As Vietnam vies to become a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, rights groups have called on the country to take the opportunity to release an increasing number of peaceful dissidents, stepping up criticism of Vietnam's increasing restrictions of freedom of expression and the growing number of dissidents sent to jail.
Those complaints make the country an unlikely candidate to promote human rights as part of the United Nations Human Rights Council for 2014 to 2016, but Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi told reporters on Thursday the government is confident Vietnam will gain membership on the council.
Nghi said Vietnam has achieved many successes in recent years in ensuring human rights in all areas, which has been recognized by the international community. He added that the promotion of human rights was an important factor in ensuring the reform process of Vietnam.
His comment came in response to a report published by Amnesty International the same day, which said the country did not respect its commitments to human rights as stipulated by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Vietnam is a signatory.
The London-based rights group said at least 65 peaceful dissidents had been sentenced to long prison terms since 2012 and trials failed to meet international standards.
“While we see, for example, a trend in [Burma] to release prisoners of conscience, political prisoners, in Vietnam we’ve seen an escalation in the crackdown on freedom of expression and the number of those being imprisoned,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty’s Vietnam researcher.
Amnesty also said that Vietnam should take this opportunity to show the world it is committed to human rights by clearly defining such rights under the constitution.
Earlier in the week, New York-based Human Rights Watch also called on the government to show it was worthy of becoming a member of the council by releasing ten political prisoners.
Abbott said he thought Vietnam would probably succeed in getting a seat on the council because there have been members in the past that did not have excellent human rights records.
“We’re not saying Vietnam shouldn’t have a seat on the human rights council, we’re saying that the situation at home is very different to what Vietnam is trying to portray. If Vietnam wants to play a role internationally promoting human rights then it should really look closer to home and address the situation at home,” said Abbott.
In its report, Amnesty points out that under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Vietnam is also obliged to respect rights regarding arrest and fair trial.
It would be nice to believe the Vietnamese justice system is fair, but the reality is quite different according to Le Quoc Quyet, the younger brother of prominent pro-democracy activist Le Quoc Quan. The 42-year-old Quan was jailed for tax evasion last month, charges observers believe to be politically motivated.
“They say the trial will be public but every supporter who goes to the court will be prevented from coming to the court so we cannot believe the trial will be independent and justice will happen,” said Quyet.
Quyet said he is just a businessman, but police harass him by knocking on his door at night and sometimes block the road so he cannot attend church. He believes he has become a target, along with other members of his family, because of the activities of his brother.