UNGA77: Joint Open Letter to the Permanent Representatives of Member States of the UN General Assembly: Member States of the UN should refrain from voting on Viet Nam’s candidacy for membership on the Human Rights Council for the term 2023-2025.
13 September 2022
To Permanent Representatives of Member States of the UN General Assembly
Member States of the UN should refrain from voting on Viet Nam’s candidacy for membership on the Human Rights Council for the period of 2023-2025.
In advance of the upcoming elections for the UN Human Rights Council (“HRC” or “the Council”), we, the undersigned international civil society organizations working with on-the-ground human rights defenders, write to urge your delegation to refrain from voting for Viet Nam as a candidate for membership on the Human Rights Council for the period of 2023-2025.
General Assembly Resolution 60/251 establishes standards for electing HRC Members and provides in paragraphs 8 and 9 that:
Member States shall take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights and their voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto […];
[M]embers elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights [and] fully cooperate with the Council […].
Viet Nam is a serious and persistent violator of human rights, has not lived up to its past pledges and commitments, has a poor track record of cooperation with the HRC, and should not be elected to the Council.
The human rights situation in Viet Nam continues to deteriorate as the government targets leaders of civil society organizations including leading independent journalists and bloggers for expressing views and conducting legitimate activities disfavored by the government. As documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, The 88 Project, and independent journalists and illustrated by the cases described in the Annex, authorities have:
- Continued to hand down death sentences and execute people at an alarming rate. The last period for which official statistics are available saw Viet Nam execute 429 people over three years;
- Arbitrarily arrested journalists and imposed harsh sentences for their online and print reporting exposing human rights violations, forcing the only association of independent journalists and the only independent publishing house in the country to cease operations;
- Restricted freedom of expression and religion by requiring state approval of religious groups, stigmatizing independent monasteries and churches including by accusing their members of financial improprieties;
- Harassed, beaten, and surveilled environmental defenders and land rights advocates for exposing human rights violations, government corruption, and fighting for access to justice;
- Denied detained human rights defenders access to attorneys and family visitations, conducted trials without international due process guarantees, and routinely imprisoned defenders under harsh conditions and denied them adequate medical treatment; and
- Criminalized policy advocacy on the UN Sustainable Development Goals Agenda by arresting and sentencing leaders of non-governmental organizations, while increasing tightening controls on these organizations.
These actions demonstrate that Viet Nam has failed to keep key pledges and commitments made in 2013, and is already violating those made in 2022. Specifically, it has failed to “adopt policies and measures” to “better ensure” human rights, and to strengthen grass-roots democracy. Instead, the government has intensified restrictions on freedom of expression through arbitrary arrests, harassment, and illegal surveillance of human rights defenders.
Finally, Viet Nam’s record of cooperation with the Council is poor:
- Viet Nam has not participated in any regional group statements (the average is 73);
- Viet Nam has not accepted visit requests from Special Procedures mandate holders including the Special Rapporteur (SR) on human rights defenders, the SR on freedom of assembly, the SR on freedom of expression, and the SR on torture; and
- Viet Nam, while a member of the HRC, interfered with the country visit by the SR on freedom of religion by surveilling the SR, and harassing, intimidating, and surveilling people that he planned to meet with.
We urge you to apply the standards for HRC membership outlined in resolution 60/251 to Viet Nam’s candidacy. The country does not uphold international human rights standards and should not be permitted to assume a seat on the Council.
In October 2022, you will elect new members to the HRC for a three-year term (2023-2025). Voting will be by secret ballot, and states must receive a simple majority of votes to win an election. The number of votes received by even successful candidates reflects their level of international support. Viet Nam is not a fit candidate for the HRC, and we urge you to leave your ballot blank and refrain from voting for Viet Nam.
Asia Democracy Network
Committee to Protect Journalists
Innovation for Change – East Asia
Martin Ennals Foundation
The 88 Project
Vino Lucero, Youth Alliance for Freedom of Information in the Philippines
The International Human Rights Law Clinic, University of California, Berkeley School of Law, provided legal assistance in the preparation of this letter.
Annex of Select Human Rights Cases
Persecution of Journalists
Viet Nam’s persecution of the Independent Journalist Association of Viet Nam (IJAVN), Bao Sach (Clean Newspaper), and award-winning journalist Pham Doan Trang demonstrates that journalists who publish information regarding corruption, human rights violations, and repression by the Vietnamese government face threats, attacks, arbitrary detainment, and prosecution under draconian and restrictive laws.
In 2019 and 2020, security forces arrested three members of IJAVN — Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Le Huu Minh Tuan. The three had published articles on the government’s human rights violations and repression of activists, as well as writings in support of democracy. Authorities charged the journalists under Article 117, “making, storing, spreading information, materials, items that contain distorted information about the people’s government,” and promoting “anti-state propaganda.” Their joint trial lasted only half a day, and all three were convicted and sentenced to between 11-15 years imprisonment. Prison officials have repeatedly restricted their visitation rights.
In 2021, authorities arrested and charged five journalists — Truong Chau Huu Danh, Le The Thang, Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao, Doan Kien Giang, and Nguyen Thanh Nha — from Bao Sach (Clean Newspaper) under Article 331 for “abusing democratic freedoms which violate the interests of the state,” in connection with their online reporting on corruption. After a two-day trial, the journalists were convicted and given sentences ranging from 2-4.5 years. The court banned each journalist from practicing journalism once they have finished serving their sentences.
Finally, the government continues to violate the human rights of Pham Doan Trang, a Martin Ennals Laureate and internationally renowned independent journalist who published books and articles on politics, democracy, and human rights in Viet Nam. In 2020, immediately before she was scheduled to release a new edition of a human rights report, Trang was arrested and charged with distributing “anti-state propaganda” under Article 88. Authorities prohibited her lawyer from seeing her for over a year. In December 2021, the court sentenced her to 9 years in prison, and an appeals court upheld this verdict in August 2022.
Persecution of Environmental Activists
Viet Nam detains human rights defenders for their environmental activism. The 2016 Formosa Plastics Group (FPG) incident, in which a subsidiary of FPG allowed a waste discharge pipe to spew directly into Viet Nam waters, was an environmental disaster that led to two deaths, long-lasting community health issues, and a major loss of marine life. In response, activists have mobilized in protest.
Environmental activist Hoang Duc Binh, who works with communities impacted by the incident, was arrested while livestreaming a march against FPG and speaking out against police brutality. Sentenced in 2018, he is currently serving a 14-year sentence for “resisting persons in the performance of their official duties” and “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interest of the state.” His family members have reported the harsh prison conditions he encounters including a lack of medical care for a year and malnutrition.
Authorities targeted Le Dinh Luong, another environmental activist, for his calls for an election boycott. He was tried and convicted in 2018, under Article 79, for subversion for advocating peacefully for a clean environment and a multiparty democracy. Only after a year of detention, did authorities allow his defense attorneys to meet with him.
Persecution of Human Rights Defenders Protecting Freedom of Religion
Viet Nam violates freedom of religion by requiring faith groups to operate with government approval and arbitrarily sanctioning unapproved groups.
Authorities have engaged in a campaign of harassment and public stigmatization of the independent monastery and orphanage, Tinh That Bong Lai, which has a high profile on social media and has criticized police and defended itself from accusations of illegitimacy by government-affiliated monks. Since January 2022, authorities have made a series of arrests of Tinh That Bong Lai monks. Authorities prosecuted Le Thanh Hoan Nguyen, Le Thanh Nhat Nguyen, Le Thanh Trung Duong, head monk Le Tung Van, and the monastery landowner Cao Thi Cuc under Article 331, which is used to criminalize speech that is protected freedom of expression.
Nguyen Bac Truyen, a Hoa Hao Buddhist and human rights advocate, documents the religious rights abuses of Vietnamese communities. As a lawyer leading the Vietnamese Political and Religious Prisoners Friendship Association, he provides legal advice for prisoners of conscience and training on human rights to victims of land expropriation. He is facing a sentence of eleven years imprisonment under Article 79 for “carrying out activities to overthrow the People’s government.”
Persecution of Land Rights Activists
The government has targeted human rights defenders who advocate against government land grabs and forced evictions for arbitrary arrest and detention. Several human rights defenders were arrested in conjunction with their activism concerning the January 2020 Dong Tam commune raid, during which police forces violently assaulted and detained dozens of citizens and killed community leader Le Dinh Kinh. Nguyen Thi Tam along with Can Thi Theu and her two sons, Trinh Ba Phuong and Trinh Ba Tu, prominent land rights activists, are all imprisoned under Article 117 for “anti-state propaganda.”
Persecution of Human Rights Defenders for Online Dissent
The government is silencing online dissent through arbitrary arrests and prosecutions of human rights defenders.
In July 2021, security forces arrested long-time anti-corruption activist and blogger Do Nam Trung on unspecified allegations; the arrest warrant stated Trung was being investigated for “spreading information opposing the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam” under Article 117. In December, a judge sentenced Trung to a 10-year prison sentence for “anti-State propaganda.” The state’s evidence is questionable: investigators deemed inadmissible 13 of 16 video clips that authorities sought to use as evidence. Trung used his social media to expose government corruption and as a result was frequently targeted by security police and harassed online by the military unit known as Force 47, which monitors online content. Force 47 manipulated online traffic to mass report Trung’s Facebook account to block his postings, which frequently resulted in multiple temporary suspensions of his account.
On April 18, 2020, security forces arrested citizen activist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy for her Facebook posts that allegedly defamed the Party’s leadership in conjunction with five Facebook posts with only 130 Likes and 50 Shares. The Vietnamese government argued the postings “satirized, ridiculed, and offended” Party leaders. Authorities held Thuy incommunicado for 8 months and only allowed lawyers to see her in December 2020, resulting in deterioration of her mental health. In January 2021, a court sentenced Thuy to seven years for “conducting anti-state propaganda.”
Persecution of Human Rights Defenders Protecting Democracy
Security forces arrested human rights defender Nguyen Thuy Hanh and have held her in pretrial detention under investigation for “anti-State activities” since at least April 2021. For 13 months during this period, she was held incommunicado. Hanh is well-known for her creation of the 50K Fund, a monetary fund to support political prisoners in Viet Nam and their families. She has yet to be officially charged. The government currently is holding Hanh, who has a history of depression, in a psychiatric facility which is causing her mental health to deteriorate.
Persecution of State-Registered NGOs
In January 2022, a court convicted Dang Dinh Bach, director of a state-sanctioned civil society organization called Law and Policy of Sustainable Development (LPSD) on criminal charges of tax evasion under Article 200 and sentenced him to 5 years. LPSD mobilizes youth to participate in charitable projects, such as assisting victims of environmental catastrophes and climate change. Authorities alleged Bach received funding from foreign organizations without government approval. Civil society groups widely suspect Bach’s conviction is part of a boarder effort by Vietnamese authorities to further restrict and chill civil society activism.