Vietnam remains one of the world's four last remaining one-party socialist states officially espousing communism.
Its current constitution asserts the central role of the Communist Party of Vietnam in all organs of government, politics, and society. After 21 years of fighting between North and South Vietnam in a conflict commonly referred to as the Vietnam war, Vietnam became a unified country in 1975 when the armed forces of the communist north seized the south. The decades-long war produced heavy casualties on all sides, including atrocity crimes committed against civilians, and extensive destruction and contamination of much of the landscape.
Since the end of the war, Vietnam has seen economic reform and modernization. However, these have not led to a concurrent development of civil society, mainly due to concerted government efforts to curtail it. After several decades of economic reform that brought significant socioeconomic transformation, especially to the cities, the government has worked assiduously to control or prevent the rise of an independent civil society. With Communist Party leaders worried that economic liberalization could weaken their grip on power, wealth disparity between urban and rural Vietnam remains widespread.
National Assembly Party Representation
In January 2016 Tran Dai Quang, was elected to the primarily ceremonial post of president and titular head of state. The real power in Vietnam remains in the hands of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), the founding and ruling political party of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, which maintains a unitary government with centralized control over the state, military, and media.
In January 2011 the CPV appointed Nguyen Phu Trong as the party's leader, holding the titles of General Secretary of the Central Committee and the Secretary of the Central Military Commission. As ’de facto’ head of the Politburo, the highest decision-making body in Vietnam, Phu Trong can be seen as the most powerful man in Vietnam.
OFFICIAL LANGUAGE: VIETNAMESE
GOVERNMENT: COMMUNIST STATE (ONE-PARTY SOCIALIST STATE)
PRESIDENT: TRAN DAI QUANG - HEAD OF STATE
IN POWER SINCE: 2 APRIL 2016
RULING PARTY: COMMUNIST PARTY OF VIETNAM
LEGAL SYSTEM: CIVIL LAW SYSTEM
INTERNATIONAL LAW PARTICIPATION: HAS NOT SUBMITTED AN ICJ JURISDICTION DECLARATION; NON-PARTY STATE TO THE ICCT
The Communist Party of Vietnam maintains strong control over all public affairs, routinely punishing those who challenge the power monopoly. Independent political parties, labor unions, and human rights organizations remain banned, and all public gatherings require approval by authorities.
Since the founding of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1976, and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam before that, the media has been completely controlled by the Party and state. They are still viewed as propaganda organs, not independent watchdogs. Even though there have been periods of media liberalization, they have been short-lived, and were usually followed by grave repercussions for those who pushed the boundaries.
The most significant human rights issues in the country remain the government's severe restrictions of citizens’ political rights.
These restrictions most particularly affect the people's right to change their government through free and fair elections; limits on citizens’ civil liberties, including freedom of assembly, association, and expression; and inadequate protection of citizens’ due process rights, including protection against arbitrary detention.
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, the Communist party retains a strong grip on the media, and the Vietnamese government routinely uses vaguely-worded penal code provisions to crackdown on dissent. Human rights bloggers and campaigners, in particular, continue to be targeted by the government, incurring long prison terms on broadly framed charges such as espionage, undermining national security, and propagandizing against the state.
With all press and broadcasting controlled by the Ministry of Culture and Information, journalists and media outlets run the constant risk of imprisonment and sanctions for government criticism, coverage of sensitive topics, and even for non-political topics. One example is 21-year-old student Nguyen Duc Hao, who established a Facebook page called “Canh Dong Ngo” to inform people about methods of evading temporary traffic checkpoints. In 2015 Hao and his colleague were arrested by police and later indicted on charges of "illegally taking and using information on the Internet“ and sentenced to 6 months in prison.
HRF and Vietnam
FREE SPEECH UNLIMITED
Human Rights Foundation, in partnership with John Templeton Foundation and Universidad Francisco Marroquin, provide a resource that outlines access to free speech and details relevant cases.
In 2016 HRF condemned Vietnam’s action to block 100 independent candidates from running in the upcoming election in an attempt to suppress a pluralistic legislature. Set on maintaining its dictatorial rule, authorities used threats and other tactics to force independent candidates out of the election and repress all ideological diversity.
Earlier the same year HRF along with more than 20 NGO’s denounced the arbitrary arrest of prominent human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Das and his colleague Le Thun Ha, calling on the Vietnamese government for an immediate release. The activists were arrested on charges of conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, facing up to 20 years in prison.
For the 2010 Oslo Freedom Forum, HRF sent a small team to Vietnam to interview Buddhist monk and democracy advocate Thich Quang Do in a monastery in Ho Chi Minh City, where he has been held under house arrest since 2001 without ever having been convicted for a crime.
Partner Organization: VOICE
Vietnamese Overseas Initiative for Conscience Empowerment (VOICE) is an NGO providing a voice for the Vietnamese community through developing civil society, advocating for human rights and the rule of law, and resettling Vietnamese refugees. Their mission is two-fold: advocacy for stateless Vietnamese boat people and refugees in need of protection and empowering young Vietnamese through professional opportunities and training.
Thich Quang Do is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and a rights advocate.
He is an outspoken critic of the Vietnamese government who is currently under internal exile and house arrest. Since 2008, Thich Quang Do has been the patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), an organization banned by the government. Through petitions, Thich Quang Do has peacefully campaigned for democratic reforms, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and pluralism. He has been arrested, interrogated, and harassed numerous times for his outspoken criticism and advocacy efforts, and has spent a total of nearly three decades in detention.
Thich Quang Do was arrested and tortured under the Diem government. After the fall of the Diem regime, he was released and became the spokesman of the UBCV. During the Vietnam War, Thich Quang Do and other UBCV leaders campaigned for peace. When the Communist Party took power in 1975, the government brutally cracked down on Buddhism and the UBCV. Thich Quang Do was sent into internal exile in 1982, in a remote village where he spent ten years under house arrest. Though he has not been convicted of any crime, he is currently under house arrest in Ho Chi Minh City. In 2015, 90 prominent artists, religious leaders, and civil society leaders from around the world wrote a letter to President Barack Obama demanding that he put pressure on Vietnam to release Thich Quang Do. Amnesty International continues to write hundreds of letters to world leaders who visit Vietnam urging them to demand his release. He is the recipient of the Rafto Prize, the Democracy Courage Tribute by the World Movement for Democracy, the Homo Homini Award, and the Hellman-Hammett Award. He has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize nine times.
Vo Van Ai is a Vietnamese human rights defender, journalist, historian, and poet.
He is the founder and president of Que Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam, an organization that seeks to increase international awareness of the human rights situation under the Vietnamese communist regime. He is also the founder and president of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights. Van Ai was arrested and tortured at the age of 11 for participating in the Vietnamese independence movement. In 1964, he became the spokesperson for the United Buddhist Church of Vietnam, which is currently banned in Vietnam. After Vietnam’s unification in 1975, he helped create the first comprehensive map of “re-education camps.”
Van Ai is a well-known author and historian. In addition to numerous articles, he has written 17 books of poetry and essays, as well as studies on Buddhism and Vietnamese history, and he is a contributor to The Wall Street Journal. Van Ai is a specialist on human rights and religious freedom issues, and he contributes regularly to reports for the United Nations, U.S. Congress, and European Parliament. Van Ai continues to work with Que Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam.