APEC countries have been warned that Vietnam’s credibility as an international partner is in doubt, as the forum’s leaders prepare to gather in Danang for their annual summit at the weekend.
17 international and Vietnamese human rights groups wrote to APEC leaders, questioning whether a country that systematically violates its human rights obligations could be trusted in other areas.
Vietnam is a signatory to UN’s Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture, but is engaged in a widespread crackdown to suppress independent bloggers and rights activists.
“How can you have faith that the Vietnamese government will honour any agreement produced at APEC,” asked the signatories, including Front Line Defenders, English Pen, Reporters without Border and Lawyers for Lawyers.
The letter said that 25 peaceful activists and bloggers have been arrested or exiled over the last year.
“The Vietnamese government has used unsubstantiated national security concerns to justify, and illegitimate charges to carry out, the criminalisation of free expression, dissemination of information, and peaceful advocacy,” it went on.
It said the campaign of repression was directly contrary to APEC’s stated goal this year of “Creating New Dynamism, Fostering a Shared Future”.
“Arbitrary detention, censorship, and state-sponsored violence against activists and human rights defenders are not only an affront to our common humanity but a grave violation of international human rights laws and standards.”
The letter comes amid mounting despair at the lack of international pressure on Vietnam as it steps up arrests, convictions and violence against government critics.
President Trump has shown little interest in the promotion of freedom and democracy since coming to office at the beginning of the year.
There’s even less hope of generating interest in Vietnam’s record from other leading APEC members, including China, Russia, Japan and Vietnam’s ASEAN neighbours.
The scale and ferocity of Vietnam’s crackdown since last year took many observers by surprise, given signs of a very gradual easing of repression in previous years.
The signatories highlighted the case of the human rights lawyer, Nguyen Van Dai, who has been detained for nearly two years without trial.
“As a lawyer, blogger and human rights defender, Nguyen Van Dai advocated for legal reform, multi- party democracy, and respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms recognized by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration,” they said.
“Respect for these internationally recognised and protected rights and freedoms is the bedrock principle of APEC’s objective to sustain the growth and development of the region for the common good of its peoples.”
Some observers suspect the crackdown could be partially inspired by the APEC summit itself; an attempt to stop government critics from embarrassing the authorities during their moment in the international spotlight.
Others see a more fundamental shift in the Communist party’s attitude towards dissent, with ideological hardliners around the General-Secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong, now firmly in charge of the state apparatus.