2008 U.S. Human Rights Report on Vietnam

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam, with a population of approximately 86 million, is an authoritarian state ruled by the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). The most recent National Assembly elections, held in May 2007, were neither free nor fair, since all candidates were vetted by the CPV’s Vietnam Fatherland Front (VFF), an umbrella group that monitored the country’s mass organizations. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.

The government’s human rights record remained unsatisfactory. Citizens could not change their government, and political opposition movements were prohibited. The government continued to crack down on dissent, arresting political activists and causing several dissidents to flee the country. Police sometimes abused suspects during arrest, detention, and interrogation. Corruption was a significant problem in the police force, and police officers sometimes acted with impunity. Prison conditions were often severe. Individuals were arbitrarily detained for political activities and denied the right to fair and expeditious trials. The government continued to limit citizens’ privacy rights and tightened controls over the press and freedom of speech, assembly, movement, and association. The government maintained its prohibition of independent human rights organizations. Violence and discrimination against women remained a concern. Trafficking in persons continued to be a significant problem. Some ethnic minority groups suffered societal discrimination. The government limited workers’ rights and arrested or harassed several labor activists.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

The government or its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings; however, there was one confirmed report of a death in police custody.

On May 1, Y Ben Hdok, a Montagnard from Dak Lak, died while in detention in the Buon Ma Thuot provincial police station. Police detained him on April 28 for questioning regarding his suspected involvement in inciting demonstrations. Officials stated that the suspect hanged himself during a break in questioning, but family members said his corpse was bruised. No investigation was carried out, and the family reportedly refused to authorize an autopsy.

There were reports that another Montagnard prisoner died shortly after being released from police custody, although the cause of death could not be verified.

There were no developments related to the 2006 death of Y Ngo Adrong.

b. Disappearance

The unregistered Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam reported that monk Thich Tri Khai, whom police arrested from his monastery in Lam Dong Province in April, remained missing at year’s end.

According to nongovernmental organization (NGO) and press reports, political activist Tim Sakhorn, sentenced in November 2007 to one year in prison for “sabotaging national unity” and released in July, was residing in An Giang Province under house arrest and constant police surveillance. Le Tri, a Vietnamese citizen and political activist who disappeared in Cambodia in May 2007, remained missing at year’s end.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits physical abuse; however, police commonly physically mistreated suspects during arrest or detention.

Incidents of police harassment were reported in the provinces of Dien Bien, Thanh Hoa, Son La, and Thai Binh. Land rights protesters in An Giang Province also reported harassment from local authorities.

There were reports that police harassed or beat ethnic minorities returning from Cambodia to the Central Highlands, although most reports could not be substantiated. Monitors found that most incidents involved land, money, or domestic disputes.

Throughout the year the government committed activists involuntarily to mental hospitals as a tactic to quell dissent.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions could be severe but generally did not threaten the lives of prisoners. Overcrowding, insufficient diet, lack of clean drinking water, and poor sanitation nonetheless remained serious problems in many prisons. Prisoners had access to basic health care, with additional medical services available at district- or provincial-level hospitals. However, in many cases officials obstructed family members from providing medication to prisoners. Prisoners generally were required to work but received no wages. Prisoners sometimes were moved to solitary confinement, where they were deprived of reading and writing materials for periods of up to several months. Family members made credible claims that prisoners received better benefits by paying bribes to prison officials.

Family members of several political dissidents reported improved living conditions at Xuan Loc Prison in Dong Nai Province. Foreign diplomats observed Spartan but clean living areas and generally acceptable labor conditions during a June visit to the prison. Family members of one activist who broke his arm in a prison in Kien Giang Province claimed that medical treatment was inadequate, resulting in the partial loss of function in his arm. Family members of Catholic activist Father Nguyen Van Ly claimed that he continued to be denied access to a Bible.

The government generally did not permit the International Committee of the Red Cross or NGOs to visit prisons, and no such visits occurred during the year. However, authorities allowed foreign diplomats and a religious delegation to make limited prison visits and meet with prisoners. Most other requests by diplomatic observers to visit prisoners were denied.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The criminal code allows the government to detain persons without charges indefinitely under vague “national security” provisions such as Articles 84, 88, and 258. The government also arrested and detained indefinitely individuals under other legal provisions. Authorities also subjected several dissidents throughout the country to administrative detention or house arrest.

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

Internal security is the responsibility of the Ministry of Public Security (MPS); however, in some remote areas, the military is the primary government agency and provides public safety functions, including maintaining public order in the event of civil unrest. The MPS controls the police, a special national security investigative agency, and other internal security units. It also maintains a system of household registration and block wardens to monitor the population. While this system has generally become less intrusive, it continued to be used to monitor those suspected of engaging, or likely to engage, in unauthorized political activities. Credible reports suggested that local police forces used “contract thugs” and “citizen brigades” to harass and beat political activists and others, including religious worshippers, perceived as “undesirable” or a “threat” to public security.

Police organizations exist at the provincial, district, and local levels and are subject to the authority of people’s committees at each level. The police were generally effective at maintaining political stability and public order, but police capabilities, especially investigative, were generally very low. Police training and resources were inadequate.

Corruption was a significant problem among police at all levels, and police officers sometimes acted with impunity. Internal police oversight structures existed but were subject to political influence. During the year the government cooperated with several foreign governments to initiate a program for provincial police and prison management to improve the professionalism of security forces.

Arrest and Detention

The criminal code outlines the process by which individuals are taken into custody and treated until they are brought before a court or other tribunal for judgment. The Supreme People’s Procuracy (the Public Prosecutor’s Office) issues arrest warrants, generally at the request of police. However, police may make an arrest without a warrant on the basis of a complaint filed by any person. The Procuracy issues retroactive warrants in such cases. The Procuracy must issue a decision to initiate a formal criminal investigation of a detainee within nine days; otherwise, police must release the suspect. In practice the nine-day regulation was often circumvented.

The investigative period typically lasts from three months for less serious offenses (punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment) to 16 months for exceptionally serious offenses (punishable by more than 15 years’ imprisonment or capital punishment), or 20 months for national security cases. However, at times investigations can be prolonged indefinitely. The criminal code further permits the Procuracy to request additional two month periods of detention after an investigation to consider whether to prosecute a detainee or ask the police to investigate further. Investigators sometimes used physical isolation, excessively lengthy interrogation sessions, and sleep deprivation to compel detainees to confess.

By law detainees are permitted access to lawyers from the time of their detention; however, authorities used bureaucratic delays to deny access to legal counsel. In cases investigated under broad national security laws, authorities often delayed defense lawyers’ access to clients until an investigation had ended and the suspect had been formally charged with a crime. In addition a scarcity of trained lawyers and insufficient protection of defendant rights made prompt detainee access to an attorney rare. In practice only persons formally charged with capital crimes were assigned lawyers.

By law attorneys must be informed of and allowed to attend interrogations of their clients. However, a defendant first must request the presence of a lawyer, and it was unclear whether authorities always informed defendants of this privilege. Attorneys also must be given access to case files and be permitted to make copies of documents. Attorneys were sometimes able to exercise these privileges.

Police generally informed families of detainees’ whereabouts, but family members were allowed to visit a detainee only with the permission of the investigator, and this permission was not automatically granted. During the investigative period, authorities frequently did not allow detainees access to family members, especially in national security cases. Prior to a formal indictment, detainees also have the right to notify family members. However, a number of detainees suspected of national security violations were held incommunicado. At year’s end some persons arrested early in the year had not been seen by family members or a lawyer, nor had they been formally charged with crimes.

There is no functioning bail system or equivalent system of conditional release. Time spent in pretrial detention counts toward time served upon conviction and sentencing.

Courts may sentence persons to administrative detention of up to five years after completion of a sentence. In addition police or mass organizations can propose that one of five “administrative measures” be imposed by people’s committee chairpersons at district and provincial levels without a trial. The measures include terms ranging from six to 24 months in either juvenile reformatories or adult detention centers and generally were applied to repeat offenders with a record of minor offenses, such as committing petty theft or “humiliating other persons.” Chairpersons may also impose terms of “administrative probation,” which generally was some form of restriction on movement and travel. Despite the March 2007 repeal of Decree 31, an administrative measure often used to punish perceived political dissidents, authorities continued to punish some individuals using other vaguely worded national security provisions in the criminal code.

Arbitrary detentions, particularly for political activists, remained a problem. The government used decrees, ordinances, and measures to detain activists for the peaceful expression of opposing political views. During the year authorities arrested several individuals for violating Article 88, which prohibits the “distribution of propaganda against the state.” Those charged with violating Article 88 were typically sentenced to terms of up to five years in prison. While several activists received reduced prison sentences after they appealed, others had their original sentences reaffirmed during appeals. In September an Internet blogger was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to 30 months in prison after writing about corruption and protesting China’s actions in the disputed Spratly/Paracel Islands.

In August and September, the government arrested at least 13 activists, most connected with the political movement Bloc 8406, and briefly detained at least a dozen others. On November 7, land protester and Bloc 8406 member Le Thi Kim Thu was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment for “disturbing public order.” At year’s end the remaining activists had not been charged or tried.

Police forcibly entered the homes of a number of prominent dissidents throughout the country, such as Nguyen Khac Toan and Do Nam Hai, and removed personal computers, mobile cellphones, and other material.

There were reports that government officials in the Central and Northwest Highlands temporarily detained ethnic minority individuals for communicating with the ethnic minority community abroad during the year.

Peaceful land rights protests in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi resulted in the temporary detention, surveillance, and arrest of several organizers, although the government handled the dispersal of these protests without significant violence. Peaceful protests during the year against Chinese actions in the Spratly/Paracel Islands also resulted in the temporary detention and arrest of several activists for demonstrating without permission. In September authorities arrested four activists and temporarily detained several more, reportedly in an effort to prevent demonstrations and discourage groups from meeting publicly.

In the case of five political activists–two Vietnamese and three foreign citizens–arrested in November 2007, two of the foreigner were released in December 2007. On May 13, the remaining three were tried and convicted on terrorism charges with credit for time served; one Vietnamese was released immediately, the foreigner was deported a few days later, and the other Vietnamese was released in August.

Several of the approximately 30 activists arrested in a government crackdown in 2006-07 were convicted during the year. Others remained under investigation and under administrative detention without being formally charged.

Religious and political activists were subject to varying degrees of informal detention in their residences.

Amnesty

The central government did not announce a Tet or National Day amnesty. Nevertheless, provincial councils throughout the country conducted both Tet and National Day amnesties of prisoners under their jurisdiction. No high profile prisoners benefited from special release during the year.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for the independence of judges and lay assessors; however, in practice the CPV controlled the courts at all levels through its effective control over judicial appointments and other mechanisms. In many cases the CPV determined verdicts. Most, if not all, judges were members of the CPV and were chosen at least in part for their political views. As in past years, the judicial system was strongly distorted by political influence, endemic corruption, and inefficiency. CPV influence was particularly notable in high profile cases and others in which a person was charged with challenging or harming the CPV or the state.

The judiciary consists of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC); provincial and district people’s courts; military tribunals; administrative, economic, and labor courts; and other tribunals established by law. Each district has a people’s court, which serves as the court of first instance for most domestic, civil, and criminal cases. Each province also has a people’s court, which serves as the appellate forum for district court cases. The SPC, which reports to the National Assembly, is the highest court of appeal and review. Administrative courts adjudicate complaints by citizens about official abuse and corruption. There are also special committees to help resolve local disputes.

There was a shortage of trained lawyers and judges. Low judicial salaries hindered efforts to develop a trained judiciary. The few judges who had formal legal training often had studied abroad only in countries with communist legal traditions.

There was no independent bar association. In January the prime minister approved a proposal to form a national bar association; however, it had not been created by year’s end.

Government training programs to address the problem of inadequately trained judges and other court officials continued during the year.

Courts of first instance at district and provincial levels include judges and lay assessors, but provincial appeals courts and the SPC are composed of judges only. People’s councils appoint lay assessors from a pool of candidates suggested by the VFF. Lay assessors are required to have “high moral standards,” but legal training is not required, and their role is largely symbolic.

Military tribunals, although funded by the Ministry of Defense, operate under the same rules as other courts. The ministry is represented on judicial selection panels, and the head of the military tribunal system is the deputy head of the SPC. Military tribunal judges and assessors are military personnel chosen jointly by the SPC and the ministry but supervised by the SPC. The law gives military courts jurisdiction over all criminal cases involving military entities, including military owned enterprises. The military has the option of using the administrative, economic, or labor courts for civil cases…

To read the complete report, please visit this link:

http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/eap/119063.htm

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