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Human Rights in Vietnam During Renovation Process: Achievements, Challenges and Prospects
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The renovation process which took place in 1986 has brought a new era of development for Vietnam. During 20 years of reform, Vietnam has reached a huge step of theoretical and practical development as well as significant achievements in ensuring the fundamental rights of its people.


1. Acknowledgement:


Before the 1945 August Revolution, under the regime of semi-feudal colonialism, the Vietnamese people did not have their human rights. In the context of harsh disputes between the two blocs and the national struggle against US aggression for liberation and reunification, human rights were not acknowledged entirely, comprehensive and thoroughly. Some considered human rights a means of propaganda or a tactic of “peaceful evolution” plotted by imperialism. Some others argued that socialism meant the comprehensive and absolute liberation of human beings, therefore, no issue of human rights existed in Vietnam and everything was obviously excellent.


Since the beginning of the renovation process, issues relating to human rights have been acknowledged more thoroughly and comprehensively. The 1991 Political Program for the renewal process of the Vietnam Communist Party, for the first time, set a clear target of “building a democratic and civilized society for the true benefits and dignity of human beings”. In addition, “the state defines laws that clarify civil rights and human rights”. The new notion of human rights has been continuously developed and perfected during the renovation process. The Community Party of Vietnam and the State assert that human rights are the fruits of a long-term struggle of working people and oppressed peoples around the world, and the aspirations and values of the human kind. They are the goals and the momentum of the construction and defence of the achievements brought about by the socialist revolution in Vietnam as well. It is also highly noted that democracy promotion and better ensurance of human rights constitute the nature of socialism and the revolutionary career of the Party and State. In a society where class antagonism exists, human rights contain profound class characters. Only in the conditions of national independence, unity and socialism are human rights ensured soundly, broadly and integrally. Individual rights and benefits are both targets and the momentum for the development of socialism, only in which the benefits of individuals, collectives and communities are ensured in harmony. Human rights stay as an inseparable system of civil political, economic, social and cultural rights. Rights are not separated from duties and accountabilities of each people. Human rights closely link with fundamental national rights and are bounded by national sovereignty. Human rights have the characters of the human kind as well as a strong attachment to history, traditions and economic and cultural development of each nation. The State of Vietnam respects and is committed to international treaties on human rights. At the same time, it requires international human rights organizations and other countries to strictly carry out their international pledges.


In that spirit, it is enshrined in Article 15, Vietnam’s amended Constitution 1992, that “In the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, political, civil, economic, cultural and cultural rights are respected and demonstrated in the Constitution and Law”. For the first time in history, human rights became a constitutional principle of the State of Vietnam.


The ninth Congress of the Party in 2001 affirmed, “To take a good care of human beings, protect all the people's lawful rights and interests; respect and implement international conventions on human rights which Viet Nam has signed or acceded to.” The tenth congress in 2006 also stressed, “Proactively participate in the common struggle for human rights. Stay ready to dialogue with concerned countries and international and regional organizations on human rights issues”.


With the new notion of human rights, Vietnam has amended its Constitution 1992 and carried out a judicial renewal towards a socialist state of law as well as promulgated and amended a big number of legal documents. So far, about 13,000 legal documents have been issued, including 40 important laws such as Penal Code, Penal Proceedings Code, Civil Law, Labour Law, Law on Complaints and Denounciations, Law of National Assembly Election, Education Law and Healthcare Law. There have been more than ordinances and over 4,000 regulations issued by the Government and Government’s agencies. According to those documents, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of citizens in accordance with basic conventions on human rights have been domesticized and realized in concrete articles. The National Assembly’s activities have been drastically renovated in the direction of democracy and real authority. The Government governs with law and has been speeding up the administrative reform in order to diminish bureaucracy and burdensome on people. The role of socio-political organizations has also been promoted. Many fundamental principles ensuring human rights have been institutionalized in Vietnam’s law: equality before law and protection by law in civil and political fields, gender equality and retroactive interdiction in Penal Law.


2/ Achivements in ensuring human rights:


a)    The rights to life, physical inviolability and dignity. The right to life is one of the most fundamental right of human beings. It is the first and foremost important right. Rights to life, physical inviolability and dignity and freedom from torture and degrading treatment are stated in the Constitution and concretized in other legal documents, especially the Penal Code and Penal Proceedings Code.


Article 71, the Constitution 1992 stipulates that all citizens shall enjoy protection by law with regard to life. Article 81, Constitution 1992 also stipulates that foreigners living in Vietnam also enjoy these rights. Any act that may infringe upon the right to life of human beings is deemed as the most serious offense and strictly punished by laws. There are 18 articles in the Penal Code that set strict levels of punishment for offences that may directly and/or indirectly infringe on the people’s right to life. It is strictly forbidden to use all forms of harassment, degrading treatment, torture and violation of honour and dignity against a citizen and even criminals. Besides, all citizens are entitled to the inviolability of domicile. Safety and secrecy of correspondence, telephone conversations and telegrams are guaranteed. To meet the needs of the fight against crimes, particularly drug-related ones, Vietnam now maintains death sentence which is only applicable to extremely serious offences, gearing towards its abolishment in the future. The number of offences subject to capital punishment is reduced from 44 to 29. Based on the clement and humanitarian policy and tradition, the Vietnamese State grants amnesties on important national festive days: Lunar New Year, Liberation Day and National Day so that they can soon turn over a new leaf.


b/ Ensuring the rights to vote and stand for election, and to participate in the administration of the state and management of the society.


In Vietnam, the people decide all State’s affairs. According to the Constitution and laws, citizens, regardless of nationality, sex, social background, belief, religion etc, shall, upon reaching the age of 18, have the right to vote, and, upon reaching the age of 21, have the right to stand for elections to the National Assembly and People’s Council. The State of Vietnam strives for ensuring the rights to participate in the management of the State and society for all citizens. In the 11th National Assembly elections for the 2002-2007 term, and the People’s Council elections at various levels on April 25th for the 2004-2009 term, the turn-out is over 99%.


In the past years, the role and activities of the National Assembly have been enhanced. The National Assembly has been effectively discharging its law-making and oversight functions. During the National Assembly sitting, interpellation sessions for cabinet members have become a regular and substantive activity and they are broadcast live. The Prime Minister issued Decree No.29 on May 11th, 1998 on Promoting Democracy at Commune and Ward levels and Decree No.71 on September 8th, 1998 on Promoting Democracy at Work, creating favourable conditions for people to proactively take part in the making and supervising the implementation of State’s policies at local level. The right to lodge complaints and denunciations of citizens is respected and protected; the settlement of citizen’s complaints and denunciations becomes more effective.  According to the law, government agencies must meet, listen and reply to the people.  They must also examine and settle the people’s complaints and denunciations. According to Government Decree 51/2002/NĐ – CP enacted on April 26th, 2002 on implementation of Press Law, within 15 days after receiving citizens’ complaints, denunciations and criticisms through newspapers and press agencies, heads of Government agencies and mass organizations concerned shall inform the press agencies about their solutions. It is also stipulated by law that compensation shall be made for those who suffer material and spiritual losses due to wrong decisions by state competent agencies.


c/ Ensuring freedoms of speech and the press, and the right to information


It is stated in Article 69, the 1992 Constitution that the citizen shall enjoy freedoms of speech, freedom of the press, and the rights to be informed in accordance with the provision of the law.

The 1989 Press Law, revised on June 12th 1999, has confirmed the state’s policy on creating favorable conditions for citizens to exercise the freedoms of the press and freedom of speech through press. No organizations or individuals are allowed to prevent and restrict the press and journalists from discharging their functions. The press shall not be subject to censorship prior to publication or broadcast.


The Press Law also states that citizens have the right to be informed and to express their opinions via the press; to contact and provide information, articles and photographs; to present views; to criticize, make recommendations, complaints and denunciations in the press and etc.


Recent years have witnessed the rapid development of the mass media in Vietnam. In 1990, there were only 258 newspapers and journals in Vietnam. Now, there are 554 printed newspapers (over double), nearly 700 publications (three times), and particularly 200 electronic newspapers. The systems of radio and television have developed and covered all regions. Foreign TV channels such as CNN, BBC, TV5, DW, RAI, OPT are widely broadcast in many cities in Vietnam. The internet has also rapidly inserted its stand in the country. There are about 6 billion subscribers, accounting for nearly 10% of Vietnam’s population. All universities and over 90% of schools have access to the internet. The mass media has played an important role in combating corruption, bureaucracy, and building a clean, transparent and strong public administration.


d/ Ensuring other civil rights


Freedom of religion and belief has been respected and better ensured. The number of religious followers has increased sharply in the renewal process. Since 1997, there have been an additional 5 million religious followers, bringing the total number to over 20 million, which accounts for nearly a quarter of Vietnam’s population.


The numbers of worship places, religious dignitaries, training schools, prints have incessantly increased. There have been more religious dignitaries either entering Vietnam or going abroad. More and more religious clerics have participated in the administration at all levels and socio-political organizations.


Freedoms of association and assembly have been respected and ensured. The number of people’s organizations across the nation has increased by three times in comparison with 1990. There are more than 300 organisations representing tens of millions of members. In addition, there are thousands of associations and clubs in all fields of the society.


Freedom of movement and residence has been respected and ensured strictly. Administrative procedures that may hinder the movement and residence of citizens have been removed. The freedom of immigration of Vietnamese citizens is recognized. Vietnam has signed Consular Agreements with 17 countries, Mutual Legal Assistance Agreements with 15 countries, Agreements on Overseas Vietnamese, Visa Exemption Agreements with 41 countries as well as unilaterally exempted entry visas for citizens from a number of countries. Vietnam has also well implemented the CPA program, Orderly Departure Program (ODP), the Amerasian Children (AC), the HO Program for ex-officers of the former Sai Gon regime, and the Humanitarian Resettlement Program for hundreds of thousands people.


đ/ Ensuring rights to economic development and improvement of the material life.


In accordance with the guideline of building a socialist-oriented market economy, the Constitution 1992 and Vietnam’s law affirm and concretized many economic rights of citizens, such as rights of ownership, inheritance, and freedom in doing business. After the promulgation of the 2000 Enterprise Law, tens of thousands of private Vietnamese enterprises have been set up. Millions of jobs have been created. Vietnam’s economy has developed over the last 20 years, making big achievements and improvements to people’s life. The average GDP growth rate between 1986 and 2000 was 6.8% and between 2001 and 2005, 7.51%. Before 1986, the GDP per capita was less than 200 USD. After ten years of renewal, the GDP per capita reached 289 USD in 1995 and 640 USD in 2005. The number is estimated to reach more than 700 USD in 2006. As of 2000, Vietnam has been shifted from the list of least developing countries to the list of developing countries. With such momentum, poverty reduction, human development and life quality improvement have seen remarkable achievements. The poverty rate in Vietnam has gone down continuously, from 70% in the 1980s to 7% in 2005 (using the Vietnamese poverty line). According to the international poverty line, the poverty rate went down from 58% in 1993 to 19.5% in 2004, meeting the first Goal of the MDGs 10 years ahead of the deadline of 2015.


e/ Ensuring social rights


Vietnam’s Human Development Index (HDI) regarding the indexes of GDP per capita, life span and education have increased rapidly from 0.560, 122nd out of 201 countries in the world, in 1995 to 0.691, 109th of 201st in 2002, to 0.704, 108th of 201st in 2003. In other words, while still being in the lower group of developing countries in GDP per capita, Vietnam is above the average in terms of HDI. This shows that social development is attached with special importance in Vietnam.

Education is given top priority as a national policy in Vietnam. The State budget for education continues to increase, occupying a high proportion. As of 2000, the Government allocated 15% budget for education and since 2005, the budget for education has increased to 18%. Before 1945, over 90% of the population was illiterate. By 2000, primary education had been universalized in all provinces. By 2005, 31 of 65 provinces and cities had universalized lower secondary education.


The scope of education has been expanded at all levels. In the 2004-05 school year, there are more than 520,000 classrooms (at three levels of education) with 17.3 million pupils; 214 universities and colleges with 1,131,000 students; 268 vocational schools with 360,400 students.


People’s right to healthcare is always paid special attention to. The budget for the health sector has increased significantly in recent years. The total expenditure of the sector went up from VND 3,610 billion in 1996 to VND 6,190 billion in 2001, and VND 7,751 billion in 2003. As of 2004, there were 13,149 medical facilities in the country, an increase of 10% as against 1986. There were 99,300 doctors, an increase of 30% as against 1986; 17,500 midwives, by nearly 15%, and 14,700 pharmacists, an increase by about 18% against 1986. The healthcare system covers nearly all wards and precincts, 65% of the medical centers have doctors. More than 90% of the population has access to medical services. The average life expectancy increased from 67.8 in 2000 to 71.5 in 2005. Malnutrition rate of children under five and mortality rate of children under one have declined. Preventive medical activities have been intensified. Some new dangerous diseases have been deterred. The HIV/AIDS prevention strategy in Vietnam till 2010 and the orientations till 2020 has been endorsed and implemented. Health care for poor people and free medical services for children under six have been conducted nationwide.


e/ Ensuring the rights of women and children


The rights of women are enshrined in the Constitution and laws, particularly in the Marriage and Family Law of 2000 (amended) and the Prime Minister’s Decision No 19/2002/QD-TTg approving of the National Strategy for the Advancement of Women until 2010. Legal documents have concretized women’s equal rights with more opportunities to take part in political, economic, cultural and social activities. Women’s equal rights at work and in payment opportunities with men are guaranteed. The unemployment rate of women is lower than that of men. Vietnamese women’s maternity leave is 16 weeks, which is longer than 12 weeks as the minimum period stipulated in the ILO Convention.


The role of Vietnamese women in the political life has been further consolidated. The proportion of women in the National Assembly has increased from 17% in the 1987-1992 tenure up to 27.31% in the 2002-2007 tenure. Vietnam ranks second in Asia-Pacific and 9th among 135 countries in the world with regard to percentage of women members in a parliament.


Vietnam is the first country in Asia and the second in the world that signed and ratified the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. Vietnam also ratified the two Protocols to the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Vietnamese Constitution and laws have provisions on the protection of the rights of the child. To ensure the exercise of the rights of the child, the Government has established a Ministerial-level agency, which is the Committee on Protection and Care of the Child (which is now the Committee Population, Family and Children) and adopted policies on this issue. The State budget on children increased from 8.4% in 1991 up to 12.2% in 1999. Actively implementing its international commitments, Vietnam has recorded many significant achievements in improving the life of children, protecting, taking care of and educating children. Almost all targets of health care for children have been accomplished. In education, many targets in the National Plan of Action for Children in 1991-2000 have been met and surpassed.


3. Prospective


Apart from achievements, the exercise and protection of human rights have faces some shortcomings. For instance, the significance of human rights has not been fully aware of among officials at levels or paid due attention to. The settlement of some legitimate democratic issues has not been in accordance with policies. This situation roots from the less developed socio-economic grounds, imperfect legal system and agencies as well as part of officials being corrupted.


The tenth congress of Vietnam Communist Party in April, 2006 put forth orientations to develop and better ensure human rights of Vietnamese people. The five-year socio-economic plan 2006-2010 aims to basically improve the material and spiritual life of the people: to increase GDP per capita from 640USD in 2005 to 1,050-1,100 USD by 2010, and to bring Vietnam out of the less-developed circumstances. Vietnam will also strive to universalize upper secondary education in all cities and provinces and develop its health care system so that the average life expectancy will reach 72. On such grounds, Vietnam’s HDI will be improved, better manifestating the preeminent nature of socialism. In addition, the building on and perfection of the socialist state of law of the people, by the people and for the people has been enhanced. Together with the perfection of law enforcement apparatus, the legal system will also be amended and perfected. More research, amendment and supplement of many documents relating to human rights will be done in line with concrete situation, the country’s fine tradition, international norms and the humanitarian, democratic nature of socialism. Human rights, therefore, will better ensured and promoted during the renewal process of Vietnam.



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