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Vietnam : EU Domestic Advisory Group (DAG) denounces activists’ arrests

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The EU Domestic Advisory Group (DAG) set up under Chapter 13 of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) received from VCHR and FIDH, a member of the EU DAG, a concerning report of the arrest, announced on 2nd July 2021 by Security Police in Hanoi, of two prominent civil society activists, journalist Mai Phan Lợi, chair of the Scientific Board of the Centre for Media in Educating Community (MEC) and lawyer Đặng Đình Bách, director of the Law and Policy for Sustainable Development (LPSD).

They are both Executive Board members of VNGO-EVFTA Network, a group of seven development and environmental CSOs established last November to raise awareness about EVFTA and its civil society component in Vietnam, the Vietnam Domestic Advisory Group (DAG). All seven of the organisations (including MEC and LPSD) submitted applications for membership of the Vietnam DAG, but have received no reply. The Vietnamese DAG was not set-up and the first Trade and Sustainable Development Committee and the first Joint forum had to be cancelled. Now, two of the members having applied to be part of this monitoring group have been arrested.

We fear that Vietnam, already known for harassing and silencing human rights defenders, will oppose and obstruct any independent, free and fruitful monitoring of the trade agreement. Nor is it the first time. Phạm Chí Dũng and his colleagues Nguyễn Tường Thụy and Lê Hữu Minh Tuấn were sentenced to prison terms of up to 15 years in January 2021 after having asked the European Parliament to postpone EVFTA’s consent pending concrete human rights progress in Vietnam.

The European Commission has the responsibility to ensure the full implementation of the agreement. Last month, deploring this failure, the EU DAG already stressed that the “Civil society engagement and scrutiny of the EVFTA is not an optional element of the agreement”. This time the EU DAG, stressed that it is not only not an optional element, “but is actually an essential element of the agreement [1]”. Indeed, the respect of human rights is an essential part of the agreement, and their violation could lead the EU to take all appropriate measures.

Finally, the EU DAG urged the European Commission and its Chief Trade Enforcement officer (CTEO) to investigate and raise the issue at the meeting with the Vietnamese authorities that will take place next Monday. It was also the message sent by Saskia Bricmont, member of the European parliament (EP). She reminded the European Commission that the Parliament gave its consent to the free trade agreement but with conditions, namely the swift establishment of the DAGs that include independent organisations and human rights defenders. MEP Bricmont asked for the release of all the prisoners mentioned in the EP Resolution adopted last January after the condemnation of Phạm Chí Dũng and his colleagues.

FIDH and VCHR welcome this mobilisation and will pursue their efforts to make sure that trade agreements go hand-in-hand with human rights.

FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights)  – July 15, 2021

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