Vietnam Human Rights - History

Vietnam Human Rights - History

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The constitution and law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press; however, in practice the government did not respect these right and several laws specifically encroach on freedom of expression. The government continued to use broad national security and antidefamation provisions to restrict these freedoms. The law defines the crimes of “sabotaging the infrastructure of socialism,” “sowing divisions between religious and nonreligious people,” and “propagandizing against the state” as serious offenses against national security. It also expressly forbids “taking advantage of democratic freedoms and rights to violate the interests of the state and social organizations.”

Freedom of Expression: The government continued to restrict speech that criticized individual government leaders, criticized the party, promoted political pluralism or multiparty democracy, or questioned policies on sensitive matters, such as human rights, religious freedom, or sovereignty disputes with China. The government also sought to impede criticism by monitoring meetings and communications of journalists and activists, including in academic institutions.

On March 17, police arrested blogger Bui Hieu Vo for “conducting propaganda against the state” by criticizing the government on his Facebook page. He remained in pretrial detention at year’s end.

Press and Media Freedom: The CPV, government, and party-controlled mass organizations exercised legal authority over all print, broadcast, online, and electronic media, primarily through the Ministry of Information and Communications under the overall guidance of the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission. Private ownership or operation of any media outlet remained prohibited. Media independent of government authority operated on a limited basis online, primarily via blogs and social media, but independent journalists faced government harassment.

On January 1, a new media law came into effect that maintains prohibitions from the 1999 media law on “providing information that is untruthful, distorted, slanderous, or harmful to the reputation of an organization or agency, or the honor and dignity of an individual.”

The law allows for the government to punish publishers if they publish “untruthful information” in the fields of statistics; atomic energy; management of prices, charges, fees, and invoices; education; civil aviation; vocational training; hydrometeorology; cartography; and health.

The law limits satellite television access to senior officials, foreigners, luxury hotels, and the press, but persons throughout the country continued to be able to access foreign programming via home satellite equipment or cable.

The government permitted foreign-based media outlets although the law requires foreign television broadcasts to run on a 30- to 60-minute delay to enable content monitoring. In practice such channels ran on a 10-minute delay. Viewers reported obstruction of various commentaries, documentaries, and movies on human rights incidents in the country, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Soviet era, or events in China.

Major foreign media outlets reported the government refused to issue visas for reporters who previously covered sensitive political topics, particularly reporters for the overseas Vietnamese-language press. Foreign reporters also reported authorities turned them away at airports, even if they had valid entry visas.

Government regulations authorize the information ministry to revoke licenses of foreign publishers, and each foreign publisher must reapply annually to maintain its license.

Violence and Harassment: There continued to be a significant number of reports of security officials attacking, threatening, or arresting journalists and independent bloggers because of their coverage of sensitive stories.

On November 27, a court sentenced Nguyen Van Hoa, a citizen journalist who reported for Radio Free Asia’s Vietnamese service, to seven years imprisonment for “conducting antistate propaganda” after he was held incommunicado for more than a week following his January 11 arrest. Hoa covered protests against Formosa (see section 1.d.).

Foreign journalists noted they continued to be required to notify authorities about travel outside Hanoi when it was to an area considered sensitive, such as the Northwest or Central Highlands, or involved a story the government otherwise might consider sensitive.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The Ministry of Information and Communications and the CPV Propaganda and Education Commission frequently intervened directly to dictate or censor a story.

On October 17, Nha Bao & Cong Luan, an online newspaper, reportedly removed an article implicating the vice minister of Ministry of Industry and Trade a few hours after it appeared online. Social media reported the author of the article resigned following the incident.

Propaganda officials forced editors of major press outlets to meet regularly to discuss what topics were off-limits for reporting. More often, pervasive self-censorship, including among independent journalists and bloggers, due to the threat of dismissal and possible arrest enabled the party and government to control media content. The government continued its practice of penalizing journalists for failing to self-censor, to include revoking journalists’ press credentials.

On August 1, the government-affiliated Vietnam Journalists Association announced the launch of software to monitor local news outlets’ posting, editing, and removal of articles. The Ministry of Information and Communications also approved a software project to identify, block, collect, and process “misleading” information on the internet.

State and international media reported the government banned journalist Duong Hang Nga from going abroad for three months following articles she published criticizing a construction project in Danang.

National Security: The law tightly restricts press freedom and stipulates fines of 20 million to 30 million Vietnamese dong (VND) ($880 to $1,330) for journalists, newspapers, and online media that publish or broadcast information deemed harmful to national interests and up to 50 million dong ($2,200) for information considered distorting history and the revolution’s achievements--if these violations are not serious enough for criminal proceedings.

The law authorizes the government to fine journalists and newspapers, with fines ranging from five million to 10 million VND ($220 to $440) for journalists who fail to cite their sources of information and for journalists and newspapers that “use documents and materials from organizations and personal letters and materials from individuals.”

Citing laws protecting national security, police arrested and charged journalists to restrict criticism of government policies or officials.

The government arrested more than 16 individuals under national security antipropaganda charges. Independent journalist and reported member of the Brotherhood for Democracy, Truong Minh Duc, was arrested during the year for “attempting to overthrow the people’s administration.”


The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet, censored online content, and monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. It allowed access to the internet through a limited number of internet service providers (ISPs), all of which were fully or substantially state-controlled companies. The government monitored Facebook posts and punished activists who used the internet to organize protests or publish content critical of the government. The government sometimes blocked websites it deemed politically or culturally inappropriate, including sites operated by overseas Vietnamese political groups in addition to the websites of Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, and the BBC Vietnamese news service. State-owned ISPs routinely blocked domestic Vietnamese-language websites that contained content criticizing the CPV or promoting political reform.

The law requires all companies and organizations operating websites providing content on “politics, economics, culture, and society” or social networks, including blogging platforms, to register with the government. Under the decree, such companies and organizations must locate at least one server in the country to facilitate requests for information from the government and store posted information for 90 days and certain metadata for up to two years.

The government forbids direct access to the internet through foreign ISPs, requires domestic ISPs to store information transmitted on the internet for at least 15 days, and requires ISPs to provide technical assistance and workspace to public security agents to allow them to monitor internet activities. The Ministry of Public Security has long required “internet agents,” including cyber cafes, to register the personal information of their customers, to store records of internet sites visited by customers, and to participate in government investigations of online activity. Internet cafes continued to install and use government-approved software to monitor customers’ online activities. The Ministry of Public Security enforced these and other requirements and monitored selectively.

The Ministry of Information and Communications required all internet companies, social networking sites, and websites that provided information or commentary about “politics, economics, culture, and society” based in the country to register and obtain an operating license. The ministry also required such owners to submit detailed plans of their content and scope for approval.

In March the Ministry of Information and Communication instructed both local and foreign companies to stop advertising on YouTube until it deletes clips that they believe “defame,” “oppose,” and “tell lies” about the state. In addition, the government routinely asked both Facebook and Google to help it eliminate fake accounts and other “toxic” content, such as antigovernment material. In March the government stated it had identified up to 8,000 YouTube videos that should be taken down. On December 22, the ministry claimed that Facebook had removed 159 accounts and that Google had removed 4,500 videos that the government found “defamed” the state or political leaders.

On December 26, Ministry of National Defense senior lieutenant general Nguyen Trong Nghia announced the establishment of “Force 47” to combat misinformation and antistate propaganda online.

Authorities continued to suppress online political expression through politically motivated arrests and convictions of bloggers as well as through short-term detentions, surveillance, intimidation, and illegal confiscations of computers and cell phones of activists and family members. The government continued to use national security and other vague provisions of the penal code against activists who peacefully expressed their political views online. Political dissidents and bloggers reported that the Ministry of Public Security routinely ordered disconnection of their home internet service.

Authorities arrested and convicted Thai Nguyen University student Phan Kim Khanh for “conducting antistate propaganda” for blog posts deemed critical of the government. Courts sentenced Khanh to six years in prison and four years’ probation.

Social network and blog users are required to provide their full name, national identification number, and address before creating an account. In-country website and social network operators must allow authorities to inspect local servers upon request and must have a mechanism to remove prohibited content within three hours of detection or notification by authorities.

The government provided implementing guidance that expanded the government’s authorities under the telecommunications laws, including limiting content that could be harmful to national security or that opposes the government; empowering authorities to compel the removal of toxic information from foreign entities’ websites that have Vietnamese users or businesses that base their servers in Vietnam; and giving the government the authority to block such content should providers fail to promptly comply with takedown requests.

Despite these controls, internet access and usage continued to grow. According to Internet Live Stats, 52 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2016.


The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events. Foreign academic professionals temporarily working at universities in the country could discuss nonpolitical topics widely and freely in classes, but government observers regularly attended classes taught by both foreigners and nationals. The government continued to require international and domestic organizations to obtain advance approval to host conferences involving international sponsorship or participation.

The government continued to prohibit any public criticism of CPV and state policy, including by independent scientific and technical organizations, even when the criticism was for a purely academic audience.

The government controlled art exhibits, music, and other cultural activities.

Local authorities denied a permit to organizers of a women’s march in Hanoi in April. Authorities continued to restrict public art displays and musical performances through requirement of substantial permission procedures, although Ho Chi Minh City authorities permitted the country’s first-ever nude art exhibition in 2017. The government allowed universities more autonomy over international exchanges and cooperation programs, but visa requirements for visiting scholars and students remained onerous.

Many activists reported Ministry of Public Security officials threatened university leaders if they did not expel activists from their respective universities and pressured them and their family members not to attend certain workshops, although their political activities were peaceful. Multiple activists also reported academic institutions refused to allow them to graduate due to their human rights advocacy.

On July 22, Hanoi officials ultimately permitted a concert by the group Mai Khoi and the Dissidents to continue in Tay Ho District, Hanoi, with heavy security presence and after several hours of negotiations. Mai Khoi subsequently shared on social media that security forces pressured her landlord to evict her following the concert.


Today, June 20, 2021, the Vietnam Human Rights Network (VNHRN) published its Human Rights Report in Vietnam 2020-2021 through an online forum.

[2021-06-18] Human Rights Campaign: Amnesty International calls for immediate and unconditional release of Nguyen Thuy Hanh

The Vietnamese authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Nguyen Thuy Hanh as she is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for peacefully exercising her human rights and carrying out vital humanitarian work

[2021-06-18] Vietnam Issues Social Media ‘Code of Conduct,’ Putting Repression Into Rules

Vietnam’s government has introduced a nationwide code of conduct for users of social media, forbidding the posting of ‘inappropriate’ content and urging account holders to inform on other users deemed to be breaking the rules, state media said this week.

[2021-06-16] Vietnam’s ‘Clean Newspaper’ Writers May Face Additional Charges

Four independent journalists held in southern Vietnam’s Can Tho province for “slandering” government leaders in their investigative reports may soon face additional and more serious charges of revealing state secrets, state media said on Wednesday.

[2021-06-11] Vietnam: Human trafficking on the rise amid COVID

Rights groups have warned about increasing human trafficking as the pandemic pushes many vulnerable individuals to the brink. They say that despite closed borders, people are crossing illegally into China and Myanmar.

[2021-06-05] Christian human rights organisation calls for fair treatment of Vietnamese church facing criminal charges for Covid outbreak

Human rights watchdog, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is calling for fair treatment of a church congregation by authorities after reports of criticism and allegations by both state media and social media users emerged against an independent church in Ho Chi Minh City.

[2021-06-03] Activists and Vietnamese students blast archaic matchmaking program

“We are not here to look for a husband, but unfortunately that seems to be the first thought that enters some people’s minds when they see a Vietnamese woman in Korea,” said a Vietnamese woman studying at a university in Korea.

[2021-06-02] Vietnamese Facebook User Draws Seven-Year Prison Term for ‘Anti-State’ Writings

A court in southern Vietnam’s southern Hau Giang province on Wednesday sentenced a Facebook user to seven years in prison for posting writings said by prosecutors to have misrepresented state policies, Vietnamese sources said.

[2021-06-02] Vietnamese Police Issue Nationwide ‘Special Warrant’ for Fugitive Journalist

Vietnamese authorities have issued a special warrant calling for the arrest of an independent journalist who evaded police following an attempt last week to detain him at his home in Hanoi, placing notices in major media outlets around the country on Tuesday, sources say.

[2021-05-21] Vietnam Goes to The Polls With State-Approved Candidates Offering Little Choice

Millions of Vietnamese will go to the polls on Sunday to vote in elections discredited by the arrests of self-nominated candidates who had planned to run for seats in the National Assembly and People’s Councils, hoping to shake up rule under the country’s Communist Party.

[2021-05-17] Jailed Vietnamese Land Activist Held Under Harsh Conditions: Daughter

Vietnamese land-rights activist Can Thi Theu is being held under harsh jail conditions following her sentencing to eight years in prison for criticizing the government over its handling of a deadly land-rights clash last year, her daughter said Monday.

[2021-05-10] Vietnamese Social Media Platform Fined, Suspended Over Vague ‘Violations’

Vietnamese authorities have temporarily closed one of the country’s social media platforms, fining the business over $4,000 and revoking its license for eight months in a move further tightening government control over the sharing of information online, state media sources say.

[2021-05-07] Vietnam arrests banned book publisher's distributor - Liberal Publishing House suspects Nguyen Bao Tien has been illegally detained for 18 months

The Public Security Department in Vietnam’s Phu Yen province arrested Nguyen Bao Tien on May 5 for restoring and spreading anti-state material. State-run Phap Luat newspaper said Tien, 35, from the province’s capital of Tuy Hoa, had been caught distributing books published by the banned independent Liberal Publishing House.

[2021-05-06] Statement of Vietnam Human Rights Network and Defend The Defenders on the Conviction of Ms. Can Thi Theu and her son Trinh Ba Tu

We believe that the human rights activities of Mrs. Theu’s family do not violate Vietnamese law, and this trial does not guarantee trial fairness.

[2021-05-05] Vietnamese Mother, Son Draw Eight-Year Prison Terms for Land-Rights Activism

A court in northern Vietnam’s Hoa Binh province on Wednesday sentenced land-rights activist Can Thi Theu and her son Trinh Ba Tu to eight years in prison each for posting online articles and livestream videos criticizing the government for its handling of a deadly land-rights clash last year.

[2021-05-04] Vietnam: Free Democracy Activist Mother, Sons Family Members Face Trial for Criticizing Government

Human Rights Watch : The Vietnamese authorities should immediately release the democracy campaigner Can Thi Theu and her two sons and drop all charges against them, Human Rights Watch said today. Can Thi Theu and her younger son, Trinh Ba Tu, face trial on May 5, 2021. All three have been detained since June 2020.

[2021-05-02] Migrant workers in Taiwan want legal protection as Mother's Day gift

More than 100 migrant domestic workers staged a rally in Taipei on Sunday, calling for better protection of their rights and welfare, ahead of Mother's Day.

Human Rights in Vietnam

The state of human rights in Vietnam is dire and has hit an all-time low level in 2017. Activism, religious diversity, political variance and even integrity within the judicial and police systems are almost non-existent. Vietnam has seen backlash for its controversial and rigid ways from the U.S. and other Western countries, but the country continues to ignore it and even fights opposition to their government in favor of preserving the authority of the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party.

Vietnamese Political Situation

The Vietnamese Communist Party is the sole state of leadership in Vietnam and has been in this position since 1980. The 1992 constitution, however, delegated more authority to the president and to the cabinet. The party, nevertheless, maintained responsibility for overall policy decisions. Challenges to the Vietnamese Communist Party are not tolerated, and often end in incarceration.

In fact, Vietnam actually prohibits the establishment or operation of independent political parties, labor unions and human rights organizations. Approval from Vietnamese authorities is needed for public gatherings. These authorities can refuse permission for meetings, marches, or public assemblies they believe to be politically unacceptable.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of State did a report on human rights in Vietnam and deemed the country to be “neither free nor fair” and claimed a large contributing factor for this state was the corruption of the judicial and police systems. The report stated that the Vietnamese judicial system was inefficient and experienced political influence and endemic corruption. Moreover, there were multiple cases of police brutality in both arrests and later detention, denial to a fair trial, ambiguity in arrests, and inhumane prison conditions. A government official from Vietnam fired back at the report stating that Vietnam supports human rights but opposes initiatives by outside nations interfering in internal affairs.

Reports on the Current Situation

The Vietnamese government has proven to be untrustworthy in their claims about human rights in Vietnam as well. The Vietnamese government has continuously claimed, since 2010, that there are no political prisoners in Vietnam. Yet as of April 2018, there have already been approximately 97 prisoners of conscience in the country.

In 2012, the U.N. ran their own human rights report on Vietnam and the results were increasingly positive, relative to the U.S. report in 2010. Though, the report still urged the government to implement major human rights treaties, like the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment which is an international human rights treaty meant to prevent all acts of cruel and inhuman treatment across the world.

Yet, despite this relatively positive report, human rights in Vietnam took a decline in 2017. The Human Rights Watch reported at least 36 cases of violence against activist from January to April 2017. Moreover, the Human Rights Watch found that the judicial system was still very much under the control of the government and that it has failed to meet international standards.

In Vietnam, people who suffer from a drug dependency, including children, are sent to governmental detention centers where they are forced to do menial work or “labor therapy.” It was reported by state media that during the first six months of 2017, about 3,168 people were sent to centers in Ho Chi Minh City. It was also found that those that are most at risk of violent treatment in these centers are children, women and ethnic minorities which goes directly against the Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment treaty the U.N. urged Vietnam to implement back in 2012.

There are organizations who are actively attempting to intervene in the high number of arrests being made by law officials of The Vietnamese Communist Party, and who are also fighting for the improvement of Human Rights conditions in Vietnam.

Organizations Involved in improving Human Rights in Vietnam

Organizations like the Human Rights Watch and the International Federation For Human Rights (FIDH) have urgently been asking for donations and letters to intercede the Human Rights violations being made in Vietnam. Moreover, there has been an increase in the number of activists for Human Rights, within Vietnam, in the last decade.

However, Vietnamese activists have to remain relatively quiet in their effort to bring these violations to the attention of the rest of the world due to the high probability of being arrested. Since 2014, there have been a little over 160 human rights activists that have been jailed in Vietnam, and this number continues to rise.

Thus, it remains to be seen if the conditions of Human Rights in Vietnam will improve in the coming years, but with the high number of arrests already in 2018, the outlook does not look so bad. The government has to change it’s attitude towards this issue if the country plans to grow in this aspect.

Emerging From War

Vietnam declared its independence from French colonial rule in 1945 after Japan’s occupation ended with its surrender to the Allies. This set the stage for the First Indochina War (1946–1954). In 1950, Vietnamese forces in Hanoi were recognized by China and Russia, while the United States and the United Kingdom recognized the government based in Saigon (today’s Ho Chi Minh City). Washington’s involvement in Vietnam escalated with the provision of military assistance first to French forces, followed by Saigon-based President of Vietnam Ngo Dinh Diem’s anti-communist forces after the country’s north-south division. U.S. troops formally deployed in 1964 with the stated purpose of stemming the spread of communism. Years of brutal battles culminated in the withdrawal of U.S. forces and the signing of the Paris Peace Accords [PDF] in 1973 the United States evacuated its personnel in 1975 as North Vietnam invaded the South and reunited the country.

U.S. casualties were 58,220 dead, around 2,600 missing, and more than 150,000 wounded [PDF], and there were wrenching domestic divides over the purpose and conduct of the war. For Vietnam the destruction was massive, with an estimated two million civilian deaths and an additional one million military deaths, as well as lasting environmental effects from the use of herbicides, such as Agent Orange, and unexploded ordnance scattered throughout the country. Washington severed diplomatic ties after the war’s end and imposed a full trade embargo.

Also aggravating relations between Vietnam and a number of nations was its campaign in Cambodia. Skirmishes along the western Vietnamese border with Cambodia expanded into a full-scale conflict in December 1978. Vietnamese troops deposed Cambodian totalitarian leader Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge—its repressive regime was responsible for a genocide that killed nearly two million people—and installed a new government in Phnom Penh that would maintain power for a decade. The Vietnamese invasion triggered a retaliatory attack by China on its northern border in 1979 and widespread international isolation.

From the late 1970s through the mid-1980s, Vietnam’s economy was stretched thin as a result of a large military budget dedicated to activities in Cambodia and shortcomings in its command economy [PDF]. These hardships led to a heavy reliance on the Soviet Union. After China’s economic reforms in the 1970s and as the Soviet Union began to relax state control over its own economy in the 1980s, Vietnam began to explore ways to end its isolation.

VIETNAM: About the persecution of Buddhists in Vietnam

HRWF (11.05.2021) – No less than 36 believers of all faiths are currently behind bars in Vietnam because of their religious activities. HRWF’s Database of FORB Prisoners comprises of 2 Catholics and 7 Protestants, 6 Hoa Hao and 21 An Dan Dai Dao Buddhists. One ADDD Buddhist was sentenced to life imprisonment while the others got prison terms ranging from 10 to 17 years.

As of July 2018, the US government estimated the total population to be 97 million in Vietnam. According to statistics released by the Government Committee for Religious Affairs (CRA), 26.4% of the population is categorised as religious believers: 14.91% identify as Buddhist, 7.35% Roman Catholic, 1.09% Protestant, 1.16% Cao Dai, and 1.47% Hoa Hao Buddhist.[1]

In Vietnam, government restrictions have greatly limited all religious activities for both registered and non-registered groups. In 1981, six years after the Communists took power, the government unified several Buddhist organisations under the umbrella group Buddhist Sangha of Vietnam (BSV) which was placed under its authority.

The Unified Buddhist Sangha of Vietnam (UBSV), which was founded in 1964 to unite 11 of the 14 Buddhist groups, refused to pledge allegiance to the Communist regime and was consequently banned. The UBSV was denied the official authorisation needed to operate. The UBSV Patriarch, Thich Quang Do, who had been under house arrest since his appointment in 1999, died in February 2020 at the age of 92.

Religious teachings are considered incompatible with communist ideology, and any form of assembly is perceived as a threat to the Communist Party’s monopoly of power. Thus, the government attempts to maintain strict control over all religious groups. Buddhist leaders who refuse allegiance to the Communist Party are harassed and imprisoned while their groups are declared illegal or banned.

Two groups are particularly persecuted: An Dan Dai Dao and Hoa Hao Buddhists.

An Dan Dai Dao (ADDD) is a Buddhist group founded in 1969 that was quickly outlawed and persecuted after the Communist takeover in 1975. Most of ADDD properties have now been expropriated, and its followers were forced into hiding. The leaders of ADDD have long been treated as criminals, including Phan Van Thu — its founder and leader — who was accused of working for the US and intending to ‘rebel’ against the regime.[2]

Phat Giao Hoa Hao (known as Hoa Hao) [3] was established on 4 July 1939 by Buddhist reformer Huynh Phu So in the southern Vietnamese province of An Giang. Hoa Hao Buddhism is described as ‘an amalgam of Buddhism, ancestor worship, animistic rites, elements of Confucian doctrine, and indigenous Vietnamese practices’.[4] The government officially recognises the Hoa Hao religion, but imposes harsh controls because it is an independently organised religious group. Since they are not state-sanctioned, they are denied registration and the government cracks down hard on their gatherings and temples.

An update of the Legal Framework of Religious reedom in Vietnam was published in September 2020 by Vo Quoc Hung Thinh (Legal Initiatives for Vietnam).

Buddhists in Prison in Vietnam

Two Buddhist groups are particularly persecuted because they refuse to swear allegiance to the Communist Party: An Dan Dai Dao and Hoa Hao Buddhists.

Buddhists behind bars: some statistics

As of 1 May 2021, HRWF documented 36 cases of detained Buddhists in its Prisoners’ Database.[5] Of these cases, 21 were members of the An Dan Dai Dao group and 21 of them were arrested in 2012. Almost all of these individuals were charged with subversion under Article 79 and accused of writing documents critical of the government.

The remaining six cases involve members of the Hoa Hao Buddhist group. Five were arrested in 2017, with one arrest in 2011. In most of these cases, the charges were ‘causing public unrest’ under Article 245.

Articles of the Penal Code

Buddhist followers were charged under these articles of the 1999 Vietnamese Penal Code:

Article 79 stipulates that those who carry out activities, establish or join organisations with the intent to overthrow the people’s administration ‘shall be sentenced to between twelve and twenty years of imprisonment, life imprisonment or capital punishment’.

Article 88 states that conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, such as distorting and/or defaming the people’s administration, spreading fabricated news to create confusion, is punishable with ‘between three and twelve years of imprisonment’.

Article 245 outlines that those who ‘foment public disorder’ shall be sentenced to a fine and non-custodial reform for up to two years or between three months and two years’ imprisonment. If the offender used weapons during the offence, they ‘shall be sentenced to between two and seven years of imprisonment’.

Article 258 stipulates that those who ‘abuse the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of belief, religion, assembly, association and other democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State’ shall be subject to a warning, non-custodial reform for up to three years or a prison term of between six months and three years.[6]

In most cases, the government liberally applies Article 79, which carries the harshest sentences, as a deterrent against those it perceives to disobey its rule and to assert control. It also demonstrates that references to national security plays a central role in the detention of many religious followers. By invoking vaguely worded provisions in the Penal Code such as ‘subversion’ or ‘abuse of democratic freedoms’, the government incriminates and silences Buddhists who practice their freedom of religion or belief outside of state-sanctioned religious organisations.

International advocacy

The European Parliament has regularly followed Vietnam’s overall dire human rights record, in particular violations of FoRB.

In its November 2018 resolution on Vietnam, the European Parliament noted that religious freedom is repressed in the country and that non-recognised religions, such as the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, continue to suffer severe religious persecution. It called on the government to remove all restrictions on freedom of religion and to put an end to the harassment of religious communities. It further urged the government to bring its legislation into conformity with international human rights standards and obligations.

On 21 January 2021, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on human rights in Vietnam. It noted that “on 1 January 2018, Vietnam’s first ever law on belief and religion came into effect, obliging all religious groups in the country to register with the authorities and to inform them about their activities.” It however remained concerned about the fact that “the authorities can reject or hinder registration applications and ban religious activities which they arbitrarily deem to be contrary to the ‘national interest’, ‘public order’ or ‘national unity’” and it called on the Government of Vietnam to remove all restrictions on freedom of religion and to put an end to the harassment of religious communities.

In October 2020, the German Parliament published a 162-page report about religious freedom in 30 countries in which it devoted a section to Vietnam. It was discussed at a hearing of the Parliament on 14 April 2021.

Every year since 2002, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended that Vietnam be designated as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for having engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.

[1] For more religious statistics, see U.S. Department of State, Office of International Religious Freedom, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Report on international Religious Freedom: Vietnam 2018, 2018.

[2] “Update on Political Prisoner Phan Van Thu from His Family, March 2020,” The 88 Project, Kayleedolen, March 22, 2020, accessed March 2020.

[3] Australian Government, Country Advice: Vietnam, Refugee Review Tribunal (VNM38054) February 3, 2011.

[4] The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Hoa Hao,” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., June 18, 2014, accessed May 2020.

[5] Our Database is updated on a regular basis. For more details about imprisoned Buddhists, see

[6] “Vietnam Penal Code” (No. 15/1999/QH10) approved December 21, 1999, National Assembly of the

Vietnam Human Rights - History


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.

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.

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.

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 .

HRW distorts human rights in Vietnam

Among many organizations calling themselves human right activists, Human Rights Watch (HRW) always cooks up stories and slanders the human rights situation in countries, like Vietnam. Labelled a human rights organization, HRW has never worked for the development of human rights in any country.

Caitlin Wiesen, UNDP Country Director in Viet Nam.

Human Rights Watch in January released its World Report 2019 which says Vietnam’s human rights record worsened in 2018 as it continued to violate fundamental civil and political rights such as freedom of expression, freedom of press and access to information, freedom of association and assembly, and freedom of religion.

Distorted accusation about Vietnam’s human rights record

HRW’s World Report 2019 does not serve human rights development in Vietnam. World organizations, including the United Nations, have acknowledged human rights progress in Vietnam.

The UNDP reported in October, 2018 that “Vietnam has been making good progress in human development and multidimensional poverty reduction but challenges remain in reducing disparities at sub-national levels, and among population groups, in closing gender gaps, as well as addressing environmental problems related to carbon dioxide emission and biopersity.”

Caitlin Wiesen, UNDP Country Director in Vietnam, said “Vietnam can be proud of its remarkable progress in reducing multi-dimensional poverty, lifting 6 million people out of poverty in only 4 years between 2012 and 2016.”

She said Vietnam is doing well in health and education dimensions. Vietnam’s life expectancy at birth is 76.5 years, second in the Asia and the Pacific region, after the Republic of Korea. Mean years of schooling is 8.2, higher than the average of the East Asia and Pacific region.

The UNDP official acknowledged Vietnam’s clear and consistent mechanisms to implement recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review and Vietnam’s approval of UN conventions on human rights, including the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities in 2014.

Scott Ciment, UNDP’s Rule of Law Policy Advisor in Vietnam, said Vietnam joined 7 out of 9 international conventions on human rights.

Recent changes to Vietnam’s Penal Code, the Civil Code, and other laws are important steps toward progress. Ciment said Vietnam has recorded proud achievements in human rights. International cooperative activities on human rights have been enhanced, which demonstrates Vietnam’s determination and seriousness about implementing and guaranteeing human rights for its citizens.

Assessments by other organizations have overshadowed the HRW’s smears on human rights in Vietnam.

Human rights achievements support Vietnam’s global integration

Tom Malinowski, former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, said Vietnam has made progress in human rights, including ratifying the Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.

It’s ridiculous that in its World Report 2019, the HRW has called on the European Council to suspend ratification of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement until the Vietnamese government takes steps to improve its human rights record.

Vietnam has integrated deeply into the global economy and made outstanding achievements. Obviously it is an attractive destination for investors. The HRW’s distorted arguments to urge other countries to put pressure on Vietnam and interfere with Vietnam’s external affairs have an unjust effect because human right progress in Vietnam is undeniable.

The violation of Human Rights in Vietnam War

Human rights are ethical principles that set specific standards of human behavior and are usually protected as legitimate rights under National and International law. They are considered to be “commonly perceived inalienable undamental rights that each individual is entitled to from the time of his birth simply because he is a human being”. It is the product of man’s social struggles for a dignified life without fear and deprivation and is aimed at imposing the corresponding obligations on the powerful. They have been and are a result of the constant demands of man through the great uprisings and peaceful revolutions for a human life. Human rights, therefore, are considered to be international (they apply everywhere) and preserve equality (they apply to all), and we specifically talk about the rights of: life, freedom, honor and dignity, equality, prohibition of slavery, ban of torture, protection against arbitrary arrest, detention or exile, the right to privacy and the inviolability of family asylum, health, well being, clothing, food, residence and medical care.

During a war, these rights are threatened when combatants use weapons and means of warfare that are forbidden because they seriously threaten human life.

International law limits the methods and means used to wage war. These restrictions apply to the type of weapons used, the way they are used and the general conduct of all those engaged in the armed conflict. The principle of distinction requires that parties to an armed conflict distinguish at all times between combatants and military objectives on the one hand, and civilian persons and objects on the other, and accordingly attack only legitimate targets. The main treaties placing limits on methods and means of waging war are the Hague Convention of 1907, the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions and a series of agreements on specific weapons. The ICRC has been involved in the process of developing the law in this field. In general terms, international humanitarian law (IHL) prohibits means (certain types of weapons) and methods that cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering.

In the following, we will see a case of violation of international humanitarian law during one of the most significant wars: Vietnam war.

The Vietnam War which began in November 1955, was one of the most powerful conflicts recorded in modern history. The United States, which could not accept the spread of communism in yet another eastern country, took over the protection of the southern part of the country. However, this US move has triggered further involvement of China and the Soviet Union in the war, and thus, turned the war into one of the most deadly military conflicts whose results have been tragic.

Estimates of the number of war victims vary as the exact number was impossible to record. But apart from the disastrous conflicts and the acts of betrayal and conspiracy, which had caused huge losses the worst part was the kind of weapons used by the American soldiers. Chemical weapons, are strictly prohibited by IHL as they not only cause enormous damage to people and they are able to kill massively, but they also destroy the environment in a terrible way and can be responsible for future health problems such as teratogenicity.

During the Vietnam War, and between 1962 and 1971, the US Army sprayed 50,000,000 liters of chemical herbicides and flame-retardant substances. The aim of this operation was the stripping of trees in the forests and rural areas, areas where the rebels found cover and food. The US Army chiefs in the major campaign against Vietnam wished to exterminate the “communist threat” and bring a quick end to the war. Then they decided to wipe out the dense vegetation of the jungle in which Vietcong found shelter and food. So they implemented the military program under the code name “Ranch hand”.

From 1962 to 1971, dozens of Hui military helicopters and C-123 interceptors made 6,542 flights and sprayed the Vietnam jungles with more than 50,000 tons of herbicide chemicals and defoliant toxic substances. Their use has been extensive and it is estimated that about 20% of the Vietnamese forest areas were sprayed at least once, sowing death and causing enormous ecological disaster. To date, these substances are related to a series of serious health problems both for local and US soldiers who have taken part in the business and have come into contact with toxic substances. The most widespread of these was the so-called “Orange Factor”. After the war, several of the airplanes carrying barrels with the Orange Factor used cargo shipments in the United States. Like veterans of the war, over the years, some of the staff that worked on them presented similar health problems, without however being compensated.

Even today, much of the land in Vietnam remains contaminated with carcinogenic dioxins. Vietnam estimates four million of its citizens suffering from diseases related to the Ranch Hand program, claiming compensation from the US government. About two years ago, with the help of the US, began in areas around the capital of Vietnam the business of soil decontamination and cleaning from toxic chemicals.

The conclusion is that the atrocities that happen during a war, encroach human rights even though they are imperative and must be respected from every country and mostly from the parties of a war. The means and the methods that were used in Vietnam war caused tremendous damages to the environment, to civilian goods but the most important was the great number of deaths, injured civilians and refugees. One of the methods such as using chemical weapons proved to be one of the most catastrophic weapon that caused external damage to the environment and the impact to civilians’ health is visible until today. International Humanitarian Law and human rights must be respected and the interests of states must not be above of human lives.

Women’s rights

Violence against women remained a widespread and persistent problem. A joint study by the government and the UN revealed that nearly two in three married women experienced physical, sexual, emotional or economic violence and controlling behaviours by their husbands in their lifetime, and almost one-third reported such treatment in the preceding 12 months. Reporting of domestic violence or mistreatment remained extremely low, with very few women seeking support from the authorities or service providers.

Women human rights defenders continued to face harassment, discrimination and gender-based violence. Pham Doan Trang, a celebrated author and human rights defender, was arbitrarily arrested on 6 October and charged under Article 117 of the Criminal Code. Amnesty International recognizes her as a prisoner of conscience. 4 If convicted, she could be imprisoned for up to 20 years.

More Comments:

Fred G Welfare - 7/23/2009

Does anyone have any idea of whether the interrogation techniques used in Vietnam or Iraq have any validity in terms of effectiveness? Is valid intelligence being gathered with these interrogation techniques?

Frank hillier - 12/22/2008

vietnam was an unexcusable and disgusting stain on american history.
a mass of young,afraid and angry men, many of which were using drugs, punted into an alien land with alien people.
as with any race,nation or group thier are a proportion of vile harmful people.
in times of war especially in vietnam these people are armed with countless available victims coupled with a feeling of no law or infact being the law attrocites will occur.
it is the responsibility of the government and commanding officers to find and remove then punish, but ultimately it should be the the fellow soldiers who are on the ground standing up for what they know is right and being brave enough to stop it.
i fear iraq may be viewed in a simalar light in years to come

Tim baker allen baker - 11/15/2008

I certainly hope people take these comments seriously. Our standing in the world is affected by such charges, and I for one do not want to see my country having a reputation as being a bunch of hippocrites, going after war criminals in other parts of the world and then giving war criminals in our country accepted status. I'm E-mailing ministers all over the country and requesting they read these and other writings such as "Tiger Force: Men at War". And I would think that all men of honor would be involved in some meaningful capacity. Best of luck to the author. Tim Baker

Tim baker allen baker - 11/14/2008

We know what happened "wasn't right" to paraphrase a Nam vet's words. But but vet's killing vet's to prevent the occurances from going to the US Army's War Crimes Command Division is certainly as bad as atrocities themselves. Yet, there has been only a wisp of an indication as to those likely events.

Mackubin Thomas Owens - 10/24/2006

I wrote a number of piece about Kerry and his post-war claims for National Review and NRO. I believe that Turse's methodology is flawed for the reasons I laid out in this piece from a couple of years ago.

John Kerry’s decision to run for president on his record in Vietnam has ripped the scab off of the wounds that war inflicted on the American body politic. Some of Kerry’s defenders have laid this charge at the feet of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT), but the fact is that they were responding to what they perceived as an affront to their honor. This is why all the attempts to paint them as Republican stooges are so far off of the mark.

I believe my own motivation in publicizing Kerry’s actions after the war is typical of most anti-Kerry veterans, including the Swifties. I would never have written my first NRO piece back in January had Kerry chosen to run on his Senate record. But to coin a phrase, his April 1971 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is “seared in my memory” and I believed his attempt now to surround himself with people he had once described as war criminals represented the height of cynicism and hypocrisy.

Of course, the Kerry campaign and most of the press blew off the pieces I wrote for NRO in January and for National Review in February as an attempt to question his service in Vietnam. The volume of e-mails and phone calls I received from Vietnam veterans agreeing with me demonstrated that I was far from alone. But due to a lack of media interest, the issue dropped off the scope, permitting Kerry and his apologists to avoid addressing the issue.

Enter the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. They were motivated not only by Kerry’s actions after the war but by the portrayal of his Vietnam service in Douglas Brinkley’s hand job, Tour of Duty. Despite a desperate attempt to dismiss the Swifties as Republican goons, Kerry and his defenders in the media were forced to deal with the substance of the Swifties’ charges. This they did with varying degrees of success, owing to the fact that men in battle often perceive the same event differently. It does seem clear that Kerry did not spend Christmas of 1968 in Cambodia as he claimed on numerous occasions. There are also legitimate questions about the circumstances surrounding his first Purple Heart and his rescue of Jim Rassmun.

But there would seem to be no argument about Kerry’s actions after the war. He did leave the Navy early to pursue a political career he did join the Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) he did claim during his 1971 Senate testimony that American soldiers committed atrocities in Vietnam on a regular basis he did participate in numerous instances of “political theater” put on by the VVAW, including Dewey Canyon III and he did meet with representatives of the North Vietnamese communist government. These events may have brought him to political prominence in the United States, but at the cost of alienating a substantial number of Vietnam veterans who believed he besmirched their honor and whose resulting anger has simmered for three decades.

The first attempt to defend Kerry on the substance of the charge that he had dishonored all of those who fought in Vietnam with his 1971 Senate testimony was a series of arguments claiming that he really didn’t mean to include everyone in Vietnam when he made his claim of widespread atrocities. He was, so the argument went, merely relating stories told by others. But if so, he should have chosen his words more carefully. The common-sense meaning of the statement that "over 150 honorably discharged and many very highly decorated veterans testified to war crimes committed in Southeast Asia, not isolated incidents but crimes committed on a day-to-day basis with the full awareness of officers at all levels of command" seems to be that these accounts represent only the tip of the iceberg and more importantly, that such actions represented US policy against the Vietnamese.

So indeed, the second attempt to defend Kerry is now in play. His defenders claim that he was telling the truth—atrocities did take place in Vietnam. Of course, as anyone who has read my articles knows, there is no controversy about this point. But the trick here, most on display in Peter Beinart’s “Apocalypse Redux” in the September 6 issue of The New Republic, is to suggest that that those who criticize Kerry are somehow denying that atrocities occurred in Vietnam at all. Beinart argues that the second Swift Boat ad (recounting Kerry’s Senate testimony) doesn’t claim that Kerry’s charges were false, but “merely suggests he was unpatriotic for leveling them.” Beinart then goes on to cite a number of historians who, sure enough, assure us that atrocities did occur in Vietnam.

But this is missing the point—whether intentionally or not I cannot say. This is now my eighth piece on this topic since January for National Review, NRO, The Weekly Standard, and the Jerusalem Post. In every one of those pieces as well as many others I have written over the years about the Vietnam War, I have stated unequivocally that Americans committed atrocities in Vietnam. I have never tried to whitewash the record, as one of my correspondents claimed.

As is often the case, Jim Webb, a Marine hero of the Vietnam War (Navy Cross) and best-selling author whose novel, Fields of Fire is the best book about Vietnam, got to the crux of the matter in a recent NPR commentary when he said that the “stories of atrocious conduct, repeated in lurid detail by Kerry before the Congress, represented not the typical experience of the American soldier, but its ugly extreme” (emphasis added)

Some of us who believe that the American soldier did not typically commit atrocities have called into question the credibility of many of the accounts upon which Kerry based his testimony—the “Winter Soldier Investigation” (WSI), an early 1971 event in Detroit organized by the VVAW and sponsored by Jan Fonda, Dick Gregory, and conspiracy theorist Mark Lane. I had read Lane’s 1970 book, Conversations with Americans and was struck by how implausible most of the atrocity claims were. I was not alone. Lane’s book was panned by James Reston, Jr. and Neil Sheehan, not exactly known as supporters of the Vietnam War. Sheehan in particular demonstrated that many of Lane’s “eye witnesses” either had never served in Vietnam or had not done so in the capacity they claimed.

The transcripts of the WSI struck me the same way. My own beliefs were reinforced several years later by the publication of Guenter Lewy’s America in Vietnam, in which he related the difficulty that military investigators faced trying to get particulars. As I wrote in the 23 February issue of National Review, paraphrasing Lewy, when the Naval Investigative Service (NIS) attempted to interview those who allegedly had witnessed atrocities, most refused to cooperate, even after assurances that they would not be questioned about atrocities they may have committed personally. Those that did cooperate never provided details of actual crimes to investigators. The NIS also discovered that some of the most grisly testimony was given by fake witnesses who had appropriated the names of real Vietnam veterans.
The same thing happened with Army investigators. As Lewy wrote, “the refusal of [those who claimed to have witnessed atrocities] to give substantiating factual information in support of their atrocity allegations created a situation in which the accusers continued to reap generous publicity for their sensational charges while the Army in most cases could neither investigate nor refute them…As of April 1971, the CID (the Army’s Criminal Investigative Division) had determined that [in one case] 7 of 16 allegations…which could be investigated were unfounded or unsubstantiated. Most of the allegations were so general as to defy investigation.”
My skepticism about the WSI was further strengthened by the publication of Stolen Valor by H.G. Burkett and Genna Whitley. In the course of trying to raise money for a Texas Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Burkett discovered that reporters were only interested in homeless veterans and drug abuse and that the corporate leaders he approached had bought into the popular image of Vietnam veterans. They were not honorable men who took pride in their service, but whining welfare cases, belly-aching about what an immoral government did to them.

Fed up, Burkett did something that any reporter worth his or her salt could have done: he used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to check the actual records of the “image makers” used by reporters to flesh out their stories on homelessness, Agent Orange, suicide, drug abuse, criminality, or alcoholism. What he found was astounding. More often than not, the show case “veteran” who cried on camera about his dead buddies, about committing or witnessing atrocities, or about some heroic action in combat that led him to the current dead end in his life, was an impostor.

Indeed, Burkett discovered that over the last decade, some 1,700 individuals, including some of the most prominent examples of the Vietnam veteran as dysfunctional loser, had fabricated their war stories. Many had never even been in the service. Others, had been, but had never been in Vietnam.

Lewy’s account recently has been called into question and Burkett has been criticized for simply accusing everyone who talks about atrocities as a phony or imposter. In the August 30 TNR Online, historian John Prados writes regarding the WSI atrocity accounts that “a handful of individual stories may have been called into question, but the main thrust of the [WSI] testimonies--that American atrocities were widespread in Vietnam--is today beyond dispute. Indeed the emergence of new evidence during the last 30 years has only solidified the winter soldiers' overall case.” He then criticizes Lewy’s account of the WSI:

Lewy's primary evidence consists of noting that VVAW members refused to give depositions. When the Naval Investigative Service tried to pull VVAW members into an inquiry, it found one Marine who either could not or would not give details of what he had seen and allegedly located several other veterans who said they had never gone to Detroit. (O'Neill had cited this same information in his televised debate with Kerry.) But even if true, these incidents were far too limited to establish anything in particular about the Winter Soldier Investigation the fact that some of the winter soldiers declined to give depositions does not prove or disprove the legitimacy of the entire project. The VVAW leadership left it up to individual members to decide how to respond to requests for depositions. And veterans had good reasons to decline. For one thing, they argued that their purpose was to protest U.S. policy, not to draw attention to individual soldiers. What's more, with the VVAW under direct assault from the Nixon administration, it's understandable that the group's members were loathe to cooperate with government investigators.

The debate turns, it seems to me, on Prados’ assertion that it is today beyond dispute that “American atrocities were widespread in Vietnam.” Again I stipulate that they did occur. Recent revelations include the Son Thang event described by Marine Corps veteran Gary D. Solis in his book Son Thang: An American War Crime and the more troubling “Tiger Force” story broken earlier this year by The Toledo Blade, which reported that members of an elite unit of the 327th Airborne Infantry in the Central Highlands in 1967 committed war crimes ranging from murder and assault to dereliction of duty.

Of course the best known incident was the admission several years ago by Bob Kerrey, the highly respected former senator from Nebraska and Medal of Honor recipient, that the Navy SEAL team he led in Vietnam killed women in children during a nighttime mission some 32 years ago.

Mr. Kerrey's admission was prompted by a lengthy New York Times Magazine story by Gregory Vistica that went farther than the charge that civilians died during this action. It contained the explosive claim that then-Lieutenant (j.g.) Kerrey had ordered the civilians to be rounded up and then shot point blank to facilitate the SEAL team's escape. If this allegation is true, what happened that night in the Mekong Delta village of Thanh Phong was more than a terrible tragedy of war--it was a war crime.

These are all troubling events. But they do not prove that atrocities in Vietnam were more widespread than in previous wars. Additionally, there is no evidence that atrocities were a matter of policy, as suggested in this September 1970 VVAW flyer issued in conjunction with one of its stunts:

US Infantry
Company Just
Came through

If you had been Vietnamese—

We might have burned your house
We might have shot your dog
We might have shot you
We might have raped your wife and daughter
We might have turned you over to the government for torture
We might have taken souvenirs from your property
We might have shot things up a bit
We might have done all these things to you and your whole town

Let’s put things in perspective. Some three million men served in Vietnam. Since the logistics tail of US forces is fairly large, only about twenty-five percent, 750,000, served in combat units. If we add up all of the atrocities, both proven and alleged, and multiply them by two as a hedge against under-reporting, the percentage of American combat soldiers who might have committed atrocities is still less than one percent of the total. I doubt that many armies in history could match that record.

I have tried on many occasions to get to the heart of why some Americans committed atrocities in Vietnam and others didn’t. The fact is that anyone who has been in combat understands the thin line between permissible acts and atrocity. The first and potentially most powerful emotion in combat is fear arising from the instinct of self-preservation.

But in soldiers, fear is overcome by what the Greeks called thumos, spiritedness or righteous indignation. It is thumos, awakened by the death of his comrade Patroclus that causes Achilles to quit sulking in his tent and wade into the Trojans, slaughtering them in great numbers. But unchecked, thumos can engender rage and frenzy. It is the role of leadership, which provides strategic context for killing and enforces discipline, to prevent this outcome. Such leadership was not in evidence at My Lai, or most of the other cases of atrocities.

In the May 3 issue of National Review, I suggested three reasons that explain the belief on the part of so many that atrocities in Vietnam were more frequent than in other wars and that they were a part of policy: 1) Soviet propaganda 2) the belief on the part of the veterans who related atrocity stories that they were telling their listeners what they wanted to hear and 3) liars and phonies.
In America in Vietnam, Lewy noted the establishment of a veritable war-crimes industry, supported by the USSR, as early as 1965. As Ion Mihai Pacepa, a former Romanian intelligence chief, has recounted, the Soviets set up permanent international organizations — including the International War Crimes Tribunal and the Stockholm Conference on Vietnam — "to aid or to conduct operations to help Americans dodge the draft or defect, to demoralize its army with anti-American propaganda, to conduct protests, demonstrations, and boycotts, and to sanction anyone connected with the war." Pacepa claims to have been responsible for fabricating stories about U.S. atrocities in Vietnam and "flacking" them to Western news organizations. Lewy writes that "the Communists made skillful use of their worldwide propaganda apparatus . . . and they found many Western intellectuals only too willing to accept every conceivable allegation of [American] wrongdoing at face value."
The VVAW, a small, radical group that never exceeded a membership of 7,000 (including John Kerry) from a pool of nearly 3 million Vietnam (and 9 million Vietnam-era) veterans, essentially "Americanized" Soviet propaganda. When he testified before the Senate in 1971, Kerry was merely repeating charges that had been making the rounds since 1965.
To the anti-war Left, atrocities revealed the Nazi-like character of "Amerika." But, unlike their Nazi counterparts, U.S. soldiers could be redeemed: By confessing atrocities, the Vietnam veterans, once denigrated as "baby killers," were able to receive absolution from the Left, and were transmuted into innocent victims of a brutal war. American military sociologist Charles Moskos has suggested that atrocity stories out of Vietnam were the functional equivalent of heroic war stories from World War II: They provided a meaning to participation in Vietnam that resonated with those who opposed the war and were now judging the returning soldiers. Some atrocity claims were the product of outright fantasy, on the part of soldiers who returned from the war emotionally disturbed. The (anti-war) psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton wrote of a veteran who, after some time in group therapy, could "confess that he had been much less violent in Vietnam than he had implied. He had previously given the impression that he had killed many people there, whereas in actuality, despite extensive combat experience, he could not be certain he had killed anyone."
Third were the phonies: In response to the claim that some if not many of those who testified at the WSI event were exaggerating or even imposters, Prados writes that “every veteran who presented in Detroit had to show a copy of his military papers (the military form known as DD-214) to demonstrate that he had actually been present at the places and times he was speaking about.”

Let me be clear. Not all atrocity stories can be pawned off as the work of phonies. But one of the most striking revelations of Stolen Valor is how easy it is to produce fraudulent records, including the DD-214. And anyone who served in Vietnam has no doubt at one time or another confronted a wannabe Vietnam vet. It has always amazed me how many people want to claim to have served in such an unpopular war.

I would add a fourth reason—the passing down of a story from soldier to soldier. According to, Keith Nolan, author of 10 published books on Vietnam, says he's heard many veterans describe atrocities just like those Kerry recounted from the Winter Soldier event. Since 1978, Nolan has interviewed roughly 1,000 veterans in depth for his books, and spoken to thousands of others. "I have heard the exact same stories dozens if not hundreds of times over," he said. "Wars produce atrocities. Frustrating guerrilla wars produce a particularly horrific number of atrocities. That some individual soldiers and certain units responded with excessive brutality in Vietnam shouldn't really surprise anyone."
Let me recount a personal anecdote that makes me question the idea that story heard many times validates it. I didn’t commit or witness atrocities during my tour as a Marine infantry platoon leader. As far as I know, neither did the other officers in my regiment and battalion. But I heard of an atrocity just after I joined the unit. A Marine who was scheduled to rotate very shortly recounted an incident that he claimed had occurred shortly after he had arrived in the unit about a year earlier.
According to the story, members of a sister company had killed some North Vietnamese soldiers after they had surrendered. Some months later, I heard another Marine who had joined my platoon after I took it over relate exactly the same story to some newly arrived men, only now it involved me and my platoon. I had a little chat with him and he cleared things up with the new men. But that little episode has always made me wonder how many of the stories have been recycled and how many account of atrocities are based on what veterans heard as opposed to committed or witnessed. Of course, an account based on hearsay may be true. After all, the soldier who broke the My Lai story was not present during the massacre.
Unfortunately for the body politic, this issue is not going to go away. Too many veterans have long memories and they believe that Kerry sacrificed their honor on the altar of his political ambitions.
Mackubin Thomas Owens is a professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College in Newport, RI. He led a Marine infantry platoon in Vietnam in 1968-69.

Robert Destatte - 10/23/2006

"The absence of detailed research on NVA/VC atrocities during and after the war is one of the great black holes in modern Vietnamese historiography."

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