Death penalty and freedom of expression among most pressing human rights issues in Vietnam
The United Nations Human Rights Committee requested Vietnam to update on the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations on death penalty, freedom of expression and human rights defenders by 29 March 2021.
After 13 years of delay, Vietnam submitted its third periodic report on civil and political rights to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 2017. This resulted in a 2-day long review in March 11 and 12 2019 between the Committee and the Vietnamese delegation led by Nguyen Khanh Ngoc, Vice Minister of Justice of Vietnam.
According to Marcia Kran, Committee member, prior to the review in March, Vietnam had made practical preparatory efforts by inviting a former Committee member from the US to Vietnam twice to “anticipate what questions [Vietnam] might be asked [by the Committee].” Despite such preparation, it turned out there was no indication of willingness and openness from Vietnam to engage in the actual implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) other than what is available in Vietnamese law on paper.
To illustrate this failure, Marcia Kran said in a UN press conference on March 28: “I asked [the Vietnamese delegation] a number of times for examples […] where individuals had experienced human rights complaints and […] took them to the authorities to receive some kind of remedies. In answer to that question which I asked more than once, there was no answer […] [The Vietnamese delegation] was pretty well focused on citing what is contained in the law.”
Nonetheless, Vietnam’s actual re-participation in the regular dialogue with the UN Human Rights Committee offers some hope. According to Christof Heyns, Committee member, Vietnam’s performance in the review was not “a concrete sign” of what the Committee was looking for, but it was not totally useless for a reestablishment of connection.
Such connection as hinted by the Committee is the follow-up mechanism of the Committee on the protection of human rights that Vietnam is obliged to follow.
On March 25 2019, the Committee adopted the concluding observations on the third periodic report of Vietnam (link). This includes 59 paragraphs: 2 for positive aspects of Vietnam’s state of civil and political rights, and overwhelmingly 55 for matters of concern and recommendations. Among those matters of serious concern, death penalty, freedom of expression, and human rights defenders are three that need immediate actions.
Death penalty is still available for crimes in Vietnam, including drug-related crimes, economic and other crimes, which do not meet the threshold of the most serious crimes in the ICCPR. National security crimes – such as opposing the Vietnamese government – are also punishable by death. There is no publicly available official data on the cases of death penalty.
Freedom of opinion and expression suffers severe restrictions in the State party, including through vague and broadly formulated offences in the Penal Code (for example, Article 109 – activities to overthrow the people’s administration; Article 116 – undermining the unity policy; Article 117 – anti-state propaganda). The 2016 Law on the Press that prohibits any criticism of the government, and the 2018 Law on Cybersecurity that prohibits contents critical of the state are also cited as rights-violating laws.
The Committee expressed its grave concern about increased security crackdowns on human rights defenders and civil society actors, such as the blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (“Mother Mushroom”) and the lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, who face physical and mental attacks to discourage them from continuing their legitimate activities. The Committee is equally concerned at cases of reprisals against human rights defenders for their advocacy efforts, including those involving the UN.
Other issues of concerns include freedom of religions, right to property and ownership of land, right to participation in public affairs, free and fair election, violence against women and gender equality.
Vietnam is requested to update the Committee on the implementation of its recommendations dedicated to death penalty, freedom of expression and human rights defenders by 29 March 2021. The next periodic report for Vietnam is due by 29 March 2023, when Vietnam has the obligation to reflect on the Committee’s concluding observation as a whole.
Cited by Ahmed Fathala, Committee member, Vietnam is ranked 175 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Sans Frontiers’ 2018 World Press Freedom Index.
The UN Human Rights Committee is a human rights body composed of 18 independent human rights experts working in personal capacity. It monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by its state parties. Vietnam is a state party to this international human rights treaty, thus is bound to report to the Committee upon its request (normally every four years). Vietnam’s last periodic review was in August 2002.