Guarantee of human rights in Viet Nam and current problems
1/6/2015 19:42' Send story Print story
Guarantee of human rights in Viet Nam, first and foremost, is prompted by objectives of revolution and nature of the social regime chosen by Viet Nam. That is why, even in hash circumstance of years of war, particularly when the country was reunified and in development stages, the Vietnamese State has striven to better guarantee human rights to everybody while paying special attention to vulnerable groups in society.

Guarantee of human rights in Viet Nam

Right in its first Platform, the Communist Party of Viet Nam identified the noble objective of the revolution was to bring about freedom and happiness to the Vietnamese people. It is the highest connotation of human rights. The task of struggle for democracy (including human rights) is put on a par with the task of struggle for national liberation.

Besides two big conventions namely the Covenant on Economic, Cultural and Social Rights and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the following 7 conventions are considered by the world as the “core” of human rights: the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (adopted in 1966 and came into effect in 1969); the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (adopted in 1979 and came into effect in 1981); the Convention against Torture (adopted in 1984 and came into effect in 1984); the Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted in 1989 and came into effect in 1989); the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (adopted in 2006 and came into effect in 2008); and the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (adopted in 1990 and came into effect in 2003). Viet Nam has participated in all of these conventions. On 7 November 2013, Viet Nam officially became member of the Convention against Torture.

After wresting back national independence in 1945, the 1946 Constitution - the first Constitution of the country solemnly recognized human rights. (1) What is special is that the 1946 Constitution included progressive stipulations which some Western developed countries took time to establish. For example, while the 1946 Constitution of Viet Nam recognized “Women have the same rights of men in all domains” (Article 9), in the United States, 144 years after the 1776 Revolution and in France, 155 years after the 1789 Revolution, women’s right to vote was recognized. Women in Switzerland have been able go to the poll since 1971. Not unil the end of the 1950s of the previous century, can the black Americans enjoy equal rights as white Americans; where as immediately after the August 1945 Revolution, the Vietnamese State stipulated: “Besides enjoying equality in interests, ethnic minority people are assisted in all domains to keep abreast of the common level” (Article 8). Additionally, there are other progressive stipulations such as “The elder citizens or citizens with disabilities who cannot work shall receive support. Children are cared for in terms of education” (Article14); “Primary education is compulsory and free of charge. At primary education level, ethnic minority people have the right to learn in their languages. Poor students shall be assisted by the Government” (Article 15).

When standing for election to the United Nations Human Rights Council for the 2014-1016 term, Viet Nam presented 14 voluntary commitments including important commitment such as Viet Nam would develop mechanisms and policies, increase resources to ensure social security and rights of vulnerable social groups consisting of ethnic minority groups, people with disabilities, women and children; and early complete procedures for ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Those progressive stipulations as mentioned above of the 1946 Constitution provided orientations for all activities of the Vietnamese State since its establishment to guarantee human rights. The 1959, 1980, 1992 and 2013 Constitutions continued to supplement and expand regulations on human rights as well as measures to protect human rights, manifesting clearly respect for and ensuring of human rights in Viet Nam.

After Viet Nam was reunified, especially after the comprehensive renovation of the country was started, the issue of human rights has been fully sensitized and implemented. In the 1992 Constitution, for the first time the concept of human rights was constitutionalized. Article 50 of the 1992 Constitution stipulated: “In the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, human rights in the political, civil, economic, cultural and social aspects are respected, find their expression in the rights of citizens and are provided for by the Constitution and the law.”

The 2013 Constitution devotes Chapter II with 36 articles (from Article 14 to 49) on concrete and detail stipulations on human rights, fundamental rights and obligations of citizens. Article 14 of the 2013 Constitution writes: “1. In the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, human rights and citizens' rights in the political, civil, economic, cultural and social fields shall be recognized, respected, protected and guaranteed in accordance with the Constitution and law.” One of the new points of the 2013 Constitution is clearer definition of State responsibilities in exercising human rights; while affirming the principle “control of state power” and other fundamental principles of the law-governed state. Item 2, Article 14 stipulates: “Human rights and citizens' rights may not be limited unless prescribed by a law solely in case of necessity for reasons of national defense, national security, social order and safety, social morality and community well-being.” Hence, stipulations on human rights in Viet Nam’s Constitution are in general conform to international norms on human rights.

On the basis of the Constitution, Viet Nam’s legal framework has been amended, supplemented and completed towards “protect justice and human rights.”

Together with renovation of legislation, over the past years, the Vietnamese State has also carried out important activities such as judicial and administrative reform. These activities are aimed at pushing forward the process of building and completing the socialist State governed by law of Viet Nam; heightening organizations and individuals’ responsibilities in respecting and protecting human rights. The State has approved several national target programs to solve urgent problems of the country such as the Program on Poverty Reduction; the Program on Gender Equality; the Program on Healthcare; and the Program on Socio-economic Development in Especially Difficult Communes, Ethnic and Mountainous Regions, among others.

Implementing the Party and State’s consistent lines and policies to ensure and promote human rights, particularly in the nearly 30 years of comprehensive renovation of the country, Viet Nam has made great and substantive achievements, creating precedent for better guarantee of human rights. Per capita income has increased by 7 folds, from US$ 200 in 1990 to US$ 1,960 in 2013. The number of poor households has remarkably and continuously decreased from 13.7% in 2008 to 7.8% in 2013. The Report on Human Development Index (HDI) of the United Nations Development Program in 2010 recognized that Viet Nam was one of the 10 countries having the highest growth rate of income in 40 years. International community considers Viet Nam as an example in poverty reduction and food security. By now, Viet Nam has achieved 5 out of 8 Millennium Development Goals and is likely to fulfil the remaining goals before the deadline of 2015. Viet Nam has recorded positive results in universalization of education, promotion of gender equality, raising Human Development Index, ensuring religious practices, belief, information freedom, internet access and other fields. Though there are difficulties in economy, due partly to impacts of global financial and monetary situation, the Vietnamese Government has not cut down but strengthened policies to ensure the people’s life, particularly women, children, ethnic minorities, and people living in remote and difficult regions. In 2011-2012 alone, the State spent US$ 1 billion on health insurance for poor and ethnic minority people, health check-ups and disease treatment free of charge for children under 6 years of age, exemption and reduction of school fees, and meal allowances to poor children and children of ethnic minorities.

In the principle of equality and unity for progress among people of different ethnic groups, Viet Nam’s legal framework and policies have been built ensuring that socio-economic development policies take into account demands of ethnic minorities, and pay attention to preservation and promotion of cultural and linguistic values of ethnic minorities, especially through education. Since 2006, approximately 160 legal documents have been promulgated along this line. In 2013, the Strategy on Ethnic Minorities to 2020 was approved and has been implemented to narrow development gap among ethnic groups. Since 2012, 12 ethnic minority languages have been taught in 32 provinces and cities through out the country. With assistance from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Ministry of Education and Training of Viet Nam has piloted bilingual education including mother tongues of ethnic minorities in some provinces and cities and developed plan to expand the model. The State protects the rights of persons with disabilities, cares for, assists and creates conditions for them to better enjoy human rights.

Ms. Pratibha Mehta, Resident Coordinator of the United Nations in Viet Nam highly appreciated efforts made by the Vietnamese Government for people’s participation in exercising human rights. Viet Nam has made numerous progresses in promoting gender equality and the rights of women as well as an positive steps after promulgating policies and strategies on gender equality. Concretely, Viet Nam has increased maternity leave for woman laborers and well implemented the rights of the child.

In international cooperation, Viet Nam has actively participated and cooperated with human rights mechanisms of the United Nations and ASEAN, while attaching importance to dialogues on human rights with some partners such as the European Union (EU), the United States, Switzerland, Norway and Australia. Viet Nam is currently members of almost all of the important international conventions on human rights including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. As a member of human rights mechanisms, Viet Nam has well implemented its international commitments, while accepting some recommendations on concrete human rights issues in Viet Nam. Viet Nam’s election to the United Nations Human Rights Council for the 2014-2016 term is the recognition and appreciation of the international community towards Viet Nam’s achievements in ensuring human rights, and Viet Nam’s participation in promoting human rights in the world and an opportunity for Viet Nam to make greater contribution to global common efforts for human rights through initiatives to attract the United Nations Human Rights Council’s greater concern to problems confronting regional countries.

Achievements recorded both at home and in international arena have enriched Viet Nam’s experiences in promoting human rights.

Some issues on human rights in Viet Nam in the context of international integration

Today, the trends of globalization and regionalization in every aspects of social life are accelerated. Accordingly, human rights aspect is also “globalized” deeply and widely by the International Human Rights Law and other issues related to human rights.

After nearly 70 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, the International Human Rights Law has developed strongly. By now, the International Human Rights Law has encompassed almost all issues of common human rights and rights of vulnerable groups. Together with the development of the International Human Rights Law, countries and territories have joined human rights treaties and accepted supervision by human rights mechanisms. Consequently, member countries have promulgated and implemented national legislation on human rights. Many human rights instruments of the United Nations have been reformed or newly established. Countries and regions in the world have continued discussing and adopting documents to solve newly arisen problems as well as enhancing efficiency of existing human rights instruments, and establishing and operating their own human rights mechanisms.

Nowadays, human rights are used as a “measurement” to gauge several issues, especially development issues. For example, through statistic indexes such as the Human Development Index (HDI), the Gender Development Index (GDI), the Gini-coefficient of Income Inequality (GINI); the Human Poverty Index (HPI) and the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) and others, it is possible to understand the level of human rights enjoyment of people and development level of a society. The “human rights approach” has been used widely in the world and is considered as an effective tool to settle political, economic and social issues. Human rights have become a big topic in international relations as well as of political parties in their struggle for power.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations has made new progresses in promoting human rights in the past years with the adoption of the ASEAN Human rights Declaration and establishment of a commission to monitor the Association’s human rights implementation. After five years of operation, ASEAN human rights organizations have been reviewing the Association’s protection and promotion of human rights as well as in each nation, particularly in broad consultation with civil society in the region. A series of principled issues such as the role and voice of social organizations on human rights issues; consensus in the operation of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission for Human rights (AICHR), the ASEAN Commission for Promotion and Protections of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC), or behavior of these commissions towards human rights in one nation; especially the application of European model of human rights on ASEAN are raised for consideration.

For Viet Nam, the deep and broad process of international integration has posed new demands to the country including enjoyment and protection of rights and fundamental freedom of human beings as well as national obligations towards international and regional human rights mechanisms.

Apart from common challenges to developing countries due to globalization such as inequality in international economic relations, transnational crimes, environmental and climate change problems and century plagues, Viet Nam has to cope with other complex problems. For example, the legal system is not complete and synchronous; the state apparatus is cumbersome, and irrational in some places; state management efficiency and public service responsibility are low; resources for social security are not high and people’s understanding of legislation and human rights are limited.

Those constraints and recent evolution in the world have day by day caused impacts on Viet Nam. Besides, hostile forces are feverishly taken advantage of “democracy” and “human rights” as a tool and an excuse to sabotage the Vietnamese State, intervene in the internal affairs of Viet Nam to realize their strategic goal of steering Viet Nam to capitalist path. They have exploited weaknesses in socio-economic management of certain authorities and wrong doings of cadres and public employees to instigate collective petitions and complains, and “non-violent demonstration”, and demand for “justice” and “equity”.

In face of rapid changes in domestic and world situation, the 11th Congress of the Communist Party of Viet Nam organized in January 2011 pointed out: “Be proactive and active in international integration”, “Proactively participate in international organization’s activities with responsibility; honor all international commitments; engage in open and frank dialogues on freedom, democracy and human rights”, “Inherit and promote cultural traditions of Vietnamese ethnic groups, absorb humankind’s cultural essence, and build a democratic, equitable and civilized society for legitimate interests and human dignity”, “Ensure the rights to information and freedom to creativity of citizens”, “Respect and protect human rights, linking human rights to rights and interests of the nation, country and people’s right to mastery”, and “Guarantee human rights, citizens’ rights and conditions for comprehensive development of everybody.”

The 11th Party Congress laid stress on conditions for exercising human rights: “Socialist democracy is our regime’s nature, the objective and driving force for national development…, ensures all state power belongs to the people. Democracy should be exercised at all levels and in all aspects through operation of the State elected by the people and other direct democratic forms”; “Ensure the principle that all state power belongs to the people and the state power is unified with clear delegation, coordination and control of agencies in the implementation of the three legislative, executive and judicial powers”; transparency in activities of state-power bodies; linking to unceasing renewal and completion of these three agencies and "complete mechanisms for inspection and supervision of the constitutionality, legality on the operations and decisions of state-power bodies; and decisions on violations of the Constitution in legislative, executive and judicial operations.”

Together with identifying the task of constantly caring for people’s rights, the 11th Congress of the Communist Party of Viet Nam also stated clearly that hostile forces have been continuing the scheme of “peaceful evolution”, staging riots and subversion, using the cover of “democracy” and “human rights” to change our country’s political regime and emphasized the tasks of firmly safeguarding independence, sovereignty, reunification, territorial integrity, peace, political stability and national security, order and social safety; proactively fighting to thwart all attempts and sabotage activities conducted by hostile forces against the revolutionary cause of the Vietnamese people. “Democracy is closely linked to discipline, order and institutionalized into laws and protected by law”, “ready to conduct dialogues with related countries and international and regional organizations on democracy and human rights; and proactively and resolutely fighting to defeat all plots and activities to intervene in the internal affairs, and encroach upon independence, sovereignty, reunification, territorial integrity, national security and political stability of Viet Nam.”

Thus, guaranteeing human rights is considered as a primary important task of the State and the political system in Viet Nam, aiming at improving enjoyment of human rights of every Vietnamese citizen while using it as a basis for breaking all attempts of hostile forces to sabotage stability and national development. Viet Nam should constantly discover schemes and activities in the name of human rights to hinder the process of national construction and development on the path to socialism.

To successfully implement the tasks mapped out by the 11th Congress of the Communist Party of Viet Nam, it is necessary to invest in studying to clarify a series of important theoretical issues to create precedent and conditions for human rights. These issues include the role and driving force of human rights towards individual, social and national development; and the role of the socialist law-governed State, market mechanism, people and social organizations’ inclusion in social governance and economic development. Particularly, the role of human rights in theory of scientific socialism.

Achievements in human rights over the past period have constituted a firm foundation for Viet Nam to successfully implement tasks in the area of human rights in the stage of industrialization, modernization and international integration, better ensure human rights for Vietnamese people and make active contribution to promoting international human rights for a world of peace, friendship and progress.

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(1) Human rights are recognized in the forms of “citizens’ rights” in Chapter II Obligations and interests of citizens: “All citizens of Viet Nam have equal rights in the political, economic and cultural domains” (Article 6), “All citizens of Viet Nam are equal before the law, are able to join the administration and national construction depending on their talents and virtues” (Article 7). In Chapter I On Political regime, there were important stipulations conforming to fundamental principles of the International Human Rights Law: “All power of the country belongs to the entire people of Viet Nam regardless of races, man or woman, rich or poor, classes and religions” (Article 1). 

This article was published on Communist Review No 860 (June 2014)

Dang Dung Tri, PhDDirector, Research Institute on Human Rights The Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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