The European Union must press Vietnam to end its ongoing crackdown on civil society and political dissent, human rights groups said ahead of a Feb. 19 rights dialogue between the EU and the one-party communist state.
Writing in a Feb. 17 statement, Human Rights Watch said that by ratifying an EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement last week, the European Parliament missed an important opportunity to secure "enforceable commitments" for reforms in Vietnam.
"EU officials should warn the Vietnamese government during the human rights dialogue that failure to meet those commitments could result in suspension of the agreements' benefits," HRW Asia Advocacy director John Sifton said.
Ratified by the EU on Feb. 12, the EVFTA will eliminate 99 percent of tariffs on goods between the EU and the Southeast Asian country, although some will be reduced over a 10-year period and others will be limited by quotas.
The vote to approve the agreement was made over the objections of international and Vietnamese NGOs who had urged lawmakers to postpone consent on the agreement, signed in June 2019, until Vietnam's government agrees to protect the rights of workers and ensure human rights.
The EU is Vietnam's second-largest export market after the U.S., mostly for garment and footwear products, sending the EU U.S. $42.5 billion worth of goods and services and importing $13.8 billion worth of goods and services in 2018.
Vietnam should now release all prisoners and detainees held for political offenses and abolish articles in the country's penal code used "to punish anyone who expresses views or joins an independent group that Vietnam's Communist Party sees as a threat to its monopoly on power," HRW said.
"Numerous rounds of EU-Vietnam human rights dialogues [have] failed to persuade the country to reverse its abusive trend, even as separate negotiations for economic agreements have ended with lucrative deals," Sifton said.
"The EU needs to connect its economic leverage to the human rights principles it claims to champion."
Agreement will enable more abuses
In a separate Feb. 17 statement, the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member group the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) said that last week's ratification by the EU of preferential trade terms for Vietnam is likely now "to embolden Hanoi to continue its crackdown on civil society."
"The EU must seek concrete actions from the Vietnamese government to ensure that serious human rights violations don't become 'business as usual,'" the rights groups said, listing issues of primary concern as Vietnam's suppression of political dissent and labor rights, its use of repressive "national security laws," its handling of land disputes, inhumane prison conditions and deaths in custody, and use of the death penalty.
Following last year's EU-Vietnam human rights dialogue held on March 4, authorities in Vietnam continued to harass, assault, and detain labor, land, and human rights activists, with bloggers, religious followers, and government critics also targeted for repression, FIDH and VCHR said.
And from March 5, 2019 to Feb. 5 of this year, authorities arrested 29 human rights activists and sentenced 42 to prison terms of up to 12 years, the rights groups said.
"The Vietnamese government's lack of commitment to respect its international obligations is extremely disturbing, especially at this critical time in EU-Vietnam relations," VCHR president Vo Van Ai said, adding, "We urge the EU to ensure that the upcoming human rights dialogue contains specific, measurable, and time-based objectives."
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.
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