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VIETNAM – Government rejects UN recommendations for human rights

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report on the Universal Periodic Review rejected recommendations by the
United Nations, said the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights on 13 May
2009. Issues such as freedom of religion and death penalty are not
addressed, and input by non-governmental organisations was
"conspicuously absent from the process", according to committee's
report on the Universal Periodic Review rejected recommendations by the
United Nations, said the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights on 13 May
2009. Issues such as freedom of religion and death penalty are not
addressed, and input by non-governmental organisations was
"conspicuously absent from the process", according to committee's
statement below.

The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights
expresses deep disappointment at the report of the Universal Periodic
Review (UPR) of Vietnam issued by the UN Human Rights Council's UPR
Working Group on Tuesday, 12 May 2009. Whilst accepting some general
recommendations on the promotion of human rights, Vietnam rejected many
of the concrete proposals made by UN member states for specific
measures and reforms to advance human rights.

Recommendations on a wide range of issues were made by a host of
countries, including Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany,
Italy, Mexico, Norway, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Sweden,
United Kingdom, the United States etc. Some of the recommendations
rejected by Vietnam are;

  • Freedom
    of Expression and the Press: Increase the independence of the media
    from the State; authorize independent and privately-run media; lift
    restrictions on Blogs and the Internet, such as filtering and
    surveillance; allow the press to play a "watch-dog" role in society;
    amend the Penal Code to ensure it cannot be used to prevent freedom of expression; release all prisoners of conscience detained for the
    exercise of free expression; invite the Special Rapporteur on Freedom
    of _Expression to visit Vietnam;
  • Freedom of Religion: Recognize the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam
    and allow it to function independently of the [State-sponsored] Vietnam
    Buddhist Sangha, and recognize Hoa Hao and Cao Dai faiths; speed up
    registration of Churches and resolve property disputes; invite the UN
    Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief to visit Vietnam;
  • Rule
    of Law: Abolish vague "national security" provisions in the Penal Code,
    including Article 88 on "spreading propaganda against the Socialist
    Republic of Vietnam" and Article 258 on "abusing democratic freedoms to
    infringe on the interests of the State"; establish a list of all
    prisoners detained under national security provisions and make this
    list public; cease using national security laws to limit public
    discussion on multi-party democracy or criticism of the government;
    abolish Ordinance 44 which authorizes administrative detention without
    trial under house arrest or in psychiatric facilities for suspected
    national security offenders;
  • Human Rights Defenders: recognize
    the legitimate rights of individuals and groups to promote human rights
    and express their opinions and dissent publicly; disseminate the UN
    Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in Vietnam; engage a dialogue
    between the government and independent civil society organisations;
  • Death
    Penalty: increase transparency, provide statistics on death sentences
    and executions (such statistics are currently classified as "State
    secrets" in Vietnam); move towards abolition of the death penalty.

Other recommendations rejected by Vietnam include establishing an
independent national human rights institution, and extending a standing
invitation to all UN Special Procedures to visit Vietnam. Several
countries, including France, deplored that Vietnam had not invited any
UN observers since 1998, when the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious
Intolerance issued a critical report on his visit. Vietnam declared
then that the government would never again "accept
any individuals or organizations coming to investigate religious
freedom or human rights". Six UN Special Procedures have pending
requests to visit Vietnam.

Regarding several recommendations on reviewing restrictive laws on
religious freedom, the right to a public trial, the adoption of a
"whistle-blower" law to protect journalists reporting on corruption
from prosecution or harassment, Vietnam declared that these measures
"are currently implemented" – although it provided no information as to
how this implementation is ensured.

"Vietnam's rejection of these concrete measures reflects its
fundamental hostility to the advancement of individual freedoms and
human rights in Vietnam, and its systematic attempt to politicise the
UPR process" said Vo Van Ai, President of the Vietnam Committee on
Human Rights.

Serious human rights concerns raised by member states during the UPR
review on Friday, he noted, had been rejected by Vice-Minister of
Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh, head of the Vietnamese delegation as
"unfounded reports" and "allegations of ill will about democracy and
human rights in Vietnam". Similarly, specific questions on torture,
women' s rights, arbitrary detention, abuse of the freedoms of
_expression, association and religion were dismissed by high-
level officials from the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Information and Communications,
Government Committee for Religious Affairs and Ministry of Public
Security. The officials simply read out pre-prepared statements
categorically stating that there are no political prisoners, no
torture, no religious repression, no arbitrary detention and no
suppression of free _expression in Vietnam.

Moreover, 15 UN members including the Czech Republic, which holds the
current EU Presidency, were excluded from speaking at the UPR review.
On behalf of these countries, Ireland formally expressed "sincere
disappointment that the UPR, which is supposed to be a process based on
the principle of equality, is excluding some countries from speaking".

The 4-hour debate was in fact swamped by members such as North Korea,
China, Russia, Cuba, Sudan, Burma, Zimbabwe and others who used their
speaking time to praise Vietnam's human rights record, or invoke
Vietnam's "historic specificities" to justify its restrictions of
political and civil rights. In the UPR report, they recommended that
Vietnam "share its best practices" on human rights protection with
fellow member states.

"Vietnam's UPR review raises serious concerns, not only about Vietnam's
performance, but about the UPR process as a whole", said Vo Van Ai.
"For example, NGO input, which is supposedly an essential element of
the UPR, was conspicuously absent from the process". Issues raised in
the NGO "stakeholders report" compiled by the UN Office of the High
Commissioner for Human Rights were not addressed during the review
unless they were specifically taken up by states, he said, nor were
they mentioned in the final report. Moreover, Vietnam's country report
was prepared without any consultation with independent civil society,
only "mass organizations" such as the Vietnam Fatherland Front,
controlled by the Communist Party of Vietnam.

"The aim of the UPR as a state-driven process is to advance human
rights among member states through constructive dialogue and
cooperation", said Mr. Ai. "This may be effective for states that
already have a democratic process. But for non-democratic countries
such as Vietnam, the UPR is a failure. Instead of engaging Vietnam to
make concrete reforms, it has given a "cover" of impunity to the Hanoi