Vietnam’s Rights Record Deteriorating Despite Regular Dialogue With West: Experts

Vietnam’s human rights situation continues to deteriorate despite regular dialogues between Hanoi and Western nations, a social analyst and a former political prisoner said Wednesday, as representatives of the European Union and the one-party communist state sat down for talks on the latter’s rights record.

Independent researcher Ha Hoang Hop told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that while Vietnam signed the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in 2007, its government has failed to live up to its obligations, despite monitoring by the international community.

“At that time, Vietnam’s government understood human rights in accordance with global standards, meaning that they are based on the foundation of human dignity,” he said.

“However, from 2007 onward, over the course of many years of evaluation by the United Nations Human Rights Council and international organizations, Vietnam has done little to improve its rights record.”

Tran Vu Anh Binh, a former prisoner of conscience who served nearly six years in jail for singing politically sensitive songs before being released in 2017, told RFA that talks between Vietnam’s government and those of other nations are insufficient to change his country’s approach to its rights record.

“There will be no human rights for Vietnam if democratic countries only talk about human rights here,” he said.

“The Communist government is always deceitful, and cruel to its people. The idea that human rights exist in Vietnam is based on untruths.”

Hop and Binh’s comments came as the 9th European Union-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue was held Wednesday in Hanoi and days after the EU ratified the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), prompting New York-based Human Rights Watch to say the European Parliament had missed an important opportunity to secure “enforceable commitments” for reforms in Vietnam.

The EVFTA will eliminate 99 percent of tariffs on goods between the EU and the Southeast Asian country, although some will be reduced over a 10-year period and others will be limited by quotas.

The vote to approve the agreement was made over the objections of international and Vietnamese NGOs who had urged lawmakers to postpone consent on the agreement, signed in June 2019, until Vietnam’s government agrees to protect the rights of workers and ensure human rights.

The EU is Vietnam’s second-largest export market after the U.S., mostly for garment and footwear products, sending the EU U.S. $42.5 billion worth of goods and services and importing $13.8 billion worth of goods and services in 2018.

Lack of progress

On Monday, HRW Asia Advocacy director John Sifton noted that “numerous rounds of EU-Vietnam human rights dialogues [have] failed to persuade the country to reverse its abusive trend, even as separate negotiations for economic agreements have ended with lucrative deals,” and called for the bloc to use its economic leverage to force Hanoi to reform.

Following last year’s EU-Vietnam human rights dialogue held on March 4, Maya Kocijancic, the spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the EU, told RFA that Vietnamese human rights activists had been tortured and sentenced because they exercised their right to freedom of speech.

“We spoke about these issues. We also urged Vietnam to release all of its political prisoners and asked to meet those victims’ lawyers, adding that authorities should allow the prisoners’ relatives to visit them,” she said at the time.

However, on Monday, Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member group the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) said that since last year’s dialogue, authorities in Vietnam continued to harass, assault, and detain labor, land, and human rights activists, with bloggers, religious followers, and government critics also targeted for repression.

And from March 5, 2019 to Feb. 5 of this year, authorities arrested 29 human rights activists and sentenced 42 to prison terms of up to 12 years, the rights groups said.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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