U.S. Department of State
Vietnam Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor,
January 30, 1997.
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) is a one-party state controlled
by the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP). The VCP's constitutionally
mandated leading role and the occupancy of all senior government
positions by Party members ensures the primacy of Politburo guidelines.
The National Assembly, chosen in elections in which all candidates
are approved by the Party, remains largely subservient to the
VCP, as does the judiciary. Most Assembly members belong to the
VCP. The National Assembly played a stronger role than in the
past by seriously debating and revising proposed legislation.
The Government is working to reduce formal involvement of the
Party in government operations, and government officials have
some latitude in implementing policies. The Government continued
to restrict significantly civil liberties on national security
The military services are responsible for external defense, including
the border defense force. While they have no direct responsibility
for maintaining internal security, the military forces are seeking
to establish for themselves a role in public education and campaigns
against perceived threats to society. The Ministry of Interior
is responsible for internal security. It controls the police,
a special national security investigative agency, and other units
that maintain internal security. Acting under the control of
the Party and the Government, the Ministry enforces laws and regulations
that significantly restrict individual liberties and violate other
human rights. The Ministry of Interior also maintains a system
of household registration and block wardens to monitor the population,
concentrating on those suspected of engaging, or being likely
to engage, in unauthorized political activities. Members of the
security forces committed human rights abuses.
Vietnam is a very poor country undergoing a transition from a
centrally planned to a more market-oriented economy. Agriculture,
primarily rice cultivation, employs two-thirds of the work force
and accounts for one-third of gross domestic product (GDP). As
a result of reforms, the country has experienced rapid growth
in many industries, including construction, petroleum, textiles,
and light manufacturing. Exports, led by crude oil, rice, marine
products, textiles, and foodstuffs, have increased sharply. Estimated
annual GDP per capita has increased to approximately $300. Particularly
in urban areas, economic reforms have raised the standard of living
and reduced party and government control over, and intrusion into,
people's daily lives.
The Government's human rights record continued to be poor. The
Government continued to repress basic political and some religious
freedoms and to commit numerous abuses. While the VCP moved to
reform procedures and debate within itself, the Government denied
citizens the right to change their government and significantly
restricted freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association,
privacy, and religion. The Government arbitrarily arrested and
detained citizens, including detention for peaceful expression
of political and religious objections to government policies,
and denied them the right to a fair and expeditious trial. The
Government continued its longstanding policy of not tolerating
most types of public dissent and of prohibiting independent religious,
political, and labor organizations. There were credible reports
that security officials beat detainees. Prison conditions were
harsh. Societal discrimination and violence against women remained
problems. Trafficking in children for prostitution within Vietnam
and to other countries grew, although the Government moved to
combat the problem.
Within still narrow parameters, the National Assembly and the
press engaged in increasingly vigorous debate on legal, economic,
and social issues, and there was continued progress in building
a legal infrastructure. In July a new Civil Code took effect
that included an administrative court system to deal with complaints
about abuse and corruption by state officials. The trend toward
reduced government interference in people's daily lives continued,
as did the trend toward economic liberalization. The Government
allowed people slightly greater freedom of expression and assembly
to protest grievances, but intermittently restricted some activities
of clergy. There were credible reports that some political prisoners
were denied visitation rights and that certain prisons employ
the use of forced labor, sometimes as part of commercial ventures.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no known politically motivated extrajudicial killings.
Little information is available on the extent of deaths in police
custody or on official investigations into such incidents. The
Government is investigating a case reported in the domestic media
wherein police may have tried to cover up the death of a man in
police custody by attempting to depict his death as a suicide.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment
The law prohibits physical abuse. However, there is evidence
that security officials beat detainees and used threats and other
psychological coercion to elicit confessions. There were no known
reports of torture of detainees. Little information is available
on the extent of police brutality during interrogations. In September
police beat and detained a foreign journalist reporting on a political
demonstration in the capital.
Prison conditions are harsh. Conditions generally do not threaten
the lives of prisoners, but some released prisoners reported that
the death rate among male prisoners due to disease and violence
was high. Overcrowding, insufficient diet, and poor sanitation
remain serious problems. Conditions in pretrial detention are
particularly harsh, and there were credible reports that detainees
were sometimes denied access to sunlight, exercise, and reading
material. Most prisoners have access to basic health care and,
for those with money, to supplemental food and medicine. However,
there were credible reports that some political prisoners were
denied visitation rights and that some prisons employ the use
of forced labor, sometimes as part of commercial ventures (see
Section 6.c.). Prisoners sentenced to hard labor complained that
the diet and health care were insufficient to sustain their health,
especially when they were detained in remote, disease-ridden areas.
Several political prisoners with serious medical conditions are
being held in harsh conditions in remote prisons with little access
to medical care. For example, Dr. Doan Viet Hoat (see Section
l.e.) continued to serve a 15-year sentence at the Thanh Cam camp,
in a remote and malaria-ridden area of Thanh Hoa province, 1,400
kilometers from his home and relatives. His location has made
it difficult for his family to provide medicine for his kidney
disorder. Similarly, Do Van Thac, imprisoned for 14 years (reduced
to 12 years) on charges of attempting to overthrow the Government,
remains imprisoned in remote Nam Ha province despite having suffered
a stroke and suffering from heart disease. Dr. Nguyen Dan Que
has been held in isolation in Camp Z30A-K3 in Xuan Loc, Dong Nai
province for nearly 3 years. Reports indicate Thich Hai Tang,
a Buddhist monk convicted of involvement in a demonstration by
Buddhists in Hue in 1993 and sentenced to 4 years in prison, is
ill and being held in solitary confinement.
The Government does not permit independent monitoring of its prison
and detention system, although it did allow an Australian parliamentary
delegation to visit one prison in 1995. The United Nations Working
Group on Human Rights visited several prisons in October 1994.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The Government continued to arrest people arbitrarily. Although
the 1990 Criminal Procedure Code provides various rights for detainees,
including time limits on pretrial detention and the right of the
accused to have a lawyer present during interrogation, in practice
the authorities often ignore these legal safeguards.
Law enforcement officials appear able to arrest and incarcerate
people without presenting arrest warrants. In cases where a warrant
is presented, the procurator rather than an independent judiciary
approves issuance of warrants. Once arrested, detainees often
are held for lengthy periods without formal charges or trial.
Nguyen Xuan Tu, also known as Ha Si Phu, and Le Hong Ha were
held without trial from December 5, 1995 until their 1-day trial
on August 22. Ha was released on December 9.
Those arrested for peaceful expression of their views are likely
to be charged under any one of several provisions in the Criminal
Code outlawing acts against the State.
No official statistics are available on what percentage of the
prison population consists of pretrial detainees or the average
period of time such detainees have been held. It is difficult
to determine the exact number of political detainees in part because
the Government does not usually publicize such arrests and frequently
conducted closed trials and sentencing.
The Government does not use exile as a means of political control
but has employed internal exile to restrict the movement of certain
political or religious dissidents. For example, credible reports
indicate that the leader of the United Buddhist Church of Vietnam
(UBCV), Thich Huyen Quang, remains in a remote area of Quang Ngai
province, where he was involuntarily moved from his pagoda in
1995. Similarly, two Buddhist monks, released in 1995 after serving
sentences, were removed from their base pagoda in Hue in November
and restricted to their home villages.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
While the Constitution provides for the independence of judges
and jurors, in practice the VCP controls the courts closely at
all levels, selecting judges primarily for political reliability.
Credible reports indicate that party officials, including top
leaders, instruct courts on how to rule on politically important
cases. The President appoints judges.
The court system consists of local people's courts, military tribunals,
and the Supreme People's Court. The Supreme People's Court can
review cases from the lower courts or
tribunals. In addition, local mass organizations are empowered
to deal with minor breaches of law or disputes. Economic courts
handle commercial disputes, and administrative courts deal with
complaints by citizens about official abuse and corruption; they
have addressed few cases since their creation in 1993. In July
the 838-article Civil Code came into effect, a major step in efforts
to strengthen the rule of law.
The People's Procuracy has unchecked power to bring charges against
the accused and serves as prosecutor during trials. A judging
council, made up of a judge and one or more people's jurors (lay
judges), determines guilt or innocence and also passes sentence
on the convicted. The relevant people's council appoints people's
jurors, who are required to be people of high moral standards
but who are not required to have legal training.
Trials are generally open to the public, although judicial authorities
sometimes closed trials or strictly limited attendance in sensitive
cases. For example, the 1-day trial of Ha Si Phu, Le Hong Ha,
and Nguyen Kien Giang on August 22 was closed to the public.
The Government did not respond to requests by foreign diplomats
to attend the trial. Defendants have the right to be present
at their trial and to have a lawyer, and the defendant or the
defense lawyer has the right to cross-examine witnesses. In political
cases, however, there are credible reports that defendants were
not allowed access to government evidence in advance of the trial,
to cross-examine witnesses, or to challenge statements. Little
information is available on the extent to which defendants and
their lawyers have time to prepare for trials. Those convicted
have the right to appeal. Although Vietnam has made some progress
in developing a legal system, many judges and other court officials
lack adequate legal training. Government efforts to develop a
fair, effective judicial system were undermined by the lack of
openness in the judicial process and the continuing subservience
of the judiciary to the Party.
The Government continued to hold a number of political prisoners
incarcerated for the peaceful expression of dissenting religious
or political views. For example, Doan Viet Hoat is serving a
15-year sentence for publishing a reformist newsletter. His family
reports that the Government has withheld food, medicine, and letters
that they have sent him, and denied him reading materials. Others
arrested with him, including Pham Duc Kham, Nguyen Van Thuan,
and Le Duc Vuong, are also serving lengthy prison sentences.
Human rights activist Nguyen Dan Que, sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment
in 1991 for publicly supporting political reform and respect for
human rights, remains in isolation in prison despite being in
poor health. Nine people, including Nguyen Dinh Huy, remain in
prison for trying to organize a conference on democracy in Ho
Chi Minh City in 1993. At least seven Catholic priests of the
Congregation of the Mother Co-redemptrix remain in prison under
long sentences imposed after their 1987 arrest and conviction
on charges of "sowing disunity between the people and State."
Following diplomatic appeals, in February the SRV released political
prisoner Doan Thanh Liem from prison and allowed him and his family
to emigrate for humanitarian reasons.
Hoang Minh Chinh was released on June 14 upon completion of his
12-month sentence. Chinh was arrested with Do Trung Hieu in 1995
for spreading "antisocialist propaganda," apparently
for writings that urged the party to admit past mistakes and move
toward national reconciliation (see Section 2.a.). Chinh and
Hieu were convicted of "abusing democratic privileges"
and sentenced to 12 and 18 months' imprisonment, respectively.
Ha Si Phu was released December 9 after completion of his 12-month
sentence, including 8 months detention (see Section 2.a.).
Vietnamese exile groups have claimed that there are as many as
1,000 political prisoners in the country; other reliable sources
put the figure closer to 200. Amnesty International lists 70
prisoners held for political reasons, but suggests that the number
may be higher. The Government continued to release prisoners
as part of regular amnesties to commemorate important national
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home,
The Constitution provides for the right to privacy of home and
correspondence. The Government continued, however, to operate
a nationwide system of surveillance and control through household
registration and block wardens who use informants to keep track
of individuals' activities. Citizens must register when they
change locations. However, many foreign observers believe that
this monitoring was done with less vigor and efficiency than in
the past, as the authorities focused on those suspected of involvement
in unauthorized political or religious activities. Anecdotal
evidence suggests that government monitoring is stricter in the
south, especially in Ho Chi Minh City. In urban areas, most citizens
were free to maintain contact and work with foreigners.
The Government continued to open and censor mail, confiscate packages,
and monitor telephone, electronic mail, and fax transmissions.
The Party now exerts less pressure on people than it has in the
past to belong to one or more mass organizations, which exist
for villages, city districts, schools, workers (trade unions),
youth, and women. Membership in the VCP remains an aid to advancement
in the Government or in state companies and is vital for promotion
to senior levels of the Government. At the same time, diversification
of the economy has made membership in mass organizations and the
VCP less essential to financial and social advancement.
The Government continued to implement a family planning policy
that urges all families to have no more than two children. In
principle the Government can deny promotions and salary increases
to government and party employees with more than two children.
In practice the penalty is not applied to employees in good standing.
For others, there are no penalties for those with more than two
children, but local regulations permit fines based on the cost
of extra social services incurred by the larger family, or reductions
in state subsidies for those services. These penalties are not
uniformly or universally applied.
While foreign language periodicals are widely available in the
cities, the Government regularly censors articles about the country
in foreign periodicals for sale within the country. The Government
has not allowed citizens free access to the Internet, citing concerns
for national security and cultural preservation. It formally
restricted access to satellite television to top officials, foreigners,
hotels, and the press by a November edict.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press,
but in practice the Government severely limits these freedoms,
especially concerning political and religious subjects.
Both the Constitution and the Criminal Code include broad national
security and antidefamation provisions that the Government uses
to strictly limit such freedoms. The Party and Government tolerated
public discussion and even criticism somewhat more than in the
past, although less than in the period from 1987 to 1989. For
example, citizens could and did complain openly about bureaucratic
lethargy, administrative procedures, corruption, and even economic
policy. However, the Government continued to clamp down on free
speech that strayed outside narrow limits to question the role
of the Party, criticize individual SRV leaders, promote pluralism,
multiparty democracy, or question the regime's policies on sensitive
matters such as human rights. There continued to be an ambiguous
line between what constituted private speech about sensitive matters,
which would be tolerated, and public speech in those areas, which
would not. On August 22, the authorities tried and convicted
two dissidents, Ha Si Phu and Le Hong Ha, a former security official,
on charges of illegally possessing secret government documents
(see Section 1.e.). Ha Si Phu was arrested on December 6, 1995
for criticizing the regime. Le Hong Ha was arrested at the same
time for involvement with efforts to convince the Party to address
The Party, Government, and Party-controlled mass organizations
control all print and electronic media. The Government exercises
oversight through the Ministry of Culture, supplemented by pervasive
party guidance and national security legislation sufficiently
broad to ensure effective self-censorship in the domestic media.
In July the Government threatened to prosecute three state- or
party-owned newspapers for "disclosing state secrets"
after they criticized government actions in the nation's aviation
and oil industries.
The Government also approved a number of new newspapers for publication;
none are privately owned. With apparent party approval, several
newspapers engaged in investigative reporting on corruption and
mismanagement as well as in open and sometimes heated debate on
economic policy. The Government made no effort to limit access
to international radio, to which many citizens listen regularly,
although it restricted access to the Internet and censored foreign
publications (see Section 1.f.).
Foreign journalists must be approved by the Foreign Ministry's
Press Center and must be based in Hanoi, and the number of foreign
staff allowed each foreign press organization is limited. The
Center monitors journalists' activities and decides on a case-by-case
basis whether to approve their interview, photograph, film, or
travel requests. A Foreign Ministry official accompanies foreign
journalists during all interviews with Vietnamese. The Government
censors television footage and delays export of footage by several
On September 9, uniformed and plain clothes police beat, kicked,
and detained a foreign journalist for taking photographs of a
small protest demonstration in Hanoi. The Foreign Ministry announced
on September 13 that it would investigate the incident, the first
physical assault on a journalist about which information is publicly
available. In September the Government refused to extend the
visa of a correspondent working for an international business
magazine, effectively expelling him for articles that he had written
which displeased the Government.
A general trend toward increased information flow appeared to
extend into the university system. Foreign academic visitors
working temporarily at universities said that they were able to
discuss nonpolitical issues widely and freely in the classroom,
but government monitors regularly attended classes taught by foreigners
and Vietnamese without official notification. Academic publications
usually reflect the views of the Party and the Government.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The right of assembly is restricted in law and practice. People
wishing to gather in a group are required to apply for a permit,
which local authorities can issue or deny arbitrarily. However,
people routinely gathered in informal groups without government
interference. The Government does not permit demonstrations that
could be seen as having a political purpose, but was more tolerant
than in the past of occasional popular demonstrations about specific
grievances against local officials. Nonetheless, the Government
did not tolerate extended demonstrations. For example, authorities
arrested several leaders and suppressed a protest over expropriation
of land for a golf course financed abroad.
With a few exceptions, the Government prohibits the establishment
of private, independent organizations, insisting that individuals
work within established, party-controlled organizations. Citizens
may not establish any sort of independent organization, including
political parties, labor unions, religious, or veterans organizations.
c. Freedom of Religion
Both the Constitution and government decrees provide for freedom
of worship, but the Government continued to restrict severely
religious activities it defined as at variance with state laws
and policies. The Government generally allowed people to practice
the religion of their choice, and participation in religious activities
throughout the country continued to increase. However, the Government
also maintained policies designed to control religious hierarchies
and organized religious activities, in part because it fears that
organized religion may undermine the Party's authority and influence.
Religious organizations must obtain government permission to hold
training seminars, conventions, and celebrations outside the regular
religious calendar, to build or remodel places of worship, to
engage in charitable activities or operate religious schools,
and to ordain, promote, or transfer clergy. All religious groups
continued to face difficulty in obtaining teaching materials,
expanding training facilities in response to increasing demand
for clergy, and publishing religious materials.
The Government requires all Buddhist monks to work under the party-controlled
Buddhist umbrella organization. The Government has actively continued
to suppress efforts by the UBCV to operate independently. The
tension between the Government and the UBCV, which resurfaced
in 1992 and increased in 1993-94, continued in 1996. Despite
SRV claims to the contrary, credible reports indicate that the
UBCV's leader, the Venerable Thich Huyen Quang, remains under
house arrest or
other confinement in a remote area of Quang Ngai Province. Worshipers
in several Buddhist, Catholic, and Cao Dai sect centers of worship
regularly report that undercover government observers attend worship
services and monitor the activities of the congregations and clergy.
The Government has sought to control the Catholic Church hierarchy,
in part by requiring that all clergy to belong to the government-controlled
Catholic Patriotic Association. It has also insisted on approving
Vatican appointments. The Church hierarchy remained frustrated
with the Government's restrictions. In a February 2 letter to
the Archbishop of Hanoi, Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet prohibited
elder Bishop Huynh Van Nghi from being assigned to any post.
The Government prohibits the Catholic Church from educational
and charitable activities because it will not accept government
supervision and authority, as Buddhist congregations do.
The Government allowed bishops and priests to travel freely within
their dioceses, but continued to restrict their travel outside
these areas. The Government has limited the Church to operating
6 major seminaries throughout the country, totaling approximately
700 students. The Government allows the Church to recruit new
students only every 2 years. All students must be approved by
the Government, both upon entering the seminary and prior to ordination
as priests. The number of graduating students was insufficient
to support the growing Catholic population, estimated at 5 million.
In his February 2 letter, the Prime Minister reiterated that
local officials have the right to approve or disapprove the selection
of candidates for training, continuation of study, and ordination.
This power lies principally with the People's Committee of the
province or city where the candidate lives.
In November the Government reported that it had closed a Zen Buddhist
center in Dalat, alleging that its leader was not a real monk
and had been sexually abusing his followers. There is evidence
that the monk and the center had been legally registered as a
Buddhist center since before 1975. There are reports that the
followers allegedly abused by the monk have denied the reports
and are seeking to sue government newspapers for spreading false
reports. Witnesses reported that police destroyed the center.
The Christian Missionary Alliance of Vietnam, the only government-approved
Protestant organization in the country, enjoyed slightly greater
freedom to operate. Church attendance grew despite continued
government restrictions on proselytizing activities. Nongovernmental
organizations (NGO's) reported continued arrests and government
harassment of some ethnic Hmong Protestants for proselytizing
in northern Vietnamese villages. In February police in Ho Chi
Minh City and Pleiku
disbanded meetings held by Christians that included expatriates.
Police interrogated, then released, the participants. The authorities
in Hanoi questioned, harassed, and fined a U.S. citizen for distributing
pens bearing a Christian religious symbol. According to reports,
police interrogated her repeatedly during October and November,
before fining and expelling her. There have been reports that
members of the Cao Dai religion have also been subject to arbitrary
detention and persecution.
There is no officially sanctioned umbrella organization for Protestants.
Reports indicate that Protestant congregations are not allowed
to cooperate on joint religious observances or other activities.
The Government restricts exit permits for Muslims seeking to make
the hajj (see Section 1.d.).
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel,
Emigration, and Repatriation
Most citizens enjoy freedom of movement within the country. However,
there were credible reports that local authorities required members
of ethnic minority groups to obtain permission to travel outside
certain highland areas. Officially, citizens must obtain permission
to change their residence. In practice many people continued
to move without approval, although this prevented them from obtaining
legal work permits. Foreigners are generally free to travel throughout
the country. Although the Government retains the right to approve
travel to border areas, to some areas in the central highlands,
and to some islands, in practice foreigners can easily travel
to most border areas without approval.
The Government still requires citizens traveling abroad, including
government officials, to obtain exit and reentry visas. Both
law and regulation provide for the right of all citizens to obtain
an exit permit, except for: Members of the small Muslim community
seeking to make the hajj; political activists; certain Buddhist
clerics; the mentally ill; those serving prison sentences; under
criminal investigation; holding state secrets; suffering serious
health problems; involved in tax or real estate disputes; or whose
sponsors are engaged abroad in activities opposed to the Government.
The Government maintains the right to reject exit visa applications
in these categories.
The Government continued to permit limited departure for some
Vietnamese seeking to emigrate. The U.S. Orderly Departure Program
(ODP) continued to resettle immigrant and refugee beneficiaries
in the United States, including Amerasians, former reeducation
camp detainees, and family unification
cases, at the rate of about 2,000 persons per month. Other nations
operate smaller resettlement programs for Vietnamese citizens.
There are some concerns that members of minority ethnic groups,
particularly highland peoples, such as the Montagnards, may not
have ready access to these programs. The Government continued
to deny exit permits for certain Montagnard applicants for emigration
to the United States. Former political prisoner Doan Thanh Liem
emigrated to the United States through the ODP in February.
Citizens' access to exit permits is frequently constrained by
factors outside the law. Refugee and immigrant visa applicants
to the ODP sometimes encounter local officials who arbitrarily
deny exit permits based on personal animosities or the official's
perception that an applicant does not meet program criteria.
In May Vietnam and the United States reached an agreement in principle
to allow several thousand Vietnamese living in refugee camps in
Southeast Asia to apply for resettlement in the United States,
provided that they first return to Vietnam and apply in writing.
The two governments are consulting on implementation of the agreement.
The Government generally permits Vietnamese who emigrate to return
to visit, but it considers them Vietnamese citizens and therefore
subject to the obligations of a Vietnamese national under the
law even if they have adopted another country's citizenship.
However, Vietnamese who have emigrated are not able to obtain
Vietnamese passports. Because overseas Vietnamese are both a
valuable potential source of foreign exchange and expertise and
a potential security threat, the Government generally encourages
them to visit Vietnam but monitors many of them carefully.
In 1988 Vietnam signed a memorandum of understanding with the
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to increase
acceptance of voluntary repatriates, provided that there was financial
assistance. The agreement included a commitment to waive prosecution
and punitive measures for illegal departure from Vietnam of persons
who return under the UNHCR Voluntary Repatriation Program. Vietnam
also agreed to permit the UNHCR to monitor the returnees through
direct visits. More than 106,000 Vietnamese have returned voluntarily.
The UNHCR, which extensively monitors those who have repatriated
voluntarily, reports that they do not face retribution or discrimination.
There was no credible evidence to substantiate claims that refugees
returning under UNHCR auspices were harassed because of their
status as returnees.
The Constitution allows consideration of asylum for foreigners
persecuted abroad under certain circumstances. Otherwise, Vietnam
is not signatory to, and does not have provisions for, the granting
of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the standards of
the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and
its 1967 Protocol. There were no reports of individuals requesting
asylum in Vietnam. In the past, Vietnam admitted refugees from
Cambodia, most of whom were ethnic Vietnamese, most recently 30,000
persons between 1993 and 1995. The Government cooperates with
the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees.
There were no reports of forced return of persons to a country
where they feared persecution.
Section 3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of
Citizens to Change Their Government
Citizens are not free to change their government. All authority
and political power is vested in the VCP; political opposition
and other political parties are not tolerated. The VCP Central
Committee is the supreme decisionmaking body in the nation, and
the Politburo is the locus of policymaking. The Eighth Congress
of the VCP in June replaced the Secretariat of the Central Committee
with a standing board, consisting of five members of the Politburo,
to oversee day-to-day implementation of leadership directives.
Debate and criticism are limited to certain aspects of individual,
state, or party performance determined by the VCP itself. No
public challenge to the legitimacy of the one-party state or even
debate on the subject is permitted (see Section 2.a.).
Citizens elect the members of the National Assembly, ostensibly
the main legislative body, but the Party approves all candidates,
almost all of whom are VCP members. During its semi-annual month-long
sessions in April and October, the National Assembly engaged in
increasingly vigorous debate on economic, legal, and social issues,
including corruption, management of the budget, and foreign investment.
Legislators questioned and criticized ministers. However, the
National Assembly remained subservient to the VCP. It does not
initiate legislation and may not pass legislation that the Party
opposes. Party officials occupied most senior government and
National Assembly positions and continued to have the final say
on key issues.
The law provides the opportunity for equal participation in politics
by women and minority groups, but in practice they are underrepresented.
Most of the top leaders are male. In June the Party for the
first time elected a woman to the Politburo. Women hold a few
important positions, including vice president and several vice
ministerships or equivalent positions. The president of the National
Assembly, who is also a Politburo member, is a member of an ethnic
Section 4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International
and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human
The Government does not permit private human rights organizations
to form or operate. It generally prohibits private citizens from
contacting international human rights organizations. The Government
permitted international visitors to monitor implementation of
its repatriation commitments under the Comprehensive Plan of Action
and carried on a limited dialog with foreign human rights organizations
based outside Vietnam. The Government continued to refuse entry
to some major international human rights NGO's. However, the
Government did permit the September visit by a delegation from
the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The Government has shown increased willingness to discuss human
rights issues bilaterally with other governments if such discussions
take place under the rubric of "exchanges of ideas"
rather than as "investigations." Several foreign governments
held official talks concerning human rights issues.
Section 5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on gender, ethnicity,
religion, or social class. Enforcement of these prohibitions
has been uneven. People released from reeducation camps over
the years have reported varying levels of discrimination in the
areas of housing and education. They are generally not eligible
to regain their citizenship rights until 1 year after their release.
They and their families are not allowed employment with the Government,
although this prohibition was less problematic than in the past
because of the growth of private sector job opportunities.
Although the law addresses the issue of domestic violence, there
is credible evidence that the problem is on the rise, and that
the laws are not enforced adequately. International NGO workers
and many women have stated that domestic violence against women
is common. Most divorces are due to domestic violence, although
many women remain in abusive marriages rather than confront the
stigma of divorce. Domestic abuse appears to be more prevalent
in rural areas.
The Government, international NGO's, and the press reported a
marked increase in recent years in the trafficking of women both
domestically and abroad for purposes of prostitution. Organized
rings reportedly lure poor, often rural, women with promises of
jobs or marriage and force them to work as prostitutes. Some
are kidnapped and sold as wives to men in other countries. The
press and anecdotal sources indicate that the problem of sex tourism
is growing, with increasing prostitution of children. The Government
is working with NGO's to supplement law enforcement measures in
While there is no legal discrimination, women face deeply ingrained
social discrimination. Despite extensive provisions in the Constitution,
in legislation, and in regulations that mandate equal treatment,
and although some women occupy high government posts, in general
few women are able to compete effectively for higher status positions.
The Government has not enforced the constitutional provision
that women and men must receive equal pay for equal work. The
large body of legislation and regulations devoted to the protection
of women's rights in marriage as well as in the workplace and
the new labor law calling for the preferential treatment of women
are distant from the reality of many, if not most, women.
The party-controlled Women's Union has a broad agenda to promote
women's rights, including political, economic, and legal equality,
and protection from spousal abuse. NGO's and international organizations
regard the Union highly, but they and Women's Union representatives
believe that it will take some time to overcome societal prejudices.
The Government also has a Committee for the Advancement of Women,
led by the Vice President, who is a woman.
Reputable international organizations, including the U.N. Children's
Fund (UNICEF), commend the Government's interest in children's
issues and its promotion of child welfare. While education is
compulsory, the authorities do not enforce the requirement, especially
in rural areas (see Section 6.d.). The Government has continued
a nationwide immunization campaign, and the government-controlled
press regularly stresses the importance of health and education
for all children. Despite some success, UNICEF estimates that
there are still 3 million children living in "especially
Widespread poverty has contributed to the reported increase in
trafficking of minors domestically and to foreign destinations
as prostitutes. UNICEF reported that responsible government agencies
are seriously engaged in combatting this abuse. There is no information
publicly available on the extent of child abuse (see Section 6.c.).
People with Disabilities
The Government provides little official protection or support
for the disabled, and there are no laws mandating physical
access to buildings. However, the 1994 Labor Law requires the
State to protect the rights and encourage the employment of the
disabled. It includes provisions for preferential treatment for
firms that recruit disabled persons for training or apprenticeship
and a special levy on firms that do not employ disabled workers.
It is uncertain whether the Government enforces these provisions.
The Government has permitted international groups to assist those
who have been disabled by war or by subsequent accidents involving
Although the Government says that it is opposed to discrimination
against ethnic minorities, there continued to be credible reports
that local officials sometimes restricted ethnic minority access
to education, employment, mail services, and travel, both domestic
and foreign. The Government continued to implement policies designed
to narrow the gap in the standard of living between ethnic groups
living in the highlands and lowland ethnic Vietnamese by granting
preferential treatment to domestic and foreign companies investing
in highland areas. There were anecdotal reports that the Government
continued to repress some highland minorities for suspected ties
with resistance groups.
Section 6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
All unions are Party-controlled. Workers are not free to form
or join unions of their choosing unless they have obtained approval
from the local office of the Party-controlled Trade Union Federation
of Vietnam (VGCL). The VGCL is the umbrella organization under
which all local trade unions must operate. The 1994 Labor Law
requires provincial trade union organizations to establish unions
at all new enterprises with more than 10 employees as well as
at existing enterprises that currently operate without trade unions.
Management of those companies is required to accept and cooperate
with those unions. However, many joint ventures and small, private
companies, especially at the retail level, do not have unions.
The Labor Law provides for the right to strike under certain circumstances.
It calls for management and labor to resolve labor disputes through
the enterprise's own labor conciliatory council. If that fails,
the matter goes to the provincial labor arbitration council.
On July 1, new labor courts within the people's court system came
into being. The new courts have begun to hear a small number
of cases, but still are in the early stages of development. Unions
have the right to appeal a
council decision to the provincial people's court and to strike.
However, the law prohibits strikes at enterprises that serve
the public and those that are important to the national economy
or national security and defense; these functions are defined
by the Government. The law also grants the Prime Minister the
right to suspend a strike considered detrimental to the national
economy or public safety. On August 29, the Prime Minister prohibited
strikes in 54 occupational sectors and businesses including public
services, businesses producing "essential" goods, and
businesses serving national defense under the Ministries of Interior
and National Defense.
The number of strikes increased in 1996, primarily against foreign-owned
companies but also involving state-owned and private firms. The
Government tolerated these strikes, which were mostly illegal.
None was organized by the VGCL or its affiliate unions. The
Labor Law prohibits retribution against strikers, and there have
been no credible reports of such retribution. In the wake of
several highly publicized strikes, the SRV has promulgated new
procedures for settlement of strikes as well as individual claims
related to labor problems. The new procedures took effect on
Unions are not legally free to, and do not in practice, join,
affiliate with, or participate in international labor bodies.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Workers have the right to organize unions in their enterprises,
but they must be approved by the provincial or metropolitan branch
of the VGCL. They also can bargain collectively through the party-approved
unions at their enterprises. In the past, the State generally
set wages, since most employees worked for state companies. With
the growth of the private sector and the increased autonomy of
state firms, a growing percentage of companies are setting wages
through collective bargaining with the relevant unions. Market
forces also play a much more important role in determining wages.
The Labor Code prohibits antiunion discrimination on the part
of employers against employees seeking to organize.
The Government has approved formation of a number of export processing
zones and new industrial zones, which are governed by the same
labor laws as the rest of the country.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Labor Law prohibits all forms of forced labor. However, there
were credible reports that some prisons employ the use of forced
labor, sometimes as part of commercial ventures.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The Labor Law sets the minimum age for employment at 15 years.
Children as young as 13 can register at trade training centers,
which are a form of vocational training. There are compulsory
education laws, but they are not effectively enforced, especially
in rural areas where children are needed in agriculture. However,
the culture's strong emphasis on education leads people who can
afford it to send their children to school rather than to work.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Labor Law requires the Government to set a minimum wage, which
changes with inflation and other economic changes. The monthly
minimum wage for foreign-investment joint ventures is $35 (385,000
dong) in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city and $30 (330,000 dong) elsewhere.
The minimum monthly wage for Vietnamese-owned companies is $11
(120,000 dong). This minimum wage alone is insufficient to provide
a worker and family with a decent standard of living. Many workers
receive bonuses and supplement their incomes by engaging in entrepreneurial
activities. A decreasing number of workers receive government-subsidized
housing. The Government enforces the minimum wage at foreign
and major Vietnamese firms.
The Labor Law sets working hours at a maximum of 8 hours per day
and 48 hours per week, with a mandatory 24-hour break each week.
Any additional hours require overtime pay, and the law limits
compulsory overtime. It is uncertain how well the Government
enforces these provisions.
The Labor Law requires the Government to promulgate rules and
regulations to ensure worker safety. The Ministry of Labor, in
coordination with local people's committees and labor unions,
is charged with enforcing the regulations. In practice, enforcement
is inadequate because of the Ministry's inadequate funding. Anecdotal
evidence indicates that workers, through labor unions, have been
more effective in forcing changes in working conditions than has
the Government. There was no information on the ability of workers
to remove themselves from work situations that endanger health
or safety without jeopardy to their continued employment.
[end of document]
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