Reports on Human Rights Practices
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 25, 2004
Vietnam is a one-party state, ruled and controlled by
the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). The CPV's constitutionally mandated
leading role and the occupancy of all senior government positions by party
members ensured the primacy of Politburo guidelines and enabled the party to
set the broad parameters of national policy. In recent years, the CPV gradually
reduced its formal involvement in government operations and allowed the
Government to exercise significant discretion in implementing policy. The
National Assembly remained subject to CPV direction; however, the Government
continued to strengthen the capacity of the 498-member National Assembly and to
reform the bureaucracy. The National Assembly members were chosen in May 2002
elections in which candidates were vetted by the CPV's Vietnam Fatherland Front
(VFF), an umbrella group for the country's mass organizations. Approximately 90
percent of elected delegates were CPV members. However, the National Assembly
continued to play an increasingly independent role as a forum for local and
provincial concerns and as a critic of local and national corruption and
inefficiency and made progress in improving transparency in the legal and
regulatory systems. The judiciary was subject to the influence of the CPV and
Internal security is primarily the responsibility of the
Ministry of Public Security (MPS); however, in some remote areas, the military
forces are still the primary government agency, providing infrastructure and
all public safety functions, including maintaining public order in the event of
civil unrest. Since 2001, the military has played a large role in the Central
Highlands by enforcing restrictions on gatherings, detaining individuals, and
enforcing travel restrictions. The MPS controls the police, a special national
security investigative agency, and other units that maintain internal security.
The MPS enforces laws and regulations that often significantly restrict
individual liberties and violate other human rights. It also maintained a
system of household registration and block wardens to monitor the population,
concentrating on those suspected of engaging, or being likely to engage in,
unauthorized political activities; however, this system has become less obvious
and pervasive in its intrusion into most citizens' daily lives. While the
civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security
forces, there were reports that elements of the security forces acted
independent of government authority. Members of the public security forces committed
numerous human rights abuses.
The country of approximately 80 million persons is
undergoing transition from a wholly central planned economy to a
"socialist-oriented market economy." During the year, the Gross
Domestic Product growth rate was approximately 7 percent and the inflation rate
approximately 2.2 percent at year's end. The agriculture, forestry, and fishery
sectors employed 62.5 percent of the labor force and accounted for 23 percent
of total economic output. Industry and construction contributed 38.5 percent of
total economic output, while services accounted for 38.5 percent. During the
year, official development assistance disbursements exceeded $1.4 billion. In
the last 10 years, overall poverty levels decreased significantly; as of 2002,
approximately 30 percent of the population lived below the poverty line.
Particularly in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, economic reforms have raised the
standard of living and reduced CPV and government control over, and intrusion
into, citizens' daily lives; however, many citizens in isolated rural areas,
particularly members of ethnic minorities in the Northwest Highlands, Central
Highlands, and the central coastal regions continued to live in extreme
poverty. There was a growing income and development gap between urban and rural
areas and within urban areas. Unemployment and underemployment remained
significant problems. The Government made significant steps in improving legal
transparency for businesses. In December 2002, the National Assembly amended the
Law on the Promulgation of Legal Normative Documents, which required most legal
documents be published in the Official Gazette. On July 1, to meet this
requirement, the Official Gazette became a daily publication, from six issues
per month previously.
The Government's human rights record remained poor, and
it continued to commit serious abuses. The Government continued to deny the
right of citizens to change their government. Police sometimes beat suspects
during arrests, detention, and interrogation. Several sources also reported
that security forces detained, beat, and were responsible for the
disappearances of persons during the year. Incidents of arbitrary detention of
citizens, including detention for peaceful expression of political and religious
views, continued. With some exceptions, prison conditions remained harsh,
particularly in some isolated provinces, and some persons reportedly died as a
result of abuse in custody. Prisons usually required inmates to work for little
compensation and no wages. The judiciary was not independent, and the
Government denied some citizens the right to fair and expeditious trials. The
Government continued to hold a number of political prisoners. The Government
restricted citizens' privacy rights, although the trend toward reduced
government interference in the daily lives of most citizens continued. The
Government significantly restricted freedom of speech, freedom of the press,
freedom of assembly, and freedom of association. The Government continued its
longstanding policy of not tolerating most types of public dissent and stepped
up efforts to control dissent on the Internet. Security forces continued to
enforce restrictions on public gatherings and travel in some parts of the
country, primarily in the Central Highlands and the Northwest Highlands. The
Government allowed elected officials and ordinary citizens in approved forums
somewhat greater freedom of expression and freedom of assembly to express
grievances. The Government prohibited independent political, labor, and social
organizations; such organizations existed only under the control of the VFF.
The Government restricted freedom of religion and operation of religious
organizations other than those approved by the State. In particular, Buddhists,
Hoa Hao, and Protestants active in unregistered organizations faced harassment
as well as possible detention by authorities. The Government imposed some
limits on freedom of movement of particular individuals whom it deemed
threatening to its rule. Access to the Central Highlands by foreign observers
improved from 2002, but visitors to the area were generally monitored and often
accompanied by security officials. The Government continued to restrict
significantly civil liberties on grounds of national security and societal
stability. The CPV continued its efforts to strengthen the mechanism for
citizens to petition the Government and for victims of injustice to obtain
compensation. The Government did not permit human rights organizations to form
or operate. Violence and societal discrimination against women remained
problems. Child prostitution was a problem. Government and societal
discrimination against some ethnic minorities continued to be problems. The
Government restricted some core worker rights, such as freedom of association,
although the Government cooperated with the International Labor Organization
(ILO) and international donors to improve implementation of the Labor Law.
There were reports that children worked in exploitative situations. The
Government recognized child labor as a problem and attempted to address it.
Trafficking in women and children for the purpose of prostitution within the
country and abroad continued to a serious problem, and there were reports of
the trafficking of women to China and Taiwan for arranged and forced marriages.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person,
Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary and Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no political killings during the year;
however, there were reports of killings by security forces. In July, police in
Xin Man District, Ha Giang Province, reportedly beat to death then threw into a
stream Vang Seo Giao, a former CPV member who had converted to Christianity,
for refusing to renounce his Protestant faith. Police also reportedly beat to
death another Protestant, Mua Say So, for criticizing the Government over the
alleged killing of his brother, Mua Bua Seng. In September, police in Nam Dinh
Province beat to death Tran Minh Duc who had been detained following a domestic
dispute. There were no reports of action taken against officials involved in
any of these killings. During the year, police in Quang Nam Province reportedly
tortured Nguyen Ngoc Chau to death while questioning him on murder charges. The
Supreme People's Procuracy requested prosecution for the three police officers
implicated in the killing; the case was pending at year's end.
Two police officers in Vinh Phuc Province charged in the
January 2002 torture death of Khong Van Thoi still were awaiting trial at
year's end. Two prison guards charged in the September 2002 killing of a prison
inmate in Hai Duong Province, Pham Van Dung, also were awaiting trial for
manslaughter at year's end.
There were credible reports that some members of ethnic
minorities in the Central Highlands and Northwest Highlands who were either
arrested or detained did not return to their families.
In August, the People's Court of Ho Chi Minh City
notified the family of Pham Van Tuong, a former Unified Buddhist Church of
Vietnam (UBCV) monk known as Thich Tri Luc until he secularized in 1997, that
he was imprisoned in Ho Chi Minh City awaiting trial on unspecified charges. In
July 2002, Tuong reportedly was forced to return to the country from Cambodia,
where he had been granted UNHCR refugee status. The court postponed his trial,
originally scheduled for August 1; his family was not allowed to visit him, nor
had a new trial date been set by year's end.
In August 2002, in M'Drak district, Dak Lak Province,
police confronted 120 villagers attempting to prevent the detention of an
ethnic minority Protestant pastor, Y Su Nie, and his two adult sons. After a
confused altercation, the police arrested all 120 persons. Most of those
arrested were released after a few days, but 20 to 30 of the villagers did not
return to their villages. Police reportedly did not acknowledge detaining them.
In October 2002, police reported that they had detained Y Su Nie and one other
Also in August 2002, in Dak Lak, police detained 240
persons at a house church meeting. Most of the detained were released within a
few days, but 47 persons allegedly did not return to their families. Police did
not admit to having detained them.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits physical abuse; however, police
sometimes beat suspects while in the process of arresting them or while they
were in custody. Police reportedly beat to death at least two suspects in
detention in 2002 (see Section 1.a.).
There was no known action taken against two guards who
reportedly beat and seriously injured an inmate at a prison in Hai Duong
Province in August 2002.
Prison conditions reportedly were often harsh but
generally did not threaten the lives of prisoners. During the year, as in 2002,
visits by select diplomatic observers revealed Spartan but generally acceptable
conditions in at least two prisons.
Men and women were housed separately in prisons.
Juveniles were housed separately from adult populations. Overcrowding,
insufficient diet, and poor sanitation remained serious problems in many
Prisoners, including those held for political reasons,
were reportedly moved arbitrarily to solitary confinement, including
deprivation of reading and writing materials, for periods of up to several
months. Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that some inmates
were punished with harsh solitary confinement conditions during the year.
Pretrial detainees were generally held separately from
convicted prisoners and were denied visitation rights. Consular officers were
granted access to their citizen detainees but usually after a 4 to 8 week
delay. Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that conditions for
pretrial detainees were harsher than conditions for those who were convicted
and sentenced; however, pretrial detainees were sometimes not permitted access
by lawyers and family members. Most prisoners had access to basic health care.
Some political and other prisoners were denied visitation rights. Prisoners
generally were required to work but received no wages (see Section 6.c.).
Prisoners sentenced to hard labor complained that their diet and medical care
were insufficient to sustain good health, especially in remote, disease-ridden
areas. Although political and religious prisoners often were held under harsh
conditions and with limited medical care in remote prisons, such as Z30a at
Xuan Loc in an isolated part of Dong Nai Province, there was no evidence to
suggest their conditions were significantly different than those for the
regular prison population.
During the year, as in 2002, the Government permitted
selected diplomatic observers to visit prisons; however, the Government did not
allow the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit prisoners.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention;
however, the Government continued to arrest and detain citizens arbitrarily.
Some persons were arrested and detained for the peaceful expression of their
political and religious views. In addition, several persons who were arrested
or detained in 2002 reportedly did not return to their families (see Section
1.b.). The Criminal Code provides for various rights of detainees, including
the right of the accused to have a lawyer present during interrogation;
however, in practice the authorities sometimes ignored these legal safeguards.
Moreover, a long-standing directive on administrative probation gives security
officials broad powers to subject individuals to a form of house arrest, if
they believe that a suspect is a threat to "national security" or
even on less serious grounds, without trial.
The Criminal Code places a 12-month time limit on
investigative detention; however, the Government sometimes detained persons for
more than 1 year in that status. There is no legal limit on the time that a
judge's panel (a body consisting of at least one judge and two lay assessors)
has to rule on a case (see Section 1.e.); however, there is a 3-month limit for
trying, dismissing, or returning a case for reinvestigation once the 12-month
investigative period is ended. Prior to being formally charged, a detainee has
a statutory right to notify family members, and, in most cases, police informed
the family of the detainee's whereabouts. A detainee may contact a lawyer,
prior to being charged, if permitted by the head of the investigating office.
Following a formal charge, the detainee has a statutory right to contact an
attorney; however, it was not clear that this right generally was respected in
The Supreme People's Procuracy (the office which
investigates cases and initiates public prosecutions) issues arrest warrants,
generally at the request of police; however, police may make an arrest without
a warrant on the basis of a complaint filed by any party alleging the
commission of a crime. In such cases, the Procuracy must issue retroactive
arrest warrants. Unless specifically authorized by an investigator, the MPS
usually prohibited contact between a detainee and his lawyer as long as the
procurator's office was investigating a case, which may last up to 1 year and
may not entail any formal charges. Likewise, family members may visit a
detainee only with the permission of the investigator. Time spent in pretrial
detention usually counts toward time served upon conviction and sentencing.
Courts may sentence persons to administrative detention
for a period of up to 5 years after release from prison. These provisions were
enforced unevenly. Government officials used administrative probation to place
persons under house arrest without trial for up to 2 years (see Section 2.d.).
For example, at least three UBCV monks were sentenced to 2 years' house arrest
in October and remained under house arrest at year's end.
Persons arrested for the peaceful expression of views
were subject to charge under several provisions in the Criminal Code that
outlaw acts against the State. On March 17, police detained democracy activist
Dr. Nguyen Dan Que for providing information critical of the country to foreign
journalists (see Section 2.a.). On June 18, a court in Hanoi sentenced Dr. Pham
Hong Son to 13 years' imprisonment and 3 years' house arrest (see Section
2.a.). His sentence was reduced on appeal to 5 years' imprisonment. On December
31, Nguyen Vu Binh, a journalist who had been arrested in September 2002, was
convicted of espionage by a court in Hanoi after he had criticized the
country's border agreement with China and sent testimony on human rights issues
in the country to a foreign government. Binh was sentenced to 7 years'
imprisonment and 3 years' house arrest. Diplomats and foreign journalists were
refused permission to attend either of the two trials.
Police picked up street children in Hanoi and Ho Chi
Minh City and held them in juvenile detention facilities in advance of the
December Southeast Asia Games.
In 2002, activist Nguyen Khac Toan was sentenced to 12
years' imprisonment for disseminating articles critical of the Government on
In December 2002, police detained democracy activists
Pham Que Duong and Tran Van Khue (see Section 2.a.); at year's end, they had
not yet been tried. In addition, up to 19 Hmong Protestant leaders, including
Mua A Ho, Cu Van Long, and Sua Song Vu, may still be detained. It was unknown
whether several persons reportedly detained in previous years have been tried,
including: Vo Tan Sau, Phan Thi Tiem, and Tran Thi Duyen, Le Huu Hoa, Ma Van
Chinh, and Lu Seo Dieu.
The Constitution does not provide for forced exile, and
the Government did not use it.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for the independence of judges
and lay assessors; however, in practice, the CPV controls the courts closely at
all levels, selecting judges, at least in part, for their political
reliability. Constitutional safeguards were significantly lacking. The CPV had
strong influence over high profile cases and cases in which a person was
charged with challenging or harming the CPV or the State. During the year, CPV
and government officials likely exerted influence over court decisions by
making clear their wishes to both the lay assessors and the judges who sat on a
panel together to decide cases. The National Assembly votes for judicial
nominees presented by the President for the Supreme People's Court (SPC)
President and Supreme People's Procuracy. The National Assembly also controls
the judiciary's budget, including judges' salaries, just as it controls the
budgets and salaries of all other parts of the Government. Provincial and
district governments disburse judges' salaries at their respective levels, just
as they disburse the salaries of other local officials. The State President
appoints all other judges, not the President of the SPC. This power is granted in
the Constitution. In September 2002, the Government transferred local courts
from the Ministry of Justice to the SPC, in an effort to increase judicial
independence. There was no evidence that this change had any effect on the
independence of the courts.
The system of appointing judges and lay assessors also
reflected the lack of judicial independence. Court of First Instance Panels at
district and provincial levels include judges and lay assessors, but provincial
appeals courts and the Supreme People's Court are composed of judges only.
People's Councils appoint lay assessors at the district and provincial levels.
Lay assessors are required to have "high moral standards," but legal
training is not necessary. District and provincial People's Councils appoint
the lay assessors at the lower levels. The VFF must approve candidates for SPC
lay assessors. The SPC President appoints the District People's Court and
Provincial People's Court judges to 5-year terms. The SPC President also
appoints SPC judges from candidates approved by a judicial selection panel
under the influence of the CPV. The CPV's influence over the courts was
amplified both because the People's Councils appointed the lay assessors, and
because the judges served limited terms and were subject to review.
The judiciary consists of the Supreme People's Court;
the district and provincial People's Courts; military tribunals;
administrative, economic, and labor courts; and other tribunals established by
law. Each district throughout the country has a district People's Court, which
serves as the court of first instance for most domestic, civil, and criminal
cases. Each province has a provincial People's Court, which serves as the
appellate forum for district court cases, as well as courts of first instance
for other cases. The SPC is the highest court of appeal and review. The SPC
reports to the National Assembly. Administrative courts deal with complaints by
citizens about official abuse and corruption.
Military tribunals operate under the same rules as other
courts, but the Ministry of Defense (MOD) provides their funding. Tribunal
judges and assessors are military personnel, chosen jointly by the SPC and the
MOD but supervised by the SPC. The MOD is represented on the judicial selection
panels, and the head of the military tribunal system is the deputy head of the
SPC. A 2002 law gives military courts jurisdiction over all criminal cases
involving military entities, including military-owned enterprises. The military
has the option of using the administrative, economic, or labor courts for civil
The VFF did not have any legal standing to settle legal
issues itself. In addition, the CPV and the Government set up special
committees to help resolve local disputes.
The Supreme People's Procuracy brings charges against
the accused and serves as prosecutor during trials. A judging council, made up
of a judge and one or more lay assessors, determines guilt or innocence and
also passes sentence. Although the Constitution provides that citizens are innocent
until proven guilty, a foreign legal expert who analyzed the court system
during 2000 found that more than 95 percent of the persons who were charged
with a crime were convicted. Some lawyers complained that judges generally
There was a shortage of trained lawyers and judges and
no independent bar association. At the Supreme Court level, there was a 20
percent shortage of qualified judges in 2002. According to a U.N. official, 30
to 40 percent more judges were needed at the provincial level. Low salaries
hindered the development of a trained judiciary. The few judges who had formal
legal training often studied abroad in countries with socialist legal
traditions. Young educated judges usually had little influence within the
The Government conducted training programs to address
the problem of inadequately trained judges and other court officials. A number
of foreign governments and the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) provided
assistance to strengthen the rule of law and to develop a more effective
judiciary; however, the lack of openness in the criminal judicial process and
the continuing lack of independence of the judiciary undermined these efforts.
Although the Constitution provides for legal counsel for
persons accused of criminal offenses, the scarcity of lawyers made this
provision impossible to implement. With few qualified attorneys, the procurator
often handled both the prosecution and the defense, resulting in legal counsel
that frequently provided little help to the defendant. Consistent with its
Marxist-Leninist political system, the Government required that the Bar
Association be a member of the VFF. At the provincial level, the Bar
Association was subordinate to representatives of the central Government, the
VFF, the provincial People's Council, and the People's Committee.
Trials generally were open to the public; however,
judicial authorities closed trials or strictly limited attendance in sensitive
cases. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial and to have a
lawyer. The defendant or the defense lawyer have the right to cross-examine
witnesses; however, there were credible reports that defendants were not
allowed access to government evidence in advance of the trial, to cross-examine
witnesses, or to challenge statements. Lawyers reported that they often had
little time before trials to examine evidence to be presented against their
clients. Those who were convicted had the right to appeal. The courts did not
publish their proceedings.
The Government continued to imprison persons for the
peaceful expression of dissenting religious and political views. There were no
reliable estimates of the number of political prisoners, because the Government
usually did not publicize such arrests, rejected the concept of political and
religious prisoners, and sometimes conducted closed trials and sentencing
sessions. There were 14 prisoners known to be held for political reasons and 21
prisoners held for religious reasons. Other sources estimated that numbers
could be much higher. Among those believed to be detained or imprisoned were
political activists Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, Col. Pham Que Duong, Tran Van Khue,
Tran Dung Tien, Pham Hong Son, Nguyen Vu Binh, Nguyen Dinh Huy (who reportedly
was suffering from Parkinson's disease), Le Chi Quang, Nguyen Khac Toan,
journalist Pham Thai, and religious persons Father Nguyen Van Ly, Ngo Van
Thong, Pham Minh Tri, Le Minh Triet, Nguyen Chau Lang, Truong Van Duc, Bui Van
Hue, Dinh Troi, Pham Van Tuong, Ho Van Trong, Ha Hai, Thich Thien Minh, Nguyen
Thien Phung, Hoang Trong Dung, Nguyen Van Lia, Ly A Hu, and Ly A Cho.
The Government amnestied at least 750 prisoners during
the year, but no political or religious prisoners were known to be among them;
however, the Government reduced the sentences of at least 4 political prisoners
during the year.
The Government claimed that it did not hold any
political or religious prisoners and that persons described as political or
religious prisoners were convicted of violating national security laws or
general criminal laws. In February, local authorities released or commuted the
sentences of 246 prisoners from Ho Chi Minh City's Chi Hoa and Bo La prisons
for good behavior in advance of the Lunar New Year holiday. On the occasion of
the September 2 National Day, local authorities amnestied an additional 544
prisoners in Hanoi, Haiphong, and Ho Chi Minh City, releasing 120 before the
end of their prison terms and reducing the sentences of the remainder by 2 to
20 months. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that none of the persons
amnestied were listed as persons of concern by foreign governments or
nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
The Government did not allow access by humanitarian
organizations to political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
The Constitution provides for the right to privacy of
home and correspondence; however, the Government restricted this right
significantly. Household registration and block warden systems existed for the surveillance
of all citizens but were used with less vigor and thoroughness than in the past
and usually did not intrude on most citizens. The authorities largely focused
on persons whom they regarded as having views critical of the Government or
whom they suspected of involvement in unauthorized political or religious
activities. Citizens formally are required to register with police when they
leave home, remain in another location overnight, or when they change their
residence, although this usually was honored in the breach; however, the
Government appeared to have enforced these requirements in some districts of
the Central Highlands and northwestern provinces. On August 18, police used
that requirement to enter an illegal Protestant house church in Ho Chi Minh
City, leading to an altercation that resulted in the brief detention of two
church leaders. Most citizens who wished to move around the country to seek
work or to visit family and friends were able to do so without being monitored,
and most families who sought employment moved to other locations without prior
government permission (see Section 2.d.). There continued to be reports that
some "spontaneous migrant" families were unable to obtain household
registration or residence permits in their new locations, which created legal
and administrative problems. In urban areas, most citizens were free to
maintain contact and to work with foreigners. In theory, the Government
required that citizens who work for foreign organizations be screened and hired
through a government service bureau. Laws governing foreign business
enterprises are more lenient. In practice, many foreign organizations,
including diplomatic missions, and enterprises hired their own personnel and
only "registered" them with the service bureau or employment bureau.
Forced entry into homes is not permitted without orders
from the Procuracy; however, in practice, security forces seldom followed this
requirement but rather asked for permission to enter, with an implied threat to
cooperate. In some cases, individuals refused to cooperate with such
"requests." In urban areas, police generally left when faced with
non-compliance. In one case in early October, security officers entered without
permission a house in Gia Lai Province where a foreign diplomat was conducting
a consular interview. The security officers harassed the occupants of the
residence and later blocked the consular officer from entering residences in
Dak Lak Province.
The Government opened and censored targeted persons'
mail, confiscated packages and letters, and monitored telephone conversations,
electronic mail, and facsimile transmissions. The Government cut the telephone
lines of some targeted individuals and also repeatedly interrupted their
cellular phone service. This practice appeared to be sporadic and was not
applied consistently. The Government monitored e-mail, searched for sensitive
key words, and regulated Internet content (see Section 2.a.).
The Government did not exercise forced resettlement;
however, there were credible reports that the Government forced ethnic minority
Protestants in the northwestern and Central Highlands provinces to leave their
homes without providing them with alternative places to live. The Government
also resettled some citizens to make way for infrastructure projects. By law,
citizens were to be compensated in such cases, but there were widespread
complaints, including from the National Assembly, that compensation was not
fair or was delayed. The Government has acknowledged problems in past
The Government enforced universal male conscription.
Medical waivers were available, and students generally received deferments, as
did others in special cases. Individuals who received deferments rarely were
drafted. It was unknown whether there were differences in conscription rates
between ethnic groups.
Citizens' membership in mass organizations remained
voluntary but often was important for career advancement. Membership in the CPV
remained an aid to advancement in the Government and in state companies and was
vital for promotion to senior levels of the Government. At the same time,
diversification of the economy made membership in CPV-controlled mass
organizations and the CPV less essential to financial and social advancement.
Opposition political parties were not permitted.
The Government continued to implement a family planning
policy that urges all families to have no more than two children; this policy
emphasized exhortation rather than coercion. The Government can deny promotions
and salary increases to government employees with more than two children. Fines
were not permitted under revised family planning regulations adopted during the
year; officials claimed that fines were never a formal part of the family
In 2001, relatives of some individuals holding political
viewpoints at variance with the Government lost their jobs with state-owned
enterprises; however, most, if not all, found equivalent or better positions
with private sector employers. No similar cases were known to have taken place
in 2002 or during the year.
The Government interfered with distribution of foreign
periodicals and access to satellite television (see Section 2.a.).
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and
freedom of the press; however, the Government significantly restricted these
freedoms in practice, particularly with respect to political and religious
speech. Both the Constitution and the Criminal Code include broad national
security and anti-defamation provisions that the Government used to restrict
severely such freedoms. The CPV, the Government, and the party-controlled mass
organizations controlled all print and electronic media. The Government
exercised oversight through the Ministry of Culture and Information,
supplemented by pervasive party guidance and national security legislation
sufficiently broad to ensure effective self-censorship in the domestic media.
During the year, the international NGO Reporters Without Borders claimed that
Vietnam was among the 10 most repressive countries in the world regarding
freedom of the press.
A press law required journalists to pay monetary damages
to individuals or organizations harmed as a result of their reporting, even if
the reports were true. Observers noted that this law limited the scope of
investigative reporting. Several media outlets continued to test the limits of
government press restriction by publishing articles that criticized actions by
party and government officials; however, the freedom to criticize the CPV and
its senior leadership remained restricted. Nonetheless, during the year, there
were press reports about topics that generally were considered sensitive, such
as the prosecution of high-ranking CPV officials in the trial of organized
crime boss Nam Cam. The Government required officials to obtain approval from
their ministry before providing any information to foreign journalists.
Journalists must receive approval from their editorial offices before providing
The CPV and the Government tolerated public discussion
on some subjects and permitted somewhat more criticism than in the past. The
law allows citizens to complain openly about inefficient government, administrative
procedures, corruption, and economic policy. Senior government and party
leaders traveled to many provinces to try to resolve citizen complaints.
However, on January 29, the Hanoi People's Court sentenced four persons to jail
terms ranging from 24 to 42 months after they disseminated to all 61 provinces
and the National Assembly letters denouncing local land clearance policies. On
August 22, a court in Dong Nai Province sentenced four persons to prison terms
of 30 to 42 months for inciting fellow farmers to voice complaints over
provincial land use policies.
The Government continued to prohibit free speech that
questioned the role of the CPV, criticized individual government leaders,
promoted pluralism or multiparty democracy, or questioned the Government's
policies on sensitive matters such as human rights or the border agreement with
China. There continued to be an arbitrary line between what constituted private
speech about sensitive matters, which the authorities would tolerate, and
public speech in those areas that they would not tolerate. On March 17, police
detained democracy activist Dr. Nguyen Dan Que on espionage charges for
providing information to foreign journalists. At year's end, he remained in
detention in Ho Chi Minh City, and his family was prohibited from visiting him.
On June 18, a court in Hanoi sentenced Dr. Pham Hong Son to 13 years'
imprisonment and 3 years' house arrest in a closed trial on espionage charges
after he translated a number of English-language articles about democracy and
posted them on the Internet. On August 26, an appeals court reduced the
sentence to 5 years. In 2002, police repeatedly summoned democracy activist
Nguyen Vu Binh, a former journalist, for questioning. He was under close police
surveillance for several weeks thereafter before being summoned for questioning
again and detained in 2002. On December 31, he was tried, convicted of
"espionage," and sentenced to 7 years in prison and 3 years'
administrative detention (see Section 1.d.). In 2001, biologist Ha Sy Phu, who
was cleared on earlier charges of treason, was placed under administrative
probation for writing articles calling for democracy. His administrative
probation expired in March.
Since 2001, several democracy activists have had their
telephone service disconnected. In 2002, before his December 2002 detention,
retired Colonel Pham Que Duong was called in for questioning for several
consecutive days and had his cell telephone service cut at least three times in
2002. In December 2002, police detained Duong in Ho Chi Minh City just after he
concluded a visit to fellow activist Tran Van Khue. A day later, police came to
Khue's house, detained him, and took away his computer and other materials.
Khue and Duong had identified themselves as spokespersons for a number of other
activists. Both Khue and Duong were in pretrial detention at year's end. Before
his arrest on March 18, Nguyen Dan Que continued to call for democracy and
respect for human rights, but authorities interfered with his ability to
communicate by cutting off his cellular telephone service intermittently,
shutting off his land line, and restricting his access to the Internet and
e-mail for more than 2 years. Police monitored him closely and questioned him
periodically until his March arrest. Que was in pretrial detention at year's
On July 17, the Government reduced by 5 years the
cumulative 15-year sentences imposed on Catholic priest Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly
in 2001 for "damaging national unity." In 2001, Father Ly had
submitted written testimony critical of the Government to the U.S. Commission
on International Religious Freedom and frequently spoke out for political
pluralism and complete religious freedom. On September 10, the Ho Chi Minh City
People's Court sentenced Father Ly’s niece, Nguyen Thi Hoa, and two nephews,
Nguyen Truc Cuong and Nguyen Vu Viet, to sentences ranging from 3 to 5 years'
imprisonment for communicating information on his activities to foreign
journalists. On November 28, the Ho Chi Minh Court of Appeals reduced the
sentences of the three siblings, resulting in their release for time served.
The Government restricted persons who belonged to
unofficial religious groups from speaking publicly about their beliefs (see
Some persons who expressed alternative opinions on
religious or political issues were not allowed to travel abroad (see Section
Published reports on high-level government corruption
and mismanagement became more common in recent years. Local newspapers devoted
extensive coverage to the trial of the Nam Cam organized crime gang, with links
to three high-level government officials, two of whom were members of the CPV
Central Committee before their expulsions in 2002. The Government restricted
coverage when it deemed that the scandal was receiving too much publicity and
revealing too many sensitive points. Many newspapers ignored the CPV's
instructions not to report on the case, resulting in strong rebukes. During the
year, the editor-in-chief of Tuoi Tre, who presided over the newspaper during
reporting on the Nam Cam trial, was transferred to the newspaper's real estate
In 2002, the Government criticized reporters for what it
considered sensationalized reporting on a major fire in Ho Chi Minh City. In
December 2002, the Ministry of Culture and Information revoked the press
identity cards of four reporters. Three of the reporters, Tran Ngoc Tuan of
Tien Phong magazine, Dang Thanh Hai of Thanh Nien newspaper, and Nguyen Minh
Son of Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper, filed what the Government claimed were
inaccurate reports about Danang police beating citizens to the point of severe
injury. A fourth reporter, Bui Ngoc Cai of Gia Dinh Va Xa Hoi newspaper,
reported that a police major general had said that the Government might punish
ministerial level officials for corruption. All four journalists had their
press cards returned to their employers in October.
In 2002, the Government unexpectedly blocked press
access to the foreign-funded, scientific Conference on Environmental and Human
Health Effects of Agent Orange in Hanoi. The Government did not allow foreign
journalists to attend sessions and restricted domestic journalists to the
opening and closing sessions. At year's end, nearly 1˝ years later, the
conference papers had not been translated or distributed.
The Government generally required religious publishing
to be done through one government-owned religious publishing house; however,
some religious groups were able to print their own materials or import
materials, subject to government approval (see Section 2.c.).
Foreign language periodicals were widely available in
cities; however, the Government occasionally censored articles about the
country. The Government sometimes delayed availability of a foreign periodical,
apparently because of articles on sensitive topics. The Government generally
did not limit access to international radio, except to Radio Free Asia and the
Far East Broadcasting Corporation, which it continued to jam.
Foreign journalists must be approved by the Foreign
Ministry's Press Center and must be based in Hanoi. The number of foreign staff
allowed to each foreign media organization was limited, and most local staff
who worked for foreign media were provided by the Foreign Ministry. The Press
Center monitored journalists' activities and decided on a case-by-case basis
whether to approve their interview, photograph, film, or travel requests, all
of which in principle must be submitted 5 days in advance. The Press Center
refused several travel requests, particularly for travel to the Central
Highlands, although it did allow two journalist groups to visit the Central
Highlands during the year. By law, foreign journalists are required to address
all of their questions to other government agencies through the Foreign
Ministry, although it appeared that this often was not followed in practice.
Foreign journalists generally received visas valid for 6 months. One journalist
was unable to renew his visa during 2002, and two journalists received visas
for shorter than usual terms in 2001. There were no such reports during the
In past years, the Government censored television
footage and sometimes delayed export of footage by several days. During 2002
and this year, such censorship was not known to have occurred, although
regulations continued to allow the Government to screen such footage. The law
limits access to satellite television to top officials, foreigners, luxury
hotels, and the press; however, the law was not enforced uniformly, and an
increasing number of persons in urban and some rural areas had access to
censored television footage via home satellite equipment or cable. In 2002,
following a visible increase in individual satellite dishes set up in
conjunction with the World Cup soccer competition, the Government issued a new
decree in an attempt to enforce this requirement more stringently; however,
that decree appeared to go largely unenforced.
The Government censored art exhibits, music, and other
cultural activities. However, the Government generally allowed artists broader
latitude than in past years in choosing the themes for their works, although
artists were not allowed to exhibit works of art that censors regarded as
criticizing or ridiculing the Government or the CPV. Many artists received
permission to exhibit their works abroad, receiving exit permits to attend the
exhibits and export permits to send their works out of the country.
Foreign language editions of some banned books, such as
Duong Thu Huong's Memories of a Pure Spring, were sold openly by street
peddlers, and Bao Ninh's previously banned book, Sorrow of War, was available
in bookstores in Vietnamese language editions. In one notable exception, the
press launched a campaign to denounce well-known actor Don Duong for his roles
in the films "Green Dragon" and "We Were Soldiers Once."
The articles described the actor as a traitor and called for his arrest and
detention. The Government also prevented actor Don Duong from traveling abroad
for periods of time during the year (see Section 2.d.); however, it did
eventually allow him and his family to emigrate to the United States.
The Government allowed access to the Internet through 6
Internet Access Providers (IXPs) and 13 Internet Service Providers (ISPs);
however, all IXPs were required to be State-owned, or are joint-stock companies
with the State as controlling shareholder. All IXPs leased Internet access
through the country's largest access provider, Vietnam Data Communications
(VDC). The Ministry of Post and Telematics reported that the country had
650,000 Internet subscribers and roughly 2,660,000 Internet users. The price of
computers relative to the country's income level limited home use, but
universities and approximately 4,000 cyber cafes allowed students and many
other persons wider access to the Internet.
VDC was authorized by the Government to monitor the
sites that subscribers access. The Government used firewalls to block sites it
deemed politically or culturally inappropriate, including sites operated by
exile groups abroad. The Government restricted access to the Radio Free Asia
and Voice of America websites during the year. In 2002, the Government
instructed cyber cafe owners to monitor their customers to discourage citizens
from accessing sites containing anti-government material as well as
pornography; however, such monitoring appeared uncommon.
In August 2002, the Government inspected a large number
of Internet cafes to determine whether persons were accessing blacklisted
sites. Also in August 2002, the Government closed a company that provided an
online news service because it carried articles not allowed under the Press
Law. In 2002, the Government required all owners of domestic web sites,
including those operated by foreign entities, to register their sites with the
Government and to submit their web site content to the Government for approval.
The Government restricted academic freedom, and foreign
field researchers often were questioned and monitored. However, the Government
permitted a more open flow of information within the country and into the
country from abroad, including in the university system, than in previous
years. Local librarians increasingly were being trained in professional skills
and international standards such as the Dewey Decimal System that supported
wider international library and information exchanges and research. Foreign
academic professionals temporarily working in universities were allowed to
discuss nonpolitical issues widely and freely in classes; however, government
observers regularly attended classes taught by both foreigners and citizens.
Foreign government informational materials of a non-political nature
distributed to participants at a library conference in Hue were confiscated
from participants by security officials. Some research institutions insisted
that their faculty members receive permission to attend official professional
programs on diplomatic premises or use diplomatic research facilities. Security
officials frequently questioned those who regularly used diplomatic facilities
concerning their relationship to foreign governments. Nevertheless, requests
for materials from foreign research facilities increased. Academic publications
usually reflected the views of the CPV and the Government.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The right of assembly is restricted in law, and the
Government restricted and monitored all forms of public protest. Persons who
wish to gather in a group are required to apply for a permit, which local
authorities can issue or deny arbitrarily. In general, the Government did not
permit demonstrations that could be seen as having a political purpose. Persons
routinely gathered in informal groups without government interference; however,
the Government restricted the right of some religious groups to gather in
worship. The Government tried and sentenced some persons for protests over land
use policies and expropriations (see Section 2.a.).
In February and March, there were numerous peaceful
protests, mostly by students, organized across from a foreign embassy in Hanoi.
Police maintained order but did not otherwise interfere or insist on permits.
On April 23, two men were sentenced to prison in Ho Chi
Minh City for "creating social disorder" and destroying government
property for inciting a dozen persons to attack a local site-clearance office
in a dispute over land expropriation.
In October, a court in the Central Highlands Province of
Dac Lak sentenced four ethnic minority persons arrested in connection to the
2001 unrest in the Central Highlands--Y Kuo Bya, Y He E Ban, Y Jon Enuol, and Y
Bri Enuol--to prison terms of 13, 12, 11, and 10 years respectively.
In 2002 and during the year, there were a number of
peaceful protests of up to 50 persons, mostly older rural women, over land use issues.
The protests took place outside government and CPV office buildings, the Prime
Minister's residence, and the National Assembly hall in Hanoi. On one occasion,
police firmly, but nonviolently and respectfully, moved the protesters away
from the Prime Minister's residence
In December 2002, the Nam Dinh Provincial People's Court
sentenced 10 people to prison for sentences of 18 months to 5 years for their
role in protests in 2000 related to corruption and agricultural land use taxes.
Also in December 2002, the Ha Tay provincial court sentenced 22 individuals to
terms of 6 months to 9 years related to their participation in April 2002
protests concerning land disputes and official corruption.
In December 2002, there were reports that police
forcibly dispersed one or more religious gatherings of Hmong Christians (see
In November 2002, hundreds of farmers clashed with local
authorities in Ha Tay Province over land seizures, allegedly injuring six or
seven policemen. No trials were known to have taken place linked to this
The Government restricted freedom of association. The
Government prohibited the legal establishment of private, independent
organizations, insisting that persons work within established, party-controlled
mass organizations, usually under the aegis of the VFF. Citizens were
prohibited from establishing independent political parties, labor unions, and
religious or veterans' organizations; however, some entities, particularly
unregistered religious groups, were able to operate outside of this framework
with little or no government interference (see Section 2.c.).
In September 2001, Tran Van Khue and Colonel Pham Que
Duong sent a letter to the party and government leadership seeking permission
to form a "People's Association to support the Party and State to fight
corruption." Police sent Khue and Nguyen Thi Thanh Xuan from Hanoi back to
their residences in Ho Chi Minh City. The People's Association later set up a
web site, which the Government did not block, that included contact
information, the petition, other documents written by various democracy
activists, and a bulletin board where several individuals recorded their
reactions to the proposal. In October 2002, the Government placed Khue under a
2-year administrative detention order--a form of house arrest. In December
2002, Khue was arrested, and he was still awaiting trial at year's end.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution and government decrees provide for
freedom of worship; however, the Government continued to restrict significantly
those organized activities of religious groups that it declared to be at
variance with state laws and policies.
According to credible reports, the police arbitrarily
detained persons based upon their religious beliefs and practice, particularly
in the mountainous, ethnic minority areas. There were credible reports that
Hmong Protestants in several northwestern villages and various ethnic minority
Protestants in the Central Highlands were pressured to renounce their faith.
There were also reports that a few Protestants in those areas were beaten and
killed (see Section 1.a.).
The Government required religious groups to be
registered and used this process to control and monitor church organizations.
The Government officially recognizes Buddhist, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Hoa
Hao, Cao Dai, and Muslim religious organizations. To obtain official
recognition, a group must obtain government approval of its leadership and the
overall scope of its activities. The Government's approval process was slow and
non-transparent. Officially recognized religious organizations were able to
operate with varying degrees of freedom throughout the country, and followers
of these religious bodies were usually able to worship without government harassment,
except in some isolated provinces. Officially recognized organizations had to
consult with the Government about their religious operations and appointments,
although not generally about their tenets of faith. Some leaders of the
pre-1975 Buddhist and Hoa Hao religious bodies unsuccessfully requested
official recognition of their organizations. Their activities, and those of the
unregistered Protestant house churches, were considered illegal by the
authorities, and they sometimes experienced harassment as a result. The
Government actively discouraged contacts between the illegal UBCV and its
foreign supporters, and between unofficial Protestant organizations, such as
the underground house churches, and their foreign supporters, although such
The Government generally allowed persons to practice
individual worship in the religion of their choice, and participation in
religious activities throughout the country continued to grow significantly. In
some areas, including Ho Chi Minh City, local officials generally allowed
unregistered religious organizations to hold services with little or no
In some cases, particularly involving Hmong Protestants,
when authorities charged persons with practicing religion illegally, they used provisions
of the Criminal Code that allow for jail terms of up to 3 years for
"abusing freedom of speech, press, or religion." The Criminal Code
establishes penalties for "attempting to undermine national unity" by
promoting "division between religious believers and nonbelievers."
There were reports that officials fabricated evidence. Government officials
denied allegations that Protestant house churches were destroyed or disbanded
during the year on the basis that the churches were unregistered and therefore
illegal. On September 23, police reportedly destroyed a small Protestant house
church in Ho Chi Minh City.
In the Northwest Highlands and the Central Highlands,
local officials allowed believers little discretion in the practice of their
faith. The Government sometimes prevented Protestants in the northwest
provinces and the Central Highlands from gathering to worship in unregistered
house churches, forcing them to worship secretly in small family groups.
The Government continued to harass members of the banned
UBCV and prevent them from conducting independent religious activities,
particularly outside of their pagodas. In early March, the Government allowed
83-year-old UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang to travel to Hanoi for surgery.
Government officials, including Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and foreign
diplomats, met with him during his stay. After his recovery, the Government
permitted the Patriarch to reside at his former pagoda in Quy Nhon, Binh Dinh
Province, rather than return to the pagoda in Quang Ngai Province where he had
resided since 1982 under conditions resembling house arrest. On June 27, the
Government released UBCV Deputy Thich Quang Do from 2 years of administrative
detention several months ahead of schedule. Most of the UBCV leadership
subsequently was able to meet with one another, diplomatic representatives, and
government officials in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Quy Nhon, despite some
government interference. In September, UBCV leaders met in Binh Dinh in what
church members characterized as a de facto re-establishment of the UBCV's right
to existence. Security authorities intercepted several UBCV leaders leaving the
meetings and returned them to their respective pagodas. At year's end, several
UBCV leaders, including Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do, were residing in
their pagodas and appeared able to travel only with permission of security
authorities. Three Ho Chi Minh City-based UBCV monks, Thich Tue Sy, Thich
Nguyen Ly, and Thich Thanh Huyen, were formally sentenced to 2 years'
administrative detention and "compulsory surveillance."
The Vietnamese Roman Catholic Church hierarchy remained
frustrated by the Government's restrictions but continued to accommodate itself
to them. A number of clergy reported a modest easing of government control over
church activities in certain dioceses during the year. In many locales, local
government officials allowed Catholic Church officials to conduct religious
education classes (outside regular school hours) and limited charitable activities;
however, in other areas, officials strictly prohibited these activities.
Restrictions on the hierarchies and clergy of religious
groups remained in place, and the Government maintained supervisory control of
the recognized religions. Religious organizations were required to obtain
government permission to hold training seminars, conventions, and celebrations
outside of the regular religious calendar, to build or remodel places of
worship, to engage in charitable activities, operate religious schools, and to
train, ordain, promote, or transfer clergy. Religious organizations also were
required to submit their "annual plans" and "schedules" for
approval by local authorities. Many of these restrictions principally were
exercised by provincial or city People's Committees, and treatment of religious
persons varied widely by locality.
In general, religious groups faced difficulty in
obtaining teaching materials, expanding training facilities, and expanding the
clergy in training in response to the increased demand from congregations; the
Government regulated the number of clergy that the Buddhist, Catholic,
Protestant, Hoa Hao, and Cao Dai churches officially could train. On February
15, the Government allowed the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV),
which was formally recognized in 2001, to open a seminary in Ho Chi Minh City.
The Government restricted the number of seminarians to 50 and retained the
right to approve candidates for admission.
The Roman Catholic Church faced significant restrictions
on the training and ordination of priests and bishops. The Government
effectively maintained veto power over Vatican appointments of bishops;
however, in practice it showed a willingness to discuss appointments with the
Vatican. In August, two new Catholic bishops were appointed with government
approval. One was appointed to the diocese of Hung Hoa, a position that had
been vacant for over 11 years. With these appointments, only one bishopric
remained unfilled, due to the incumbent's death in June. In October, the
Government also tacitly recognized the elevation of Archbishop Jean-Baptiste
Pham Minh Man to Cardinal. In recent years, the Government eased its efforts to
control the Roman Catholic hierarchy by relaxing the requirements that all
clergy belong to the government-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association. The
Catholic Church operated 6 seminaries; however, due to objections to the
proposed location by local authorities, an additional centrally approved
seminary had not opened by year's end. The Catholic Church also received
permission to accept new seminarians but only every other year. Over 800
students were enrolled nationwide at year's end. The local People's Committee
must approve all students, both upon entering the seminary and prior to their ordination
as priests. Some seminary graduates remained unordained as long as 10 years.
Most observers believed that the number of ordained priests was insufficient to
support the growing Catholic population.
The authorities strictly controlled Hoa Hao "dissidents"
and kept several church followers in jail. On March 27, Nguyen Van Lia was
arrested, and, on July 1, he was sentenced to 3 years' imprisonment for holding
a commemoration of the disappearance of Hoa Hao prophet Huynh Phu So. Other Hoa
Hao believers were allowed more freedom to practice their faith. Between 100
and 200 visitors worshipped at the central Hoa Hao Pagoda in An Giang Province
on a daily basis. Police authorities routinely questioned some persons who held
alternative religious or political views, such as UBCV monks.
Since 1975 the Government had prohibited ordination into
the Cao Dai priesthood; however, in 2002, at least 18 new priests were ordained
and 924 apprentices entered the process leading to priesthood. Some other
priests were promoted to higher ranks.
Muslim Association members were able to practice their
faith, including daily prayer and fasting during the month of Ramadan.
The Government restricted and monitored all forms of
public assembly, including assembly for religious activities. Large regularly
scheduled religious gatherings were allowed, such as the Catholic celebrations
at La Vang and the Cao Dai celebrations in Tay Ninh Province. The Hoa Hao also
was allowed to hold large public gatherings to commemorate some traditional
anniversaries but not others. Some specially scheduled religious gatherings
also were allowed; however, in December 2002, there were reports that police in
Lai Chau Province attempted to disperse one or more gatherings of Hmong
Christians. Police reportedly used a gas--possibly pepper spray--during at
least one of these actions, leading to the hospitalization of four or more
Open adherence to a religious faith generally did not
disadvantage persons in civil, economic, and secular life, although it likely
would prevent advancement to the highest government and military ranks. Avowed
religious practice was no longer even a bar to membership in the CPV. Some
government and CPV officials increasingly admitted that they followed
traditional and Buddhist religious practices.
Foreign missionaries may not operate as religious
workers in the country, although many undertake humanitarian or development
activities with the approval of the Government.
A government publishing house oversees the publishing of
all religious materials. Many Buddhist sacred scriptures, Bibles, and other
religious texts and publications, including some in ethnic minority languages,
were also printed by government-approved organizations to be sold or
distributed at religious institutions.
The Government allowed religious travel for some, but
not all, religious persons; Muslims were able to take the Hajj (although
apparently none did during the year due to lack of foreign financial support),
and more Buddhist, Catholic, and Protestant officials were able to travel and
study abroad. The Government allowed many bishops and priests to travel freely
within their dioceses and allowed greater, but still restricted, freedom for
travel outside these areas, particularly in many ethnic areas. Many Protestant
house church leaders traveled overseas during the year. Government officials
discouraged officially recognized clergy from entering Son La, Lai Chau, and
some other border provinces, where officials have claimed that there were no religious
adherents of any kind. In March, several hundred Hao Hoa believers traveled to
the Hoa Hao Pagoda in An Giang Province to commemorate a traditional
anniversary that the Government refused to recognize officially. In July 2002,
as many as 300,000 persons traveled there to celebrate another traditional
anniversary, which the Government does recognize.
Persons who were religious practitioners in a non-State
recognized group sometimes were not approved for foreign travel. In 2002, UBCV
monk Thich Thai Hoa in Hue was refused permission to travel outside the country
on several occasions. Protestant pastors Nguyen Lap Ma and Nguyen Nhat Thong
were restricted from traveling or had to request permission from authorities to
travel (see Section 2.d.).
Ethnic minority, unregistered Protestant congregations
in the Central Highlands and in the northwest provinces continued to suffer
severe abuses. Certain northwest provinces reportedly did not have any
officially recognized churches or pagodas. Authorities in those areas also
reportedly detained and imprisoned ethnic minority worshipers for practicing
their faith, citing their lack of officially recognized status.
Several reports described a systematic campaign on the
part of local officials in Dak Lak and Gia Lai Provinces in the Central
Highlands in particular to force ethnic minority Protestants to renounce their
faith. Similar campaigns continued to be reported during the year in Lai Chau,
Lao Cai, and other mountainous northern provinces. Under threat of physical
abuse or confiscation of property, some ethnic minority Protestants allegedly
were made to sign a formal, written renunciation or to undergo a symbolic
ritual, which included reportedly drinking rice whiskey mixed with animal
blood. Others refused, often with no known negative repercussions. Officials
reportedly ordered many non-recognized Protestant gatherings to cease, forbade
some pastors from traveling, withheld government food distributions from
Protestant believers, and prohibited children of Protestant families from
attending school beyond the third grade. Soldiers and young party cadre
reportedly moved into the homes of some ethnic minority persons in the Central
Highlands, interfering with their ability to worship.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2003 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution provides that citizens "shall
enjoy freedom of movement and of residence within the country…(and) freely
travel abroad and return home…in accordance with the provisions of the
law"; however, the Government imposed some limits on freedom of movement.
Most citizens enjoyed freedom of movement within the country, but some local
authorities required some members of ethnic minority groups to obtain
permission to travel outside certain highland areas, including in some cases
any travel outside their own villages.
Reportedly local officials informally discouraged clergy
from traveling, even within their own provinces. Officially, citizens had to
obtain permission to change their residence (see Section 1.f.). In practice,
many persons continued to move without approval, especially migrant or itinerant
laborers moving from rural areas to cities in search of work; however, moving
without permission restricted their ability to obtain legal residence permits.
Holders of foreign passports by law must register to stay in private homes. In
practice, most visitors from overseas were allowed to stay with family and
friends without registering. Citizens are also required to register with local
police when they stay overnight in any location outside of their own homes (see
The Government employed internal isolation under the
decree on administrative detention to restrict the movement of political and
religious dissidents. Until June, authorities confined UBCV Deputy Thich Quang
Do to his living quarters under an administrative detention order. His telephone
lines were cut, and he was unable to receive visitors (see Section 2.c.).
Some persons were held under conditions resembling house
arrest without known legal documentation. After a meeting in Binh Dinh Province
in October, many leaders of the banned UBCV, including Patriarch Thich Huyen
Quang and Deputy Head Thich Quang Do, were returned to their respective pagodas
in the central and southern parts of the country and informed that they would
not be able to travel without government approval (see Section 2.c.). Until
April, Thich Huyen Quang had been confined to a pagoda in Quang Ngai Province,
but was able to receive a limited number of visitors. He was permitted to seek
medical treatment in Hanoi, meet with government officials and foreign diplomats,
travel to various UBCV-related temples, and meet with numerous followers.
Protestant pastor Nguyen Lap Ma has been forced to reside in an isolated
village in Can Tho Province since 1982, but authorities have allowed him to
travel to Ho Chi Minh City for monthly medical check-ups since he suffered a
stroke in 1998. Another Protestant pastor, Nguyen Nhat Thong, has been forced
to reside in a remote village in Binh Thuan Province since 1979. He has been
allowed to travel outside the village since 1986 but must ask for the
permission of local authorities each time.
Foreigners generally were free to travel throughout the
country, except in areas restricted on grounds of national security. The
Government retained the right to approve travel to border areas and to some
islands, but in practice foreigners could travel to most non-sensitive border
areas without prior approval. On several occasions, local police detained and
fined foreigners who police found had ventured too close to international
borders and other sensitive military areas. Some of these areas were unmarked.
Although the Government no longer required citizens
traveling abroad to obtain exit or reentry visas, the Government sometimes
prevented persons from traveling by refusing to issue passports. In July 2002,
the Government stopped issuing passports stamped Dinh Cu (immigration) to
persons intending to emigrate. The Government did not allow some persons who
publicly or privately expressed critical opinions on religious or political
issues to travel abroad. The Government also prevented actor Don Duong from
traveling abroad for periods of time during the year. In 2002, authorities
confiscated his passport; however, on April 9, he was allowed to emigrate to
Citizens' access to passports sometimes was constrained
by factors outside the law, such as bribery and corruption. Refugee and
immigrant visa applicants sometimes encountered local officials who arbitrarily
delayed or denied passports based on personal animosities, on the officials' perception
that an applicant did not meet program criteria, or to extort a bribe. Some
Protestant pastors who had served time in reeducation camps were denied
passports on the grounds that they had no residence permits or national
identification cards. Some family members of ethnic minorities granted refugee
status abroad have been reissued household registration papers with the missing
member removed. Other family members of refugees have been unable to obtain
passports to reunite abroad.
The United States continued to process immigrants and
refugee applicants for admission and resettlement, including Amerasians, former
reeducation camp detainees, former U.S. government employees, family
reunification cases, and returnees from camps of first asylum elsewhere in the
region (under the Resettlement Opportunity for Vietnamese Returnees program).
Most of these programs were closed to new applicants nearly a decade ago, with
the number of cases in some categories now in the low double digits. (An
exception was the Amerasian program, which remained opened to new applicants).
The Government had constructive discussions with the United States on the
future of these programs. There were concerns that some members of minority
ethnic groups, such as those in the Central Highlands, may not have had ready
access to these programs because the Government denied them passports. This was
not the case for the program for the majority of former U.S. government
employees and re-education camp detainees; however, delays in passport issuance
to some Montagnards and some others who applied under the different refugee
sub-programs continued. These passport applicants also included relatives of
ethnic minority persons who fled the country in recent years and were admitted
to the United States as refugees from Cambodia.
The Government generally permitted citizens, who had
emigrated abroad, to return to visit. Officially, the Government considers
anyone born in the country to be a citizen, even if they have acquired another
country's citizenship, unless a formal renunciation of citizenship has been
approved by the President. However, in practice, the Government usually treated
overseas Vietnamese as citizens of their adopted country. Emigrants were not
permitted to use Vietnamese passports after they acquired other citizenship;
however, because citizens who lived overseas were considered both a valuable
potential source of foreign exchange and expertise for the country but also a
potential security threat, the Government generally encouraged them to visit
but sometimes monitored them carefully.
In early 2001, over 1,000 Montagnards from the Central
Highlands fled to Cambodia following a crackdown by security forces. The
crackdown followed demonstrations complaining of expropriation of traditional
lands, influx of lowland ethnic majority Kinh into the Central Highlands, and
religious discrimination. A tripartite agreement on the Montagnards'
repatriation among the Governments of Vietnam and Cambodia and the U.N. High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was abandoned by UNHCR after the Government
restricted access and attempted to intimidate and pressure Montagnards in the
UNHCR camps to return. In June 2002, an official acknowledged that the
country's leadership had made mistakes and was in part responsible for the
turmoil in the Central Highlands. Subsequently, the Government declared it
would award each minority family in the Central Highlands at least one hectare
of land for farming and 400 square meters for housing; however, the Government
has administered the program unevenly, and ethnic minority persons complained
that local officials allotted them mostly undesirable lands. Dozens more fled
the country during the year, also seeking refugee status.
During the year, there were credible reports that ethnic
minority persons fleeing the country were arrested or turned back at the
Cambodian border, sometimes violently. A small number were reported to be in
hiding on both sides of the border.
Foreign diplomats and journalists visited 15
UNHCR-sponsored returnees in September. While the returnees complained about
poor economic conditions and the failure of the UNHCR to implement certain
promises, they did not claim to have been singled out for any special
harassment due to their status. In 2002, there were credible reports that
non-uniformed security forces crossed the border to try to capture and return
many of those who had fled after the 2001 unrest. These reports indicated that
security forces succeeded in forcibly returning approximately 50 persons to Dak
Lak Province. They reportedly returned another eight persons to Gia Lai
Province. Gia Lai authorities reportedly placed two of the returnees in jail
and the other six under administrative probation. Family members reported the
disappearances of at least 42 ethnic minority persons from Gia Lai Province.
Most of those who fled and were placed under the protection of the UNHCR were
subsequently resettled from Cambodia to a third country.
The country is not a signatory to the 1951 U.N.
Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. The
Government generally provided protection against refoulement but did not
routinely grant refugee or asylum status. Several embassies in the country
reported that individuals claiming to be North Korean, who requested asylum in
the country, have been returned to China on the basis of illegal immigration
status and their own claims to have entered the country overland from China.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of
Citizens to Change Their Government
The Constitution does not provide the right for citizens
peacefully to change their government, and citizens could not freely choose and
change the laws and officials that govern them. CPV control over the selection
of candidates in elections for the National Assembly, the presidency, the prime
ministership, and local government undermines this right. All authority and
political power is vested in the CPV, and the Constitution delineates the
leadership of the CPV. Political opposition movements and other political
parties are illegal. The CPV Politburo is the supreme decision-making body in
the nation, although it technically reports to the CPV Central Committee.
During the first session of the Ninth Congress of the CPV in April 2001, the CPV
replaced the standing board, consisting of the 5 most senior members of the
Politburo, with a Secretariat, originally consisting of the General Secretary,
4 lower ranking Politburo members, and 4 non-Politburo Central Committee
members but now with a total of at least 11 members, to oversee day-to-day
implementation of leadership directives.
The Government continued to restrict public debate and
criticism to certain aspects of individual, state, or party performance
determined by the CPV itself; however, legislators continued to question and
criticize ministers in bi-annual National Assembly sessions that were broadcast
live on television. No public challenge to the legitimacy of the one-party
State is permitted; however, there were instances of unsanctioned letters
critical of the Government from private citizens, including some former party
members, which circulated publicly.
The Government strongly encouraged eligible citizens to
vote in elections. Although voting is not compulsory, election officials applied
many means to persuade citizens to vote, including using public address systems
to ask late voting citizens by name to come to the polls. The Government
claimed a 99.73 percent voter turnout for the May 2002 National Assembly
election. Proxy voting, while illegal, appeared widespread. In addition, most
voting was over by 10:00 a.m., although polls were required to be open until
7:00 p.m. The party-controlled VFF approved all candidates for the 498-member
The National Assembly, although subject to the control
of the CPV (all of its senior leaders and 90 percent of its members were party
members), increasingly served as a forum for the expression of local and
provincial concerns and as a critic of corruption and inefficiency. However, it
does not initiate legislation and never has passed legislation that the CPV
opposed. CPV officials occupied most senior government and National Assembly
positions and continued to have the final say on key issues. In 2002, the
National Assembly debated the government's cabinet nominations; although it
approved all of the nominations, more than 30 percent of the delegates voted
against some nominees. During the year, the National Assembly continued to
engage in public debate on economic, legal, and social issues. It also
continued to exert its increasing power to revise or reject draft laws and
actively pursued enhancing its capability to draft laws.
The law provides the opportunity for equal participation
in politics by women and minority groups. Women held a number of important
government positions, including the Vice Presidency. There were 136 women in
the 498-seat National Assembly; there were 3 women at the Ministerial level;
and there were no women in the Politburo. There were only a few women in
provincial level leadership positions.
There were 87 ethnic minority members in the 498-seat
National Assembly and 2 ethnic minority members serving in cabinet-level
positions. The CPV General Secretary is a member of the Tay ethnic minority
group; however, the number of minorities in Government or national-level
politics does not accurately reflect their percentage of the population.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International
and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Government does not permit private, local human
rights organizations to form or operate. The Government generally did not
tolerate attempts by organizations or individuals to comment publicly on
government human rights practices and used a wide variety of means to suppress
domestic criticism of its human rights policies, including surveillance, limits
on freedom of assembly, interference with personal communications, and
detention. However, the SECV and Catholic Church did not suffer any apparent
adverse consequences from widely publicized letters to the Government
criticizing alleged acts of religious oppression toward ethnic minorities in
the Central Highlands. UBCV Deputy Thich Quang Do also sent a widely publicized
letter to the Government condemning the detention of former UBCV monk Thich Tri
Luc (see Section 1.b.).
The Government generally prohibited private citizens
from contacting international human rights organizations, although some
activists were able to do so. The Government did not allow any visits by
international NGO human rights monitors; however, it did allow a representative
from the UNDP to visit the Central Highlands in August and a UNHCR local
official to visit in September. The Government criticized almost all public
statements on human rights issues by international NGOs and foreign
The Government generally was willing to discuss human
rights problems bilaterally with some governments if such discussions took
place under the rubric of "exchanges of ideas" rather than as "investigations."
During the year, several foreign governments held official talks concerning
human rights. A delegation of representatives from European Union member
countries visited Dak Lak Province in June and reported that there were limits
on citizens' religious freedom.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Disability,
Language, or Social Status
The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on
gender, ethnicity, religion, or social class; however, enforcement of these
prohibitions was uneven. Some persons formerly interned in reeducation camps on
the basis of association with the pre-1975 government continued to report
varying levels of discrimination as they and their families sought access to
housing, education, and employment. Some military veterans of the pre-1975
government still faced economic hardship as a result of past employment
restrictions and discrimination, but none were known still to be incarcerated
for their activities before 1975. These veterans and their families generally
were unable to obtain employment with the Government. This prohibition was less
restrictive than in previous years because of the growth of job opportunities
in the private sector. There was no official discrimination against HIV/AIDS
positive citizens; however, there was some societal discrimination.
The law addresses the problem of domestic violence;
however, authorities did not enforce the law effectively. Officials
increasingly acknowledged domestic violence, which also was discussed more
openly in the media. International NGO workers and local contacts reported that
domestic violence against women was common. Approximately two-thirds of
divorces reportedly were due in part to domestic violence. The divorce rate has
risen in the past few years, but many women remained in abusive marriages
rather than confront the social and family stigma and economic uncertainty of
Under the Criminal Code, it is a crime to use violence,
threaten violence, take advantage of a victim who is unable to act in
self-defense, or resort to trickery to have sexual intercourse with a victim
against that person's will. This is believed to criminalize rape, spousal rape,
and, in some instances, sexual harassment; however, there were no known
instances of prosecution for spousal rape. NGOs and party-controlled mass
organizations took some limited steps to establish shelters and train police to
deal with domestic violence.
Prostitution is officially illegal but appeared to be
tolerated widely. Some women were coerced to work as prostitutes, and some were
victimized by false promises of lucrative work (see Section 6.f.). Many more
women felt compelled to work as prostitutes because of poverty and a lack of
other employment opportunities. NGOs estimated that there were 300,000
prostitutes in the country, including those who engaged in prostitution
part-time or seasonally. There were reports that some persons in Ho Chi Minh
City addicted young women to heroin and forced them to work as prostitutes to
earn money for drugs. Parents often expected an eldest daughter to assume
responsibility for a significant part of a family's finances. There were
reports that some parents coerced daughters into prostitution or made such
extreme financial demands on them that they felt compelled to engage in
prostitution. The Women's Union, a mass organization under the VFF, as well as
international NGOs engaged actively in education and rehabilitation programs to
combat these abuses.
Trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual
exploitation, both domestically and internationally, was a serious problem (see
While there is no legal discrimination, women faced
deeply ingrained societal discrimination. Despite provisions in the
Constitution, in legislation, and in regulations that mandate equal treatment,
and although some women occupied high government posts, few women competed
successfully for higher status positions. The Constitution provides that women
and men must receive equal pay for equal work; however, the Government did not
adequately enforce this provision. Very poor women, particularly in rural areas
but also in cities, performed menial work in construction, waste removal, and
other jobs for extremely low wages. Despite the large body of legislation and
regulations devoted to the protection of women's rights in marriage as well as
in the workplace, and Labor Code provisions that call for preferential
treatment of women, women did not always receive equal treatment. Nevertheless,
women played an important role in the economy and were engaged widely in
business and in social and educational institutions. Opportunities for young
professional women have increased markedly in the past few years, with greater
numbers of women entering and staying in the civil service, universities, and
the private sector.
The VFF-controlled Women's Union has a broad agenda to
promote women's rights, including political, economic, and legal equality, and
protection from spousal abuse. The Women's Union operated micro-credit consumer
finance programs and other programs to promote the advancement of women.
International NGOs and other international organizations regarded the Union as
effective, but they and Women's Union representatives believed that more time
is required to overcome societal attitudes that relegated women to lower status
than men. The Government also has a committee for the advancement of women,
which coordinated inter-ministerial programs that affected women.
International organizations and government agencies
reported that, despite the Government's promotion of child protection and
welfare, children continued to be at risk of economic exploitation. While
education is compulsory through the age of 14, the authorities did not enforce
the requirement, especially in rural areas where government and family budgets
for education were strained and where children were needed for agricultural
labor. The culture's strong emphasis on education led parents who could send
children to school to do so, rather than to allow them to work. Due to lack of
classroom space, most schools operated two sessions, and children attended
either morning or afternoon sessions. Some street children both in Ho Chi Minh
City and Hanoi participated in night education courses. The public school
system includes 12 grades. Over 90 percent of children attended elementary
grades, but the percentage that attended junior and senior high school dropped
sharply. These percentages were even lower in remote mountainous areas,
although the Government ran a system of subsidized boarding schools through the
high school level for ethnic minority students. Religious groups operated some
orphanages, despite the Government's prohibition on such activities, and sent
the children to public schools during the day.
The Government continued a nationwide immunization
campaign, and the government-controlled press regularly stressed the importance
of health and education for all children. While reports from domestic sources
indicated that responsible officials generally took these goals seriously,
concrete actions were constrained by severely limited budgets. According to
UNICEF, despite growth in incomes over the past decade, severe malnutrition
remained a problem; approximately 39 percent of children under 5 years of age
were underweight during the 1995-2000 timeframe.
Widespread poverty contributed to continued child
prostitution, particularly of girls but also of some boys, in major cities.
Many prostitutes in Ho Chi Minh City were under 18 years of age. Some child
prostitutes, such as those from abusive homes, were forced into prostitution
for economic reasons, having few other choices available to them.
Some children were trafficked domestically and others
were trafficked to foreign destinations for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
Press reports documented the conviction and imprisonment of a number of
traffickers (see Section 6.f.). Individuals also were convicted in cases in
which parents received payments in exchange for releasing their babies for
adoption. Mass organizations and NGOs established limited programs to assist
trafficked children to reintegrate into society.
According to a 2001 government report on child labor,
there were 20,000 street children in the country. Street children were
vulnerable to abuse and sometimes were abused or harassed by police.
International NGOs documented numerous cases of Cambodian children trafficked
to Ho Chi Minh City for short-term work in begging rings. Police picked up
street children in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and held them in juvenile
detention facilities in advance of the December Southeast Asia Games.
Persons with Disabilities
The law requires the State to protect the rights and
encourage the employment of persons with disabilities. However, provision of
services to assist persons with disabilities was limited. Government agencies
responsible for services to persons with disabilities worked with domestic and
foreign organizations to provide protection, support, physical access,
education, and employment; however, implementation was hampered by limited
budgets. The Government operated a small network of rehabilitation centers to
provide long-term in-patient physical therapy.
Educational opportunities for children with disabilities
were poor, but improving. Just over 10 percent of children with disabilities
were enrolled in school. During the year, the Government worked with the World
Bank and foreign NGOs to train additional teachers for students with
The law provides for preferential treatment of firms
that recruit persons with disabilities for training or apprenticeship and
levies a special tax on firms that do not employ workers with disabilities;
however, the Government enforced these provisions unevenly. In 2002, the
Ministry of Construction enacted the "Barrier-Free Design and Construction
Code" and "Standards for Access for People with Disabilities,"
which requires that the construction or major renovation of new government and
large public buildings include access for people with disabilities. The
Ministry of Construction trained architects and engineers in the new
requirements. At year's end, the Government was developing an enforcement and
compliant process to support these new codes.
International groups also assisted the Government in
implementing programs to increase access by persons with disabilities to
education and employment.
Although the Government officially is opposed to
discrimination against ethnic minorities, longstanding societal discrimination
against ethnic minorities was widespread. In addition, there continued to be
credible reports that local officials sometimes restricted ethnic minority
access to some types of employment and educational opportunities. The
Government continued to implement policies designed to narrow the gap in the
standard of living between ethnic groups living in the highlands and richer,
lowland ethnic majority Kinh by granting preferential treatment to domestic and
foreign companies that invested in highland areas. The Government ran special
schools for ethnic minorities in many provinces, including subsidized boarding
schools at the high school and middle school levels, and offered special
admission and preparatory programs as well as scholarships at the university
The Government resettled some ethnic minorities from
inaccessible villages in mountainous provinces to locations where basic
services were easier to provide; however, the effect of the policy sometimes
diluted the political and social solidarity of these groups. The Government
acknowledged that one of the goals of resettlement was to impel the minorities
to change from traditional "slash and burn" agricultural methods to
sedentary agriculture. This also had the effect of making more land available
to ethnic majority Kinh migrants to the mountainous areas. Large-scale,
government-encouraged as well as spontaneous migration of ethnic Kinh to the
Central Highlands diluted the indigenous culture there. It also led to numerous
land disputes between ethnic minority households and ethnic Kinh migrants. The
loss of traditional ethnic minority lands to Kinh migrants was an important
factor behind the ethnic unrest in 2001.
There were numerous credible reports that groups of
Montagnards continued to flee to Cambodia to escape ethnic and religious
repression in the Central Highlands. Government officials continued to harass
some highland minorities, particularly the Hmong in the northwest provinces and
several ethnic groups in the Central Highlands, for practicing their Protestant
religion without official approval (see Section 2.c.).
Government officials stated that there were many
instances in which local government officials in the Central Highlands acted
contrary to stated national policies or failed to uphold national laws. During
the year, the CPV reiterated clearly the party's policies on ethnic minorities,
religion, and land.
The Government continued to impose extra security
measures in the Central Highlands. There were unconfirmed reports of continued
pushbacks of Montagnards seeking to cross into Cambodia, sometimes accompanied
by beatings and detentions; however, the Government continued to implement
measures to address the causes of the unrest and initiate new measures as well.
The Government allocated land to ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands
through a special program; however, there were complaints that some of the
allocated land was poor (see Section 2.d.).
Previously, the law required all classroom instruction
law to be conducted in the Vietnamese language; however, the Government
continued a program to conduct classes in some local ethnic minority languages
up to grade five. The Government worked with local officials to develop a local
language curriculum. The Government appeared to be implementing this program
more comprehensively in the Central Highlands than in the mountainous northern
provinces. The Government broadcast radio and television programming in ethnic
minority languages in some areas. The Government also instructed ethnic Kinh
officials to learn the language of the locality in which they worked; however,
implementation was not widespread by year's end. Provincial governments
implemented initiatives designed to increase employment, reduce the income gap
between ethnic minorities and ethnic Kinh, and be sensitive and receptive to
ethnic minority culture and traditions. Officials in Lam Dong Province
reportedly hired ethnic minority persons to teach minority languages to ethnic
Kinh police. Officials in Dak Lak Province reportedly experimented with a land
policy that would allocate certain forestlands to ethnic minority villages for
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Workers are not free to join or form unions of their
choosing. Trade unions are controlled by the Party and have only nominal
independence. All unions must be approved by and must affiliate with the
party-controlled Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL). The VGCL
claimed that it represented 95 percent of public sector workers and 90 percent
of workers in state-owned enterprises. However, the overall level of
unionization of the workforce was 10 percent. Approximately 500,000 union
members worked in the private sector, including enterprises with foreign
investment. The vast majority of the work force lived in rural areas, engaged
in small-scale farming, and was not unionized.
The VGCL asserted that authorities did not prosecute
some violations of the Labor Law. Union leaders influenced key decisions, such
as the amendment of labor legislation, development of social safety nets, and
the setting of health, safety, and minimum wage standards.
While the Labor Law states that all enterprise-level and
professional trade unions are affiliated with the VGCL, in practice hundreds of
unaffiliated "labor associations" were organized at many individual
enterprises and in occupations such as those of taxi, motorcycle and cyclo
drivers, cooks, and market porters. The ILO and the UNDP cooperated on a large
multiyear technical assistance program to strengthen labor law implementation.
The Labor Law prohibits anti-union discrimination on the
part of employers against employees who seek to organize.
Individual unions legally are not free to affiliate
with, join, or participate in, international labor bodies, and they did not do
so in practice. However, the VGCL had relations with 95 labor organizations in
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Under the law, the provincial or metropolitan branch of
the VGCL was responsible for organizing a union within 6 months of
establishment of any new enterprise. Management is required by law to accept
and to cooperate with those unions. The Labor Law provides VGCL-affiliated
unions the right to bargain collectively on behalf of workers. Many contracts
have been negotiated that ended the practice of annual renewal, and multi-year
contracts have become more common. Under 2002 amendments to the Labor Code, a
definite term labor contract can only be renewed once; thereafter, an
indefinite term labor contract must be entered into if employment is to
continue. Labor leaders have increased the number of workplace issues in
collective bargaining agreements, such as Sunday work. Since the country began
moving away from central planning, market forces have played an increasingly
important role in determining wages.
The Labor Law provides for the right to strike if
workers follow the stipulated process of conciliation and arbitration. The law
requires that management and labor first attempt to resolve labor disputes
through the enterprise's own labor conciliation council. However, many
enterprises did not have labor conciliation councils. In the absence of such a
council or if a council fails to resolve a labor dispute, the dispute is
referred to labor arbitration successively at the district and provincial
level. Individual workers may take cases directly to the peoples' court system,
but in most cases, only after conciliation has been attempted and failed.
Unions have the right to appeal decisions of provincial labor arbitration
councils to provincial people's courts or to strike. Because this process was
lengthy and the necessary dispute resolution bodies in many provinces and
localities have never been established, nearly every strike was considered
According to the Ministry of Labor, 72 strikes took
place in the first 6 months of the year. Of these, 51 were against
foreign-invested enterprises, 18 involved domestic private enterprises, and 3
affected state-owned firms. Other sources reported 14 strikes against
state-owned firms. For example, from September 27 to 29, nearly 400 workers at
a company in Ho Chi Minh City blocked the entrance to the factory over unpaid
salaries. On September 28, 300 workers demonstrated at another Ho Chi Minh City
factory to protest harsh working conditions. Although strikes typically did not
follow the authorized conciliation and arbitration process, and thus were of
questionable legality, the Government tolerated them and took no action against
the strikers. Although the VGCL or its affiliate unions did not sanction these
strikes officially, the local and provincial levels of the VGCL unofficially
supported many of them. The Labor Law prohibits retribution against strikers,
and there were no reports of retribution. In some cases, the Government
disciplined employers for illegal practices that led to strikes.
The Labor Law prohibits strikes in 54 occupational
sectors and businesses that serve the public or are considered by the
Government to be important to the national economy and defense. A subsequent
decree defined these enterprises to be those involved in: Electricity
production; post and telecommunications; railway, maritime, and air
transportation; banking; public works; and the oil and gas industry. The law
also grants the Prime Minister the right to suspend a strike considered
detrimental to the national economy or public safety.
The same labor laws as in the rest of the country govern
the growing number of export processing zones and industrial zones. There is
anecdotal evidence that the Government enforced labor laws more actively in the
zones than outside them.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Bonded Labor
The Labor Law prohibits all forms of forced and bonded
labor, including by children; however, there were reports that thousands of
children worked in exploitative situations (see Section 6.d.). Some women were
coerced into prostitution (see Sections 5 and 6.f.).
The Government denied the use of prison labor without
compensation; however, prisoners routinely were required to work for little or
no pay. They produced food and other goods used directly in prisons or sold on
local markets reportedly to purchase items for prisoners.
A government ordinance requires all male citizens
between 18 and 45 years of age and women between 18 and 35 years of age to
perform 10 days of annual public labor; however, this ordinance was rarely
enforced. The ordinance also allows citizens to find a substitute or pay a
marginal fee instead of working.
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for
Child labor was a problem. The Labor Law prohibits most
child labor but allows exceptions for certain types of work. The law sets the
minimum age for employment at 18 years of age, but enterprises may hire
children between the ages of 15 and 18 if the firm obtains special permission
from their parents and the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs
(MOLISA). In June, the Government ratified the ILO Minimum Age Convention 138.
However, a widely publicized 2001 MOLISA survey found that about 40,000
children between the ages of 8 and 14 years worked part-time or full-time in
violation of the Labor law. That estimate may be low, since many more children
worked in the informal sector, usually on family farms or family businesses not
within the scope of the Labor Law.
By law, an employer must ensure that workers under 18
years of age do not undertake hazardous work or work that would harm their
physical or mental development. Prohibited occupations are specified in the
Labor Law. The Labor Law permits children to register at trade training
centers, a form of vocational training, from 13 years of age. Children may work
a maximum of 7 hours per day and 42 hours per week and must receive special
There were reports that enterprises, including companies
with foreign investment, have discovered underage workers in their employ.
According to reliable sources, this usually occurred when the child workers
presented false identity documents, frequently borrowed from older family
members. Once discovered, the children lost their jobs, but in many cases the
companies paid for their schooling and promised to reemploy them once they were
In rural areas, children worked primarily on family
farms and in other agricultural activities. In some cases, they began work as
young as 6 years of age and were expected to work as adults by the time they
were 15 years of age. In urban areas, children also may work in family-owned
small businesses. Migration from rural to urban settings has exacerbated the
child labor problem. Officials said that juveniles in Education and Nourishment
Centers, which functioned much as reform schools or juvenile detention centers
do elsewhere, were assigned work for "educational purposes" that presumably
generated income for the school.
A study of child labor in Ho Chi Minh City found cases
in which parents in poor families entered into "verbal agreements"
with employers, who put their children to work; the children's salaries were
sent directly to the parents.
Government officials have the power to fine and, in
cases of Criminal Code violations, prosecute employers who violate child Labor
Laws. While the Government committed insufficient resources to effectively
enforce laws providing for children's labor safety, especially for children
working in mines and as domestic servants, it detected some cases of child
exploitation, removed the children from the exploitative situations, and fined
the employers. International donor assistance targeted the problem of child
labor. In addition, a child labor unit was established within MOLISA.
The law prohibits forced and bonded labor by children;
however, thousands of children worked in exploitative situations and were
trafficked both domestically and internationally for the purpose of sexual
exploitation (see Section 6.f.).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Labor Law requires the Government to set a minimum
wage, which is adjusted for inflation and other economic changes. The official
monthly minimum wage for foreign-investment joint ventures was $40 (626,000
dong) in urban districts of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City; $35.90 (556,000 dong)
in rural districts of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and districts of Hai Phong, Bien
Hoa City, and Vung Tau City; and $31.40 (487,000 dong) elsewhere. The
Government may temporarily exempt certain joint ventures from paying the
minimum wage during the first months of an enterprise's operations or if the
enterprise is located in a very remote area, but the minimum wage in these
cases can be no lower than $29.90 (417,000 dong). On January 1, the official
monthly minimum wage of the State sector was increased to $18.80 (290,000 dong)
from $13.60 (210,000 dong). This amount remained inadequate to provide a worker
and his family a decent standard of living. The new salary policy benefited
over 6 million persons, including 300,000 public servants working in
administration, CPV organizations, unions, and leagues. However, state-owned
enterprises consistently paid more than that minimum wage. The number of
workers who received government-subsidized housing decreased. Many workers
received bonuses and supplemented their incomes by engaging in entrepreneurial
activities. Households frequently included more than one wage earner. A 2001
ILO study found that minimum wage requirements were applied well in all
sectors, with the exception of smaller private sector enterprises. Unlike in
previous years, there were no reports that companies with foreign investment
violated minimum wage requirements.
The Government set the workweek for government employees
and employees of companies in the state sector at 40 hours and encouraged the
private business sector and foreign and international organizations that
employed local workers to reduce the number of hours in the workweek to 40
hours but did not make compliance mandatory.
The Labor Law sets normal working hours at a maximum of
8 hours per day, with a mandatory 24-hour break each week. Additional hours
require overtime pay at 1˝ times the regular wage, 2 times the regular wage on
weekly days off, and 3 times the regular wage on holidays and paid leave days.
The law limits compulsory overtime to 4 hours per week and 200 hours per year.
Amendments to the Labor Law in 2002 provide for an exception in special cases where
this maximum can be up to 300 additional hours worked annually, subject to
stipulation by the Government after consulting with the VGCL and employer
representatives. The law also prescribes annual leave with full pay for various
types of work. It was unknown how well the Government enforced these
According to the law, a female employee who is engaged,
pregnant, on maternity leave, or is raising a child under 1 year of age cannot
be dismissed unless the enterprise is closed. Female employees who are at least
7 months pregnant or are raising a child under 1 year of age cannot work
overtime, at night, or in distant locations.
The Labor Law requires the Government to promulgate
rules and regulations that ensure worker safety. The MOLISA, in coordination
with local people's committees and labor unions, is charged with enforcing the
regulations. In practice enforcement was inadequate because of MOLISA's low
funding and a shortage of trained enforcement personnel. The VGCL reported that
there were 300 labor inspectors in the country but that at least 600 were
needed. On-the-job injuries due to poor health and safety conditions in the
workplace were a problem. According to statistics from MOLISA, there were 4,521
injuries and 514 fatalities resulting from accidents in 2002; however, there
was evidence that workers, through labor unions, were effective in improving
working conditions. Some foreign companies with operations in the country have
established independent monitoring of problems at their factories. Companies
reported that MOLISA or provincial labor agencies performed labor and
occupation safety and health inspections at enterprises when they learned of
serious accidents or when there were reports of hazardous conditions.
The Labor Code provides that workers may remove
themselves from hazardous conditions without risking loss of employment.
f. Trafficking in Persons
The Penal Code prohibits trafficking in women and
children; however, trafficking in women and children for the purpose of sexual
exploitation and for labor, both domestically and internationally, was a
serious problem. While no law specifically prohibits trafficking in men,
existing laws could be used to prosecute traffickers who recruit or send men
abroad to work for "illegitimate profits" or illegal purposes. While
reliable statistics on the numbers of citizens trafficked were not available,
there was evidence that the numbers have grown in recent years. The Social
Evils Department of MOLISA and the Criminal Police Department of the MPS were
the main government agencies involved in efforts to combat trafficking, in
cooperation with the Ministry of Justice, the Women's Union, and the Border
Guards. The police took an increasingly active role in investigating
trafficking during the year.
During the year, the Government increased its efforts to
prosecute traffickers. The law provides for prison sentences of 2 to 20 years
for each offense for persons found guilty of trafficking women, and for between
3 years and life in prison for each offense for persons found guilty of
trafficking children. In July 2002, a government decree forbade the use of
marriage and adoption for trafficking related purposes. Hundreds of traffickers
have been convicted and imprisoned, most notably in one high-profile case in
2002 in which over 150 persons were indicted for prostitution and migrant
smuggling. That particular case involved ex-ministerial and law enforcement
agents. The Government worked with international NGOs to supplement law
enforcement measures and cooperated with other national governments to prevent
trafficking. It also cooperated closely with other countries within the
framework of INTERPOL and its Asian counterpart.
The country was a source country for trafficking in
persons. Women were trafficked primarily to Cambodia and China for sexual
exploitation and arranged marriages. According to one report, between 1990 and
2000, approximately 20,000 young women and girls were sent to China to become
brides, domestic workers, or prostitutes; however, it was not clear how many
were victims of trafficking. Between 1995 and 2000, approximately 5,000 women
and children were trafficked to and escaped from Cambodia. Some Vietnamese
women also were trafficked to Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Taiwan,
the United Kingdom, and the United States. There also were reports that some
Vietnamese women going to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and China through arranged
marriages were victims of trafficking. The Government estimated that
approximately 10 percent of Vietnamese women in arranged marriages with Chinese
men had been recruited under false pretenses or may have become trafficking
victims. Women and children also were trafficked within the country, usually
from rural to urban areas. Incidents of trafficking of adult males domestically
or abroad were rare. In the past, organized crime groups used Vietnam as a
transit point for persons trafficked from China and the Middle East to
Australia, Canada, and Europe. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports that
Vietnam was a transit country for trafficking in persons during the year.
Some children were trafficked domestically and others
were trafficked to foreign destinations for the purpose of prostitution. An NGO
advocate estimated that the average age of trafficked girls was between 15 and
17 years of age. Some reports indicated that the ages of girls trafficked to
Cambodia typically was even lower. Although statistics were not reliable, women
and girls were trafficked from southern delta and highland provinces to
Cambodia and from northern provinces into China generally for the purposes of
prostitution, domestic work, or marriage.
Provincial and national-level authorities made combating
trafficking in women and children a priority. In January, in an effort to deal
with problems of trafficking of infants for adoption and corruption in adoption
practices, authorities suspended foreign adoptions pending the negotiation of
new bi-lateral adoption protocols.
There were reports that some women from Ho Chi Minh City
and the Mekong Delta who married men from Taiwan were forced into prostitution
after their arrival in Taiwan. There was reported trafficking in women to the
Macau Special Administrative Region of China with the assistance of
organizations in China that were ostensibly marriage service bureaus,
international labor organizations, and travel agencies. After arrival, women
were forced into conditions similar to indentured servitude; some were forced
into prostitution. In August 2002, the Government suspended the licenses of
marriage mediation services and transferred their function to the Women's
Union. The services helped arrange marriages between women and foreigners,
primarily Taiwanese men. Diplomatic sources estimated that between 15,000 and
18,000 Vietnamese women married Taiwanese men each year, although government
and NGO observers believed that most were not trafficked.
Poor women and teenage girls, especially those from
rural areas, were most at risk for being trafficked. It appeared that most trafficking
victims came from some Mekong Delta provinces, such as Can Tho and An Giang and
some northern provinces, such as Quang Ninh. Some were sold by their families
as domestic workers or for sexual exploitation. In some cases, traffickers paid
families several hundred dollars (a large sum for many families) in exchange
for allowing their daughter to go to Cambodia for an "employment
offer." Many victims faced strong pressure to make significant
contributions to the family income. Others were offered lucrative jobs by
acquaintances. False advertising, debt bondage, confiscation of documents, and
threats of deportation were other methods commonly used by the traffickers,
spouses, and employers.
Individual opportunists and informal networks, as well
as some organized groups, lured poor, often rural, women with promises of jobs
or marriage and forced them to work as prostitutes (see Section 5). The
Government stated that organized criminal groups were involved in recruitment,
transit, and other trafficking-related activities.
Corruption was a serious problem at all levels, and some
officials were involved in the flow of overseas workers into exploitative
conditions or into trafficking. While it was likely that some individual
officials assisted traffickers, there was no evidence of official,
institutional, or government involvement in trafficking in persons. Unlike in
previous years, there were no reports that government officials and associated
private individuals were convicted of and sentenced for trafficking related
crimes during the year.
Official institutions, including MOLISA, the Women's
Union, the Youth Union and the Committee for Population, Family and Children,
had active programs in place aimed at prevention and victims' protection. These
programs included publicity to warn women and girls of these dangers,
repatriation programs to help female returnees, and vocational training for
teenage girls in communities considered vulnerable to trafficking in persons.
Government agencies worked closely with the International Organization for
Migration and a number of other international NGOs to provide temporary
shelter, some medical services, education, credit, counseling, and
rehabilitation to returned trafficking victims. In March 2002, government
officials held a series of meetings with their Chinese counterparts to improve
victim protection and repatriation processes. During the year, Government
officials held similar meetings with the Cambodian Government. The country also
participated in an ILO project on child trafficking in the Mekong region.
Although trafficking victims in general were not treated
as criminals, some women trafficked into prostitution were prosecuted for
prostitution or placed in rehabilitation centers.
Security agencies with border control responsibility
have also received training in investigative techniques that can be used to