Vietnam is to introduce human rights education into the school curriculum, a policy that seems at odds with evidence of growing repression in the one party state.
The Prime Minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, has approved a pilot scheme that will introduce classes on human rights from kindergarten to university in three regions of the country.
The scheme will then be extended across Vietnam by 2025.
The decision is surprising given suspicion in the Communist party that human rights campaigns have been used as a tactic to undermine the legitimacy of the system.
State media said the plan aimed to raise awareness amongst students and teachers of the importance of human rights and the dignity, rights and freedom of others.
The reports say that high school students will learn about human rights protection mechanisms, and later about the rights and obligations of employees and employers in labour relations.
It is stressed, however, that the subject will be taught under the umbrella of Communist party leadership and the government’s role in protecting civil and human rights.
Abusing democratic freedoms
Many human rights advocates in Vietnam and democracy campaigners will remain suspicious of the government’s intentions.
In a country where “abusing democratic freedoms” is a criminal offence often used to silence government critics, the interpretation of “human rights” remains a contentious matter.
Vietnam has signed up to a number of international conventions on rights and freedoms, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
However, in human rights dialogues with Western countries, it denies any violations of its commitments – despite the current crackdown which has seen lengthy prison terms for two independent bloggers and the arrest of some 15 other activists and government critics.
Many others have been subjected to intimidation, harassment and violent attacks by government agents.
There has been some acknowledgement in official circles, however, that abuse by police and local officials does occur, and that there could be room for improvement in such areas.
The introduction of human rights education may be an attempt by the government to define the subject on its own terms, at a time when political ideas from outside are now widely accessible via the internet.