Vietnam: warning from the president of the CVDDH


2016 12 Vo Van Ai

Vo Van Ai is a Vietnamese human rights defender, journalist, historian and poet. Arrested and tortured at the age of 11 for his involvement in the Vietnamese independence movement he is today the founding president of the Vietnamese Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CVDDH). He continues to fight for the defence of peace and democracy.

He warns us about the persistence of human rights violations perpetrated by the Vietnamese communist regime.

AEDH : What is the political and human rights situation in Vietnam?

Vo Van Ai : 2016 was a terrible year for human rights ! In January the 12th Congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party appointed army and security officers to the government. The President Trần Đại Quang (former Minister of Public Security) showed us what it was all about: his priority to fight the ’hostile and reactionary forces’, i.e. the dissidents, by mobilizing the army, the police and the security forces. This resulted in the detention of at least 20 members of  civil society. The implementation, once again, of Article 79 of the Penal Code is particularly worrying. This article provides a sanction for ‘activities aiming to overthrow the people’s administration’ with no distinction whatsoever between violent activities and the simple exercise of fundamental freedom,. The government is using an alleged insurrection to justify the brutal repression of peaceful activists or human rights defenders. 

AEDH : Vietnam has become a strong economy that offers a variety of markets for European products. A free trade agreement between the European Union and Vietnam is in the final stage of adoption. Does this agreement incorporate sufficient protection for the defence of human rights?

V.V.A. : The EU-Vietnam free trade agreement is very concerning. The European Commission does not care about human rights. A human rights impact study should precede this agreement, but that never happened. The European Mediator denounced this situation following our complaint with the International Federation on Human Rights. However, the Commission ignored the advisory opinion of the Mediator and accused him of overstepping his powers.

The risks linked to the opening of the markets are genuine, especially for the most vulnerable part of the population. In Vietnam, most of the SMEs are family companies that will not survive against the competition without any protective measures. The opening of the markets could also be a threat for farmers, often dispossessed of their lands and without any efficient resort against injustice.

AEDH : The government continues a legislative overhaul. What is your take on these reforms?

V.V.A. : As well as brutal repression, Vietnam arrogantly reinforces, its legislative arsenal that ‘legalises’ even more the powers of the authorities and their arbitrary practices. This year, the government implemented the law on the media, a law on the access to information and, more recently, in November, the law on beliefs and religion that seems to benefit only the Office on Religious Affairs, now able to repress all those that are a ‘threat to the interest of the State by abusing religion’. As for the Criminal Code, the articles on national security that can be used to repress all legitimate criticism have neither been removed nor properly amended, except to extend their scope to the ‘preparation’ (even purely intellectual) of the alleged attacks on national security. There is therefore a reinforcement of repressive instruments.

AEDH :  What difficulties do Vietnamese face in terms of their freedom of expression and religion?

V.V.A : The freedoms of expression and religion are completely undermined because their practice is claimed to be abusive. Whoever asserts their rights risk imprisonment, harassment and police brutality or expose themselves to losing their social rights (pensions, social security, work or education…). This is a less visible, but equally effective repression.

AEDH : What is the CVDDH strategy to support independent defenders of human rights in Vietnam?
V.V.A. : Our strategy has two pillars. First, we use international pressure on Vietnam, working alongside the UN, the European Union, democratic countries and the media. The second is helping defenders on the ground by providing them with information and advice on human rights and, where appropriate, providing them with material assistance. Our collaboration with organisations such as AEDH are therefore crucial.
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