EU Must Press
Vietnam to End Abuses, Rights Groups Say
RFA | 02-18-2020
The European Union must press Vietnam to end its ongoing crackdown on civil
society and political dissent, human rights groups said ahead of a Feb. 19
rights dialogue between the EU and the one-party communist state.
Writing in a Feb. 17 statement, Human Rights Watch said that by ratifying an
EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement last week, the European Parliament missed an
important opportunity to secure “enforceable commitments” for reforms in
“EU officials should warn the Vietnamese government during the human rights
dialogue that failure to meet those commitments could result in suspension of
the agreements’ benefits,” HRW Asia Advocacy director John Sifton said.
Ratified by the EU on Feb. 12, the EVFTA will eliminate 99 percent of tariffs on
goods between the EU and the Southeast Asian country, although some will be
reduced over a 10-year period and others will be limited by quotas.
The vote to approve the agreement was made over the objections of international
and Vietnamese NGOs who had urged lawmakers to postpone consent on the
agreement, signed in June 2019, until Vietnam’s government agrees to protect the
rights of workers and ensure human rights.
The EU is Vietnam’s second-largest export market after the U.S., mostly for
garment and footwear products, sending the EU U.S. $42.5 billion worth of goods
and services and importing $13.8 billion worth of goods and services in 2018.
Vietnam should now release all prisoners and detainees held for political
offenses and abolish articles in the country’s penal code used “to punish anyone
who expresses views or joins an independent group that Vietnam’s Communist Party
sees as a threat to its monopoly on power,” HRW said.
“Numerous rounds of EU-Vietnam human rights dialogues [have] failed to persuade
the country to reverse its abusive trend, even as separate negotiations for
economic agreements have ended with lucrative deals,” Sifton said.
“The EU needs to connect its economic leverage to the human rights principles it
claims to champion.”
Agreement will enable more abuses
In a separate Feb. 17 statement, the Paris-based International Federation for
Human Rights (FIDH) and its member group the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR)
said that last week’s ratification by the EU of preferential trade terms for
Vietnam is likely now “to embolden Hanoi to continue its crackdown on civil
“The EU must seek concrete actions from the Vietnamese government to ensure that
serious human rights violations don’t become ‘business as usual,’” the rights
groups said, listing issues of primary concern as Vietnam’s suppression of
political dissent and labor rights, its use of repressive “national security
laws,” its handling of land disputes, inhumane prison conditions and deaths in
custody, and use of the death penalty.
Following last year’s EU-Vietnam human rights dialogue held on March 4,
authorities in Vietnam continued to harass, assault, and detain labor, land, and
human rights activists, with bloggers, religious followers, and government
critics also targeted for repression, FIDH and VCHR said.
And from March 5, 2019 to Feb. 5 of this year, authorities arrested 29 human
rights activists and sentenced 42 to prison terms of up to 12 years, the rights
“The Vietnamese government’s lack of commitment to respect its international
obligations is extremely disturbing, especially at this critical time in
EU-Vietnam relations,” VCHR president Vo Van Ai said, adding, “We urge the EU to
ensure that the upcoming human rights dialogue contains specific, measurable,
and time-based objectives.”
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese
Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.