Assaults on Human Rights Defenders on the Rise in Vietnam

The second half of 2015 saw an alarming rise in the number of violent attacks and threats against human rights defenders, petitioners, and their family members in Vietnam. Civil Rights Defenders calls on the Vietnamese authorities to end these attacks and to bring perpetrators to justice in line with Vietnam’s international human rights obligations.

Between June and mid December, at least 22 incidents of violent attacks were reported through out the country, affecting at least 42 persons (see timeline below). This is an increase from the January-May period, during which at least 14 attacks affecting 27 persons were recorded. Many of these attacks were perpetrated with impunity in broad daylight by police or plainclothes agents. In some cases, defenders’ family members or their private residence was targeted. In the latest incident on 6 December, a group of about 20 masked men assaulted and robbed human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and three other activists in Nghe An province, after Dai addressed a human rights forum for local villagers and activists. Unidentified men also attacked Dai’s apartment in Hanoi in January this year.

“These blatant violations of the right to personal security are leaving behind a blood trail that is shockingly inimical to Vietnam’s status as a member of the UN Human Rights Council and a state party to numerous human rights treaties,” said Marie Månson, Human Rights Defenders at Risk Programme Director, Civil Rights Defenders. Vietnam abstained from a UN General Assembly draft resolution on the recognition and protection of human rights defenders last month at the Third Committee. The resolution will be put to a second and final vote on 17 December in New York.

There continues be a lack of credible, transparent and thorough investigations into these brazen attacks. On 3 November, a group of men attacked and seriously injured human rights lawyers Tran Thu Nam and Le Van Luan in Hanoi after the lawyers met with their clients in a case of death in police custody. The lawyers said they recognised a policeman in plainclothes among the attackers. A week later, the Hanoi police announced they conducted an investigation, denied any police involvement, and said the attack was triggered by a “traffic dispute” between the attackers and the two lawyers.

At least 28 defenders and petitioners are also known to have been arbitrarily detained and questioned by police in the same period, including blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, the recipient of the 2015 Civil Rights Defender of the Year Award. Ms Quynh received the award in absentia due to on-going restrictions on her freedom of movement. She was also attacked and injured by police in July during a peaceful assembly.

“Concerned governments must make it very clear to Vietnam that human rights defenders deserve recognition and protection, not kicks and punches, for their legitimate and important work,” said Marie Månson.


Vietnam has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Article 9 of the ICCPR guarantees the right to security of the person. Article 7 of the ICCPR and CAT guarantees the right to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Vietnam thus has a positive obligation to prevent, investigate and hold accountable those responsible for violating these rights.

When its human rights record was reviewed by fellow UN member states in 2014 under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Vietnam agreed to implement numerous human rights recommendations, including to ensure a “favourable”, “friendly” and “safe and enabling” environment for human rights defenders and civil society actors. In a statement marking International Human Rights Day last week, deputy minister of foreign affairs Ha Kim Ngoc said that Vietnam “steadfastly pursues the policy of ensuring full enforcement of basic rights and freedom for each citizen.”

In addition to violent attacks, scores of human rights defenders and government critics remain in prison after being convicted in unfair trials under broad and vague provisions of the Penal Code. Several activists and bloggers are in detention awaiting trial, including blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Anh BaSam) and his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, former prisoner of conscience Tran Anh Kim, and blogger Nguyen Dinh Ngoc (aka Nguyen Ngoc Gia).

Seriously flawed provisions often abused to prosecute activists remain intact in the recently revised Penal Code, adopted in late November and effective from 1 July, 2016. The National Assembly is considering a draft law on associations that contains highly restrictive provisions and intrusive requirements inconsistent with Vietnam’s obligations to protect and promote the right to freedom of association.