishment of independent trade unions, ensure access to education and health care without discrimination, and end forced evictions.


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