NGOs speak out against Vietnam’s hopes of election to the UN Human Rights Council

Groups say the country would be a negative influence on the United Nations body.
By RFA Vietnamese
NGOs speak out against Vietnam’s hopes of election to the UN Human Rights Council A meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in New York on Sept 9, 2019.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has added its voice to a series of objections by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to Vietnam's hopes of joining the UN Human Rights Council, saying the government would have “a problematic, highly negative influence.”

The comments from Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW's Asia-Pacific division came after Monday’s release of a report calling on the United Nations not to elect Vietnam and four other authoritarian countries to the Council.

UN Watch, Human Rights Foundation and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights held a news conference near the UN headquarters in New York to publicize their report: “Who Guards the Guardians?"

“Vietnam commits serious human rights violations, including: unlawful or arbitrary killings; torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest; political prisoners; politically motivated reprisals against individuals in another country; lack of independence of the judiciary; unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, including arbitrary arrest of government critics, censorship, and criminal libel laws; substantial interference with freedom of association; restrictions on freedom of movement; lack of free and fair elections; government corruption; trafficking in persons; and child labor,” the report said.

HRW’s Robertson told RFA Vietnam takes every opportunity to show its contempt for human rights law and would most likely use a seat to undermine the Council’s work.

“As a Council member, Vietnam would likely join the group of nay-sayers like China, Syria, Eritrea, North Korea, Venezuela and others who constantly oppose HRC resolutions on particular countries and seek to sabotage the Council's work,” he said.

A human rights activist in Hanoi, speaking on condition of anonymity, said joining the Human Rights Council would not push Vietnam to improve its record.

“If Vietnam is elected to the UN Human Rights Council next time, it will not have any impact on the human rights situation in the country, unlike the previous year. There had been some moves to open the door to civil society before,” the activist said.

Robertson said every aspect of Vietnam's human rights record shows that this is "a government that will have big problems if it is elected to the Council." He said the country’s “horrible” human rights record speaks for itself.

“In the course of the last several years, Hanoi's leaders have pushed forward efforts that have effectively imprisoned most of the human rights defenders and political dissidents in the country. Vietnam is also pushing legal action to restrict on-line expression in ways that will effectively criminalize and force take-downs of any online content that criticizes the government. Use of the death penalty is rampant, prison conditions are brutal, and deaths in police custody occur with impunity on a regular basis. To speak bluntly, in every aspect of Vietnam's rights record, it screams that this is a government that will be highly problematic if it is elected to the Council.”

The report released by the three NGO’s on Monday said Vietnam’s track record on the Council shows that it is unfit to rejoin the body.

“Vietnam served on the Human Rights Council from 2014 to 2016. In that capacity, it opposed resolutions speaking out for human rights victims in Belarus and Iran and failed to support resolutions on behalf of human rights victims in Burundi and Syria. It also supported counterproductive resolutions that undermined individual human rights or addressed issues beyond the competency of the Council.”

United Nations Watch is a human rights organization based in Switzerland, the Human Rights Foundation is based in the U.S. and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights has its headquarters in Canada. Their report follows a series of protests against Vietnam's candidacy for the UN body.

In April, a coalition of eight organizations from inside and outside Vietnam – including the Vietnam Human Rights Network, Defend the Defenders, and the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam – sent an open letter to the UN calling on the organization not to accept Vietnam as a member for the next term, saying that the current Vietnamese state is "unworthy" due to its poor human rights record, especially after supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In September, 52 Goldman Environmental Prize laureates sent a letter to the UN Human Rights Council, urging the organization to reject Vietnam as a member of the Council for the next term.

Amnesty International has also joined the chorus of disapproval, telling RFA a recent crackdown on activists shows Vietnam’s true colors when it comes to respecting freedom of speech.

"Since Vietnam announced its candidacy for the Human Rights Council, dozens of journalists and activists have been detained, arrested, or sentenced for crimes that amount to nothing more than the peaceful exercise of their human rights,” a spokesperson said.

“Vietnam should prioritize dropping charges against these individuals and freeing them immediately… Authorities should also show that they are willing to uphold international human rights standards. But nothing could be further from the reality on the ground, where the government continues to pass laws that restrict freedom of expression and association while promoting a climate of fear among people who dare to speak out."

The UN General Assembly holds elections for 14 new Council members next Tuesday.


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