Sunday, November 19, 2017, 06:16 (GMT+7)

Wednesday, May 03, 2017, 15:18 (GMT+7)
Another prejudice against Vietnam’s democracy and human rights

“The Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2016” recently released by the US Department of State continues to make wrongful judgements about Vietnam’s democracy and human rights. It is still prejudiced against Vietnam’s democracy and human rights practices.

Like previous years, the countries listed in the report have voiced protests agaist the US Report. Some country has strongly opposed the Report with responded statements of the Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and shown evidences on the US systematic violation of human rights; others have responded by keeping silence which is also a way to protest the Report.

Though some of the cases stipulated in the Report did exist, they were trivial ones, did not represent the nature of Vietnam’s human rights practice. Many contents of the Report related to Vietnam are erroneous, due to its prejudice and discrimination against Vietnam. On March 13th 2017, Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam answered questions asked by reporters relating to the Report: “Vietnam consistently advocates protecting and promoting basic human rights of its people. The country’s efforts have been acknowledged and highly valued by the international community. Vietnam is always willing to discuss in a frank, open, and constructive manner with all countries,  including the US, any remaining differences. So far, Vietnam and the US have held 20 rounds of annual bilateral dialogue on human rights. The US State Department’s Human Rights Report for 2016 acknowledged some of Vietnam’s achievements in human rights protection but still makes some prejudiced remarks that do not reflect the real situation in the country. The following points will help us understand more clearly.

First, the Report criticized the Vietnam National Assembly for the delayed approval of several laws; however, this is necessary. The reason for this delay is that there remain errors in both details and contents of the laws. That clearly proves the responsibility of the NA deputies.

As for the Law on Associations, deputies and the press have pointed out its errors. Moreover, there remain different views on articles of the Draft Law on Associations, i.e. the prohibition on receiving foreign aid, and several other contents. As for the Penal Code, Vice Chairman of Judicial Affairs Committee of the National Assembly Nguyen Van Luat revealed that “The Penal Code 2015 got technical mistakes. If it is enacted, it may lead to cases of unjust judgements”.

The Human Right Report for 2016 showed that the U.S. deliberately “ignored” the Vietnam National Assembly’s efforts to protect rights of the people, including the passing of the Law on Belief and Religion (2016). The law has expanded the subjects enjoying the right (it covers all citizens, not only Vietnamese citizens). It has limited complicated formalities when religious organizations practise their rituals. The Law on Belief and Religion (2016) had one chapter for the right to freedom of belief and religion. It stipulates that the right to freedom of belief and religion is recognized, respected, ensured and protected under the Constitution and law by the Vietnam Government. It also specifies basic principles of the right to freedom of belief and religion, rights and obligations of belief and religion followers and religious organizations.

Second, the Report stated that “Vietnam tightly controls and censors the press and the Internet”. This evaluation follows an old path and repeats existed bias. The freedom of speech, press and  Internet in Vietnam and other countries must satisfy the two requirements: ensuring the right of speech and press of the people and preventing the activities taking advantage of this right to violate the rights and the benefits of the State and the society. That is also stipulated in many international conventions on human rights. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states: “1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. 2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. 3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals”.    

According to statistics, up to now, Vietnam has had 858 print newspapers and magazines, 105 online newspapers, 207 news and information websites, 66 radio and television broadcast stations. Today, Vietnamese people and foreign people living in Vietnam could access  big press agencies. Vietnam is now broadcasting 75 foreign television channels, including CNN, BBC, TV5, NHK, Australia Network, KBS, Bloomberg. Via Internet, Vietnamese people now could get access to famous news agencies of the world, such as AFP, AP, BBC, VOA, Reuters, Kyodo, The Economist, Financial Times, and so on.

According to experts, Vietnam is ranked among the top countries in the region that have most rapid Internet development, especially Facebook. According to statistics of Facebook, Vietnam now has 35 million Facebook users, accounting for 1/3 of its population. Vietnam ranks third in terms of total number of Internet users in Southeast Asia.

Third, it is stated in the Report that “Vietnamese people have no rights to change government through free elections”. It is not true at all. The General Election of Deputies to the 14th National Assembly and the People’s Councils at levels for 2016 – 2021 term ensured all civil and political rights of the people. The percentage of eligible voters reached 99.35%. Among the NA deputies elected, there are 86 ethnics, 133 women, 21 are not party members. The rate of woman and ethnic deputies in the Vietnam National Assembly is high in comparison with those in many regional countries. Vietnam has had a National Assembly Woman Chairman for the first time.

Fourth,  “Corruption is rampant in Vietnam” is a proven evaluation of the Report. However, it is also an evaluation of the Party and the State of Vietnam. “The degradation of political ideology, morality and lifestyle among a portion of cadres and party members has been not curbed yet, even more complicated; corruption, wastefulness and negative phenomena are still severe, mainly among party members holding high positions in the State apparatus”. Many cases of corruption and group interest have been detected by the press, then investigated and punished by the Communist Party of Vietnam.

Those who drafted the Human Right Report (for 2016) should have changed their perspectives on the notion of human rights; avoid the assessment human rights practice via or from opinions of several individuals and social groups. Unfortunately, those who drafted the Report did not care about human rights that 92 million Vietnamese people are enjoying. Those are the immense human rights of a society - the rights of the whole community, particularly in the field of social welfare. The Government’s Program 135 on social and economic development for the most hardship commues is an example. The third phase of the Program 135 has changed the appearance of 2,331 communes, 3,059 villages, 415 border communes and 190 communes of Tuyen Quang province, with nearly 20,000 vital infrastructural projects (transport, power and water supply, schools, clinics, community centres, rural markets). There are also loans from the Vietnam Bank for Social Policy for the poor and poor students.

It is believed that every country has its sensitive issues on human rights which even lie in political and legal thought of the state. On March 8th 2017, in his speech at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva (Switzerland), Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights criticized the US President Donald Trump’s new immigration ban. He confirmed that this ban violated human rights, “discriminating religious and ethnic groups in the US”.

To conclude, we would like to convey a message to those who drafted the Report for 2016 that they should renounce the thought of the Cold War era and stop prejudice and discrimination against the political regime led by the Communist Party of Vietnam. Moreover, they should notice that Vietnam and the US have established a comprehensive partnership that is being deepened by the two Governments. Thus, they should not act against the benefits of the two sides.

Cao Duc Thai, PhD

Former Head of the Research Institute of Human Rights, Ho Chi Minh National Politics and Public Administration Academy

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