Fourteen MEPs have written a letter to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, to raise concerns about the human rights situation in Vietnam amid the forthcoming ratification of two agreements between the European Union (EU) and Vietnam.
The letter was made public shortly after the Council adopted decisions on 25 June regarding the signature of the two agreements, the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) and the Investment Protection Agreement (IPA).
In the letter dated 21 June, the 14 MEPs expressed their concern at the “serious and systemic deterioration of human rights in Vietnam,” and asked that the Council, the Commission, the EEAS and EU member states act to secure “concrete and sustained human rights improvements in the country in view of the signature and ratification procedures of the agreements.” They note that the crackdown on human rights has intensified in recent years, marked by a spike in attacks on peaceful activists, as well as lengthy detentions and the adoption of problematic laws.
The letter makes reference to Nguyen Trung Ton, a pastor and activist who was sentenced to 12 years in prison along with five others in April 2018 after being charged with ‘carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the government’ under Article 79 of the Vietnamese penal code. Pastor Ton had advocated for the right to freedom of religion or belief and spoken out against social injustices, and had previously been sentenced to two years in prison in 2011, on charges of ‘anti-state propaganda’ under Article 88 of the penal code. In June 2018 his 12 year sentence was upheld.
The letter concludes with the recommendation that the EU should “do everything in its power to secure at least some tangible human rights improvements in Vietnam before signing and ratifying the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement and Investment Protection Agreement.” Improvements called for include: the release of all political prisoners, public commitment to repeal or revise problematic legal provisions, and concrete steps towards the recognition of independent labour unions and other reforms in areas of labour rights protection.
Both agreements will be signed on 30 June 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam.Consequently, the EVFTA will be put before the European Parliament for its approval later this year or in early 2020, whereas the IPA is scheduled to be to be ratified by the European Parliament and members states within at least two years.
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said: “CSW welcomes the efforts of this group of MEPs to stand up for the human rights of the people of Vietnam. We echo the calls within the letters for sustained human rights improvements and the release of all political prisoners. Religious groups, human rights defenders and members of civil society face a wide range of human rights violations in Vietnam, including harassment, intimidation, intrusive monitoring, arrest, imprisonment, torture and extra-judicial killing. We call on the European Union, and specifically the Council, Commission and EEAS, to ensure that wider human rights and freedom of religion or belief are not side-lined in trade negotiations, and to use this opportunity to press for change in Vietnam.”
Notes to Editors:
- A copy of the letter can be found here.
- The signatories to the letter are:
- MEP Maria Arena
- MEP Margrete Auken
- MEP Reinhard Bütikofer
- MEP Karoline Graswander-Hainz
- MEP Theresa Griffin
- MEP Heidi Hautala
- MEP Agnes Jongerius
- MEP Jude Kirton-Darling
- MEP Miapetra Kumpula-Natri
- MEP Aurore Lalucq
- MEP Ana Miranda
- MEP Maria Noichl
- MEP Joachim Schuster
- MEP Julie Ward