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Voices in the Rain: Vietnam's UPR Session Amid NGO Protests

GHRD live footage during protest

Voices in the Rain: Vietnam's UPR Session Amid NGO Protests


Written by Elena Vallejo Secadas and Putheany Kim

Team UN Geneva Researcher,

Global Human Rights Defence. 

Tuesday, May 7, Palais des Nations Geneva was the fourth cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. While State Members were questioning Vietnam regarding their improvements of their human rights situation. Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation (KKF) was organizing a demonstration to raise their voices concerning the human rights violations in Vietnam. More than 100 Khmer-Krom gathered together, despite the rain and the cold, standing strong with their loud voices aiming for justice for the unjustly arrested Khmer-Krom monks and individuals.


The national delegation of the country under review included members of the government from different ministries, who presented their efforts for the country. The deputy foreign minister highlighted his country’s honest desire to improve in human rights issues and in pursuing the action plan put in place to implement the recommendations of the third cycle of the UPR held on January 22, 2019. He stressed that 239 of the 241 recommendations have been fully or partially implemented. Nevertheless, notwithstanding these seemingly promising statistics, there persists a notable gap in the integration of various ethnic minorities and indigenous communities in these initiatives. Consequently, the Khmer-Krom community has convened to voice their concerns regarding the perceived injustices perpetrated against them by the State Member.


The deputy foreign minister mentioned that the measures have been carried out by the government to improve the legal framework and changes to make the legislative process increasingly inclusive and transparent. He gave the land tenure law as an example, which has received 12 million comments, suggestions and contributions from different public agencies, social entities, organizations, members of civil society and other stakeholders. This is another example of Vietnam’s strategy of defending and presenting themselves through numbers, statistics that are not easily accessible.


Contrary to the reality faced by minority communities and indigenous peoples in Vietnam, the minister also emphasized that one of the great challenges, as well as one of the priorities of his government is the achievement of gender equality and non-discrimination, through the implementation of the national plan for the elimination of gender violence, as well as other measures and programs to favor the role of women in public life, both in the public and private sectors. They assume that women continue to be the main providers of domestic and unpaid work and highlight as measures the reduction of the retirement age for women to 60 and for men to 62, measures to put an end to harassment at work, as well as the implementation of flexible working hours that allow for work-family reconciliation and equality between men and women. Even though the deputy foreign minister presented all their efforts, the states still made comments and recommendations regarding the advancement and achievement of women’s equality, including the criminalization of sexual violence and sexual assault in the conjugal sphere, as well as reparations for all victims of gender-based violence and accountability on the part of the aggressors.


Another challenge they are facing is poverty and inequalities between urban, rural and mountainous areas. They emphasize the great progress in economic growth, 25% of GDP during the period under review, and highlight their country’s commitment to inclusive growth, including the most vulnerable groups, to the achievement of the SDGs, and to be environmentally friendly and to achieve the goal of zero emissions by 2050. They underline the progress related to the elimination of poverty, which has decreased by 4% since 2022, access to water and sanitation and food security especially with respect to the most vulnerable people, as well as the implementation of social assistance programs especially for people with disabilities.


Another striking statement is about the importance of improving administrative services and the capacity and attitude of civil servants with a focus on human rights and a gender perspective. They mentioned that human rights contents have been included in school curricula in a cross-cutting manner and developed human rights training projects for civil servants. This statement is striking with the reality as the Vietnamese (local) authorities continue to use arbitrary detention, especially to those who speak out about the human rights situation in Vietnam. Yet, the deputy foreign minister stood strong with his defensive statement on his country’s commitment to the human rights mechanisms, treaty bodies and Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.


This issue has been recurrently mentioned during the debate and most of the countries have made the recommendation to open the standing invitation to all Special Procedures of the Council as well as to continue with the signature and/or ratification of different human rights conventions, such as the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, the International Convention for the Protection of Migrant Workers and their Families, the Convention on Stateless Persons, and the ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in its 2010 version.


One of the majority recommendations of the participating States was the implementation of a moratorium on the death penalty and the reduction of crimes punishable by death, limiting them to those considered most serious and leaving aside those related to drugs with the aim of moving towards the repeal of the death penalty and the signing and ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


In response, the Vietnamese representatives stressed that the current circumstances in their country do not allow them to abolish the death penalty. They noted that they have already reduced the list of crimes subject to the death penalty by limiting it to the most serious crimes and that transparency and accountability mechanisms are being implemented. They also made recommendations for the eradication of the use of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including corporal punishment, and the improvement of prison conditions. 


Another almost unanimously repeated recommendation was to create or move forward with the creation of a National Human Rights Institution in accordance with the Paris Principles. The representative reported that they have already organized a working group to study the possibility of its creation, its model, functioning, mandate and attributions based on the experience of other countries and in collaboration with them.


Many of the participating States also expressed their deep concern about the limitation and deterioration of civil space and public freedoms, especially freedom of expression, assembly, association, press freedom and information both through traditional and online methods. Many of them requested the release of prisoners imprisoned for these reasons and recommended amendments to the Penal Code, where they noted that there are ambiguous regulations on these issues and recommended the implementation of mechanisms to ensure respect for these human rights, especially with regard to journalists, human rights defenders and members of minorities.


Prior to the emergence of these allegations, the State representative conveyed his dissent, emphasizing that his nation would not countenance any form of provocation that imperils national security. In articulating his stance, he adopted a tone of heightened concern and exhibited notable disapproval towards certain remarks made by representatives of other states.


Additionally, the deputy foreign minister made a concerning defensive statement on the freedom of the press. According to him, it has expanded in his country, with the creation of more media outlets, calling it a flourishing forum for discussion for social institutions, including the dangerous tagline “defending legitimate and national security interests”. Besides that, he mentioned the implementation of measures for online protection, especially for minors, for healthy interaction and to prevent false information. He did not provide any detailed explanation of the measures taken to detect and eliminate false information, which can certainly be dangerous for freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Similarly, he stressed that technical means have been improved, especially access to the Internet, to reduce the technological gap between cities and rural areas, especially in mountainous areas where ethnic minorities are found.


In response to another of the most repeated recommendations, which was to take measures to combat trafficking and for the protection and rehabilitation of victims, the State representative defended that there is specific regulation to combat this scourge and that 100% of the victims have received or are receiving assistance. Likewise, a public telephone line has been made available for denouncing or counseling.


They also made references and encouraged the implementation of measures regarding the strengthening and independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption to avoid any interference and guarantee impartiality. In response to these comments, the representatives defended that 100% of the cases exercised by the prosecution were carried out with the presence of lawyers and that the parties can fully defend their rights. They also indicated that in the future they will develop clearer and more detailed laws to improve in this regard. Regarding the situation of minors, one of the most repeated recommendations was the harmonization of the concept of the child in all laws in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It was also recommended that Internet solicitation of children for sexual purposes be included as a crime.



Regarding the situation of ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples, countries such as Costa Rica, Luxembourg, Mexico and Senegal defended the recognition of indigenous peoples in accordance with the principle of self-determination and the guarantee of their rights, especially freedom of expression, association and religious freedom. In response to these comments, the representative defended that his country is an unified country, where more than 14% of the inhabitants belong to an ethnic minority. Remarkably, the State representative avoided mentioning the existence of indigenous peoples, such as Khmer-Krom in the Mekong Delta. They stressed that a specific national program was approved in 2019 to guarantee the rights of minorities especially located in mountainous areas, preserving cultural heritage, languages and cultures.


As for religious freedom, they noted that it is a right enshrined in the Constitution of 2023 and developed in the 2016 law on freedom of belief, where any religious discrimination is prohibited. He stressed that, through an amendment in the aforementioned land law, spaces will be ceded for the construction of places of worship and religious activities, renewing and extending permits. They defend that their country is a place where a multitude of faiths and more than 170 registered religious groups coexist peacefully, including the four major religions, as well as religions of national scope and that religions continue to be registered based on legitimate requests. This also strikes with the reality as the Vietnamese local authorities have detained and arrested several Khmer-Krom monks and their followers in the week of 56th Human Rights Council session. In fact, the Khmer-Krom Buddhist temple lecture hall got demolished by the local Vietnamese authority and the act was covered by administrative law.


Therefore, the Khmer-Krom community in Kampuchea-Krom and outside their motherland took this opportunity to stand up against the way of how Socialist Republic Vietnam shows themselves as a peaceful government, whereas they are oppressing and using all tactics to silence minority communities and indigenous peoples like Khmer-Krom, Hmong, and Montagnard. Despite the rain and cold weather, Khmer-Krom stood strong in resilience in support for their own community and victims of the Vietnamese regime.


In his closing remarks, the minister representative made a strange defense of the different views of the different participating countries on human rights, insisting that each country has different concerns and weightings of the challenges and mechanisms for advancing human rights and the importance of respecting these differences. This is striking given that human rights are universal and should be considered as such in all countries of the world and for all people regardless of their origin or status.

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