Vietnam: New report denounces violations of economic, social, and cultural rights

Paris, 11 November 2014: A new report jointly released today by FIDH and its member organization Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) at the United Nations documents serious violations of economic, social, and cultural rights in Vietnam.

The 30-page report, entitled “Violations of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Vietnam”, was released for the 53rd session of the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR). The CESCR is meeting in Geneva from 10 to 28 November to examine the periodic reports of Vietnam and other countries on their implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). FIDH and VCHR prepared the report to provide the CESCR experts with evidence and analysis of Vietnam’s serious violations of economic, social, and cultural rights and its lack of compliance with binding international obligations under the treaty.

Vietnam acceded to the ICESCR in 1982. Despite its obligation to submit a progress report to the CESCR within two years of accepting the Covenant and every five years thereafter, Vietnam has submitted only one previous report to the CESCR over two decades ago in 1993.

“Vietnam’s failure to comply with the ICESCR’s reporting requirements is a reflection of its inability to respect the obligations imposed by the Covenant,”
said FIDH President Karim Lahidji. “Vietnam is unlikely to make significant progress in the promotion and protection of economic, social, and cultural rights until its corrupt, undemocratic, and repressive government enacts essential legislative and institutional reforms.”

“Vietnam’s periodic report enumerates a long list of regulations and laws with no information about their content or implementation. Thirty-two years after Vietnam’s accession to the ICESCR, its citizens are still deprived of their fundamental economic, social, and cultural rights,” Vo Van Ai said.

Since Vietnam opened to a free market economy under the policy of “doi moi” (renovation) in the late 1980s, the country has undergone rapid growth and economic transformation. However, economic liberalization under its one-party political control has led to alarming wealth disparity and social inequality. Whereas Vietnam ranked second in the world in 2013 in the increase of ‘super rich’ people (198 people with assets of over US$20 billion), one in every five (or approximately 18 million) Vietnamese live under the poverty line and 8% live in extreme poverty. Millions of others live just above the poverty threshold and remain vulnerable to falling back into poverty at the slightest shock.

Social inequalities are not only due to the rising income gap, but also due to discrimination on the grounds of political opinions, religious affiliations, and/or ethnicity.

Forced evictions and state land confiscation for development purposes, exacerbated by endemic official corruption and abuse of power, have left hundreds of thousands of farmers homeless. In the workplace, sweatshop working conditions and low pay have led to a rising number of strikes. However the state-sponsored Vietnam General Confederation of Labor has failed to take any action to defend worker rights. Child labor is widespread. In 2013, Vietnam issued Circular 11, which authorized “light work” for children under the age of 15. The list of authorized work includes tasks that are unsuitable for children, and incompatible with ILO labor conventions.

Those who denounce violations of economic, social, and cultural rights are at risk of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrest, and imprisonment. Scores of bloggers, land rights and worker right activists, as well as members of religious minorities, are currently detained under vaguely-worded articles in the Criminal Code for their advocacy on economic, social, and cultural rights. In February 2013, Vietnam sentenced 22 peaceful environmental activists to prison terms ranging from 10 years to life on charges of “subversion.” In March 2014, seven ethnic Hmong in Tuyen Quang Province were imprisoned for no other reason than practicing their faith.

In a testimony before the 18-member CESR experts, on 10 November, VCHR President Vo Van Ai denounced the Vietnamese government’s use of draconian laws to deny economic, social, and cultural rights. He listed legislation such as the Law on Trade Unions, the Publications Law, the Cinematography Law, the Cultural Heritage Law, Decree 97 on Scientific Research, Internet Decree 72, Religious Decree 92, and numerous regulations limiting cultural, spiritual, and religious practices.

In their report to the CESCR, FIDH and VCHR made 37 recommendations for progress in Vietnam on numerous issues related to economic social, and cultural rights, including; trade union rights; the rights to health and education; non-discrimination; land rights; non-stigmatization of HIV sufferers and drug users; freedom of expression and cultural rights; independence of the judiciary; and ratification of human rights instruments.

Press contacts
FIDH: Mr. Andrea Giorgetta (English) - Tel: +66 886117722 (Bangkok)
FIDH: Mr. Arthur Manet (French, English, Spanish) - Tel: +33 6 72 28 42 94 (Paris)
FIDH: Ms. Audrey Couprie (French, English, Spanish) - Tel: +33 6 48 05 91 57 (Paris)

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