Vietnam Activists Barred From Travel to UN Rights Review

By Rachel Vandenbrink
china-un-rights-council-feb-2013.jpg The 22nd session of the U.N. Human Rights Council meets in Geneva on Feb. 25, 2013.

Vietnam has prevented local activists from traveling to Geneva ahead of a quadrennial U.N. review of the country’s “dismal” human rights record in the Swiss city next week, a rights group said Friday.

Among those barred were civil society leaders and relatives of political prisoners planning to speak at meetings on the sidelines of the “Universal Periodic Review” (UPR) of Vietnam’s rights record at the U.N. Human Rights Council on Feb. 5, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said.

Some have not been able to obtain travel documents, while others have been told by the Ministry of Public Security that they may not go to Geneva.

“The very act of interfering with their travel is itself a human rights violation,” HRW’s Asia Advocacy Director John Sifton told RFA.

“It says a lot about Vietnam’s human rights problems that they publicly won’t admit that they have human rights problems but then simultaneously engage in human rights violations while preventing their citizens from talking about violations,” Sifton said.

“But it shouldn’t distract from the larger picture that these people are going there to complain about the overarching record—one that is highly problematic.”

A day before the U.N. review, a coalition of Vietnamese and international human rights organizations will host a side event “to shine a spotlight on the most egregious human rights abuses in Vietnam today,” according to U.N. Watch, a Geneva-based human rights organization which monitors compliance with the principles of the global body’s charter.

The event, titled “With Membership Comes Responsibility: Ensuring Human Rights in Vietnam,” will bring together human rights experts and activists who will speak on the challenges facing civil society and the growing crackdown in the one-party Communist state.

Call to meet obligations

Vietnam, under constant criticism by rights groups for its crackdown on dissent, has imprisoned government critics including members of newly formed civil society groups, many of which have been scrutinizing the country’s rights record through the UPR process, HRW said in a statement.

It called on U.N. member states to press Vietnam to make “verifiable commitments” to improving its conduct during the review, saying the country’s record on human rights has been “dismal” despite pledges to boost its performance.

HRW said that Vietnam has taken “few steps” to meet its obligations as a new member of the U.N. Human Rights Council, to which it was elected in November over the steep objection of groups concerned about its rights record.

HRW urged Vietnam to honor commitments it made as a council member to “uphold the highest standards” of protecting and promoting human rights.

Despite its election to the council, Vietnam has continued to violate its citizens’ rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, religion, labor rights, and land tenure rights, and continued to imprison government critics, the statement said.  

'Ugly retaliation'

HRW said government critics in Vietnam often face “ugly retaliation” from the authorities.

On World Human Rights Day last month, the government sent security forces to violently break up peaceful gatherings by activists attempting to distribute copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, according to HRW.

Since then, authorities have carried out a series of assaults on bloggers, democracy activists, and land rights protesters, sometimes attacking them in their homes, HRW said.

“The U.N. Human Rights Council should stand with brave activists who are challenging a one-party state to end systematic abuses,” HRW’s Geneva advocacy director Juliette de Rivero said.

“Governments should publicly press Vietnam to engage constructively with civil society, fulfill its international human rights obligations, and allow Vietnamese people to peacefully demand fundamental change.”

“Now is the time for U.N. member states to make it clear that the current situation is unacceptable and to insist that Hanoi dramatically improve the way it treats its own people.”

As part of the review, U.N. member states will submit recommendations for how Vietnam can improve its rights record.

Vietnam was elected to a three-year term on the 47-member Human Rights Council in November along with alleged fellow rights violators China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Angola, and Cuba, as well as eight other countries.

Rights groups such as U.N. Watch decried the election of the five “egregious” violators as a “severe blow” to the credibility of the body.

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