Bloggers Demand Vietnam Comply with Human Rights Rules

A network of 65 Vietnamese bloggers are demanding that the country amend its laws to demonstrate a commitment to cooperate with the United Nations Human Rights Council on human rights before it can qualify to become a member of the UN organization.

The group sent its petition to 17 major human rights and governmental organizations this week.

The country is a candidate for the US Human Rights Commission for 2014-2016 despite the fact that it maintains one of Southeast Asia's strictest policies against dissent. On July 19, US State Department officials told a Congressional subcommittee that closer ties with Vietnam, in particular weapons sales, are on hold until there is "continued, demonstrable, sustained improvement in the human rights situation."

Unfortunately, the UN has had a record of appointing some of the world's worst human rights violators to the Human Rights Council, including Saudi Arabia, China, Congo, Cuba and Qatar, causing the Bush administration to withdraw from the body. The Obama administration has returned to the organization, insisting on US membership since 2009.

Certainly, concerns over human rights so far haven't slowed Vietnam's crackdown against bloggers. Police arrested yet another one on June 13, charging Pham Viet Dao with "abusing his right of free speech to undermine the interests of the State." According to the Associated Press, 43 dissidents have been jailed this year, twice the pace of 2012.

"Vietnam must demonstrate its commitment to cooperating with the HRC and upholding the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights," the Vietnamese petitioners said in the document, made public earlier this week. "These obligations and responsibilities do not only apply on the international arena, but also inside Vietnam. The Vietnamese government also needs to review the human rights situation in their own country and the Vietnamese people also have a right to freedom of opinion and expression, including on these matters.

"In order to improve the protection of human rights in Vietnam, we will take HRC's principles as guidelines for our actions, which also comply with Vietnam's obligations under international human rights law. The blogger group reported in their open letter that they will continue to attempt to stand up for human rights policies. Their demands follow:

"We will:

- Continue to promote and inform the Vietnamese people about their rights by publicly distributing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), organizing public forums to discuss human rights in Vietnam and advocating for necessary improvements of the respect and protection of human rights.

- Continue to monitor, publicly report and comment on improvement, setbacks, or violations of human rights in Vietnam, with a focus on policy and practice by the Vietnamese authorities that affect human rights.

In order to fulfill these responsible actions, we call upon the Vietnamese government and the HRC to review Article 258 of the 1999 Penal Code, amended in 2009 - "crime of abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens."

In May, two bloggers were detained right after they distributed the UDHR and police accused them of abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state. Only weeks later, two other bloggers were detained after participating an outdoor picnic to discuss the content of the UDHR.

Most recently, in May and June 2013, Article 258 was used to arrest blogger Truong Duy Nhat, Pham Viet Dao, and Dinh Nhat Uy for exercising their rights of freedom of expression by peacefully publishing texts on their blogs.

This article is in breach of the Article 19 of the UDHR: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

It would be a great responsibility to serve as a member state of the Human Rights Council, and an opportunity to promote human rights domestically and abroad. For a successful candidacy, we believe Vietnam must repeal or make amendments to Article 258 to ensure that Vietnamese people are free to educate themselves about and promote human rights.

We hope that Vietnam will consider the abrogation of Article 258 to demonstrate its commitment and contribution to promoting and protecting human rights, and we hope that the General Assembly members will push Vietnam to do so during the campaigning period.

We request Vietnam to present its human rights pledges as a candidate well before the election, to enable members of the General Assembly to assess its human rights commitment. The abrogation of Article 258 should be among the pledges.

As said by Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General - "All victims of human rights abuses should be able to look to the Human Rights Council as a forum and a springboard for action." As advocates for freedom of expression in Vietnam and victims of human rights violations because of our activism, we view Vietnam's candidacy for the HRC as a platform for constructive human rights discussions in our country.

List of the Vietnamese Bloggers Signing the Statement

1. Võ Quốc Anh - Nha Trang

2. Huỳnh Ngọc Chênh - Sài Gòn

3. Phạm Lê Vương Các - Sài Gòn

4. Nguyễn Thảo Chi - Sài Gòn

5. Nguyễn Đắc Hải Di - Oslo, Norway

6. Lê Dũng - Hà Nội

7. Hoàng Văn Dũng - Sài Gòn

8. Nguyễn Văn Dũng - Hà Nội

9. Mai Xuân Dũng - Hà Nội

10. Trương Văn Dũng - Hà Nội

11. Ngô Nhật Đăng - Hà Nội

12. Nguyễn Chí Đức - Hà Nội

13. Phạm Văn Hải - Nha Trang

14. Hoàng Thu Hà - Hà Nội

15. Bùi Thị Minh Hằng - Vũng Tàu

16. Vũ Sỹ Hoàng - Sài Gòn

17. Nguyễn Thị Hợi - Nam Định

18. Lê Anh Hùng - Quảng Trị

19. Trần Văn Huỳnh - Sài Gòn

20. Nguyễn Việt Hưng - Hà Nội

21. Đặng Thị Hường - Hà Nội

22. Nguyễn Xuân Kim - Nghệ An

23. Đặng Ngọc Lan - Hà Nội

24. Bùi Tuấn Lâm - Hà Nội

25. Nguyễn Thùy Linh - Hà Nội

26. Đào Trang Loan - Hà Nội

27. Lê Thăng Long - Sài Gòn

28. Nguyễn Tiến Nam - Yên Bái

29. Phạm Thanh Nghiên - Hải Phòng

30. Vũ Quốc Ngữ - Hà Nội

31. Đào Hữu Nghĩa Nhân - Sài Gòn

32. Bùi Thị Nhung - Sài Gòn

33. Lê Hồng Phong - Hà Nội

34. Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh - Nha Trang

35. Trương Minh Tam - Hà Nội

36. Hồ Đức Thành - Hà Nội

37. Phạm Văn Thành - Pháp

38. Nguyễn Hồ Nhật Thành - Sài Gòn

39. Nguyễn Lân Thắng - Hà Nội

40. Châu Văn Thi - Sài Gòn

41. Khổng Hy Thiêm - Nha Trang

42. Võ Trường Thiện - Nha Trang

43. Linh mục Giuse Đinh Hữu Thoại - Sài Gòn

44. Nguyễn Tường Thụy - Hà Nội

45. Trịnh Kim Tiến - Sài Gòn

46. Phạm Toàn - Hà Nội

47. Lê Thu Trà - Hà Nội

48. Nghiêm Ngọc Trai - Hà Nội

49. Phạm Đoan Trang - Hà Nội

50. Nguyễn Thu Trang - Hà Nội

51. Hoàng Đức Trọng - Sài Gòn

52. Phạm Văn Trội - Hà Nội

53. Hoàng Anh Trung - Hà Nội

54. Nguyễn Anh Tuấn - Đà Nẵng

55. Trịnh Anh Tuấn - Buôn Ma Thuột

56. Vũ Quốc Tú - Sài Gòn

57. Đặng Vũ Tùng - Thụy Sĩ

58. Nguyễn Chí Tuyến - Hà Nội

59. Nguyễn Hoàng Vy - Sài Gòn

60. Nguyễn Văn Viên - Hà Nội

61. Bùi Quang Viễn –Sài Gòn

62. Lê Công Vinh - Vũng Tàu

63. J.B Nguyễn Hữu Vinh - Hà Nội

64. Đặng Tuấn Vũ - Hà Nội

65. Huỳnh Thục Vy - Quảng Nam

List of International Organizations Receiving the Statement

1. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

2. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

3. Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)

4. Human Right Watch

5. Freedom House

6. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

7. International Freedom of Expression Exchange network (IFEX)

8. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

9. Civil Rights Defenders

10. Amnesty International

11. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

12. Human Right Law Network

13. Southeast Asian Human Rights Studies Network (SEAHRN)

14. Southeast Asia Press Alliance(SEAPA)

15. Swedish International Development Cooporation Agency (SIDA)

16. Open Society Foundation (OSF)

17. Front Line Defenders