Delegation of the European Parliament visits Vietnam, criticizing the bad human rights situation

Member of the European Parliament Nacho Sanchez Amor

From April 4 to 6, a delegation of European Parliamentarians from the Human Rights Subcommittee visited Vietnam, led by German Congressman Udo Bullmann, Head of the Human Rights Commission. The Delegation included MPs Isabel Wiseler-Lima (Luxembourg), Cheorghe-Vlad Nistor (Romania) and Leopoldo Lopez Gil (Spain) of the European Popular Party; Nacho Sanchez Amor (Spain) and Isabel Santos (Portugal) of the Alliance for Social and Democratic Progress in the European Parliament; and Urmas Paet (Estonia), of the Renew Party in Europe.

The purpose of the visit is to investigate the human rights situation in Vietnam and assess the human rights impact of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), which has been in force for nearly three years, from August 1, 2020.

Concluding the visit on Thursday afternoon (April 6, 2023), the European Parliament Delegation held a press conference in Hanoi to voice its “deep concern at the worsening human rights situation” in Vietnam. They criticized human rights violations in the social and political spheres, “especially the narrow space of civil society, ambiguous provisions in the Criminal Code used to suppress dissenting voices, civil society activists are harassed, freedom of expression is stifled, especially online, and freedom of religion and belief is restricted.” The delegation also called on Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, including leaders of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), journalists and environmental activists.

Before leaving Hanoi, Member of the European Parliament Nacho Sanchez Amor gave a special interview to Radio Free Asia via telephony about the above visit to Vietnam.

Ỷ Lan: Hello Congressman Sanchez Amor. You are a Spaniard, belongs to the Union of Social and Democratic Progressives in the European Parliament. First of all, can you tell us the purpose of this visit?

Nacho Sanchez Amor: The visit is from the European Parliament Human Rights Subcommittee. Our mission is not directly related to political issues, but has a lot to do with commerce. In the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) there is a chapter dedicated to democratic conditions. We decided to come here to see how the situation has improved, and how much is the commitment of the Vietnamese government when signing the EVFTA Agreement.

Ỷ Lan: Could you please tell us your impressions of this visit?

Nacho Sanchez Amor : Our impression is that Vietnam is making significant economic progress. But in terms of human rights, the situation before and after the EVFTA’s signing is exactly the same with no progress, no improvement in human rights, no freedom of speech. NGOs face many difficulties in running their activities. So while we consider the commercial aspects of the agreement to be working relatively well, we are very, very disappointed that no progress has been made regarding respect for human rights and democratic reforms. We do not see any openness or goodwill on the part of the Vietnamese government in respecting the commitments they made when signing the EVFTA.

Ỷ Lan: In addition to meetings with government agencies, did the delegation have contact with civil society activists?

Nacho Sanchez Amor: You’ll probably understand why I can’t reveal the names of the civil society activists we met during this visit to Vietnam. On the government side, we met with a Deputy Prime Minister, a Deputy Minister of Justice, ae Deputy Head of the Supreme Procuracy and many officials in the Central Committee of the Communist Party, the National Assembly, the Government Committee for Religion, Institute for Human Rights and Ministry of Public Security. We met with diplomats in Hanoi, as well as international press reporters, not for interviews but to understand more about the situation in the country. And of course we met with civil society representatives. But like I said, I don’t want to reveal their names.

Ỷ Lan: Did the delegation raise cases of prisoners of conscience being detained with the Vietnamese authorities? Did you visit any political prisoners in Hanoi?

Nacho Sanchez Amor : Yes, we have personally submitted the list of prisoners of conscience to all relevant authorities, and demanded their release. Unfortunately, we are not allowed to visit prisoners of conscience in prison.

Ỷ Lan: Do you think this visit has helped the European Parliament members have a clearer picture of the human rights situation in Vietnam?

Nacho Sanchez Amor: Yeah, I think we’ve got a more accurate picture. There are a number of areas where we can work with the authorities. Vietnam is well-intentioned to tackle child labor and human trafficking, yes, that’s clear. But other aspects, such as the general human rights situation, the activities of NGOs, the narrow space of civil society – clearly the government has no will to push for political reform. This is why we are so disappointed. Because political and human rights reforms are an integral part of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement to which we are both committed. We have strongly affirmed to Vietnam that it must fulfill its commitment to ratify Convention 87 of the International Labor Organization (ILO) related to the establishment of independent trade unions. But so far we have not seen Vietnam make any efforts to fulfill these commitments.

Ỷ Lan: So, after this visit, what message will the delegation bring to the European Parliament?

Nacho Sanchez Amor: We will tell the European Parliament that Vietnam clearly promises to implement the democratic reforms outlined in the EVFTA. But after the agreement was signed, Vietnam made no political reforms, not even the slightest openness regarding civil society activities. This is disappointing and should be a lesson for the European Parliament, which has the power to give the final green light to ratify trade agreements. We must enforce the establishment of enforcement mechanisms to ensure that both sides fully implement the commitments set out in trade agreements.

Ỷ Lan: Thank you to European Parliament member Sanchez Amor for giving this interview to Radio Free Asia. Wishing you and your delegation a safe journey! (Translated)