During Vietnamese Prime Minister visit to the Czech Republic, human rights violations must not be ignored
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc is visiting the Czech Republic between the 16th and 18th of April. This is a great opportunity for the Czech Republic to reassert on its commitment to universal human rights protection as one of the core values in its foreign policies.
According to the Vietnamese media, Nguyen Xuan Phuc will meet Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, President Miloš Zeman and Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies Radek Vondráček. The meetings will cover a wide range of topics, from political and diplomatic affairs, to trade and labour, education and so on.
Mr. Nguyen’s visit comes shortly after the 3rd Universal Periodic Review about Vietnam’s human rights situation in January 2019. At this high-level United Nations event, the Czech Republic made four important recommendations to Vietnam. These include protection against torture; protection of freedom of expression online and offline; freedom of association; and creation of favourable conditions for a free and fair election in 2021.
Since the Review in January, the Vietnamese government has indicated little improvement or willingness to follow these recommendations.
Within the first two months of 2019, at least five bloggers and Facebook users were arrested for their Facebook postings against the Vietnamese government. These arrests occurred after the draconian Cybersecurity Law came into effect in January 2019. According to this new Law, any online content, including those on Facebook, Google and Youtube, perceived as critical of the government and its officials shall be removed and punished by law. 2017 Homo Homini laureate Pham Doan Trang, author of various educational books on democracy, is in hiding because of the risk of being arrested. Her house is under strict surveillance.
In early March 2019, Facebook user and driver Ha Van Nam was arrested after a series of arbitrary kidnaps and physical assaults against him. He was charged with “disrupting public order” for his active participation in the movement against corrupted highway tollbooths run by private companies and supported by the government (BOT). Cases like Ha Van Nam are unfortunately not rare – Vietnam is holding at least 251 prisoners of conscience, according to the NOW! Campaign.
Mr. Nguyen’s visit takes place while final decision regarding the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) is still pending in the European Parliament’s hands, reportedly for Vietnam’s poor human rights record and lack of indicated will to improve it. Discussion about the EVFTA prospect with the Czech decision-makers is part of the trip’s agenda.
His visit to the Czech Republic is an instrumental opportunity for the Czech Republic, a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, to reassert on its respect for universal human rights as one of the guiding values in its foreign policies, including the pending EVFTA.
In line with the Czech recommendations at the Universal Periodic Review, the Czech Republic should once again urge Vietnam to put an end to large-scale rights violations, and improve protection of fundamental rights, particularly freedom from torture and inhumane treatment, freedom of expression and opinion, right to political participation, and freedom of association. This also means tolerance of – and respect for – human rights work by both domestic and international civil society organizations in Vietnam including People in Need.