Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 December 2014, 15:47 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Viet Nam

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Viet Nam, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4124.html [accessed 17 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
VIETNAM

 

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) is a one-party state controlled by the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP). The VCP's constitutionally mandated leading role and the occupancy of nearly all senior government positions by party officials ensures the primacy of Politburo guidelines. The National Assembly, chosen in elections in which all candidates are approved by the party, remains largely subservient to the VCP, as does the judiciary. An effort is underway to reduce party intrusion into government operations, and government officials have more latitude in implementing policies. The Government continued to restrict significantly civil liberties on national security grounds.

The military is responsible for external defense and has no direct role in maintaining internal security. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for internal security. In addition to employing a large border defense force, the Ministry controls the police, a special national security investigation agency, and other units that maintain internal security. Acting under the control of the party and the Government, the Ministry enforces laws and regulations that significantly restrict individual liberties and violate other human rights. The regime uses the Ministry of Interior as well as a system of household registrations and block wardens to monitor the population, concentrating on those suspected of engaging, or being likely to engage, in unauthorized political activities. Some members of the security forces have committed human rights abuses.

Vietnam is a very poor country undergoing a transition from a centrally planned to a more market-oriented economy. Agriculture, primarily rice cultivation, employs two-thirds of the work force and accounts for one-third of gross domestic product (GDP). As a result of reforms, the country has witnessed rapid growth in many industries, including construction, petroleum, textiles, and light manufacturing. Exports, led by crude oil, rice, marine products, textiles and foodstuffs, have increased sharply. Estimated GDP per capita income remains little more than $200 annually. Particularly in urban areas, economic reforms have raised the standard of living and reduced party and government control over people's daily lives.

The Government's human rights record continued to be poor, and the it continued to repress basic political and some religious freedoms and to commit numerous abuses. It denied citizens the right to change their government and significantly restricted freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, privacy, and religion. It arbitrarily detained people, including for peacefully expressing political and religious objections to government policies, and sometimes denied citizens the right to a fair and expeditious trial. The Government continued its longstanding policy of not tolerating most types of public dissent and of prohibiting independent religious, political, and labor organizations. There were credible reports that security officials beat detainees. Prison conditions remained poor. Societal discrimination and violence against women remained problems. Within still-narrow parameters, the National Assembly and the press engaged in increasingly vigorous debate on legal, economic, and social issues, and there was continued progress in building a legal infrastructure. The National Assembly passed a civil code in October and passed a law to establish an administrative court system to deal with complaints about abuse and corruption by state officials. The trend toward reduced government interference in people's daily lives continued, as did the trend toward greater freedom to engage in economic activity. People were allowed slightly greater freedom of expression and assembly, but there were intermittent restrictions on the practice of religion.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no known politically motivated extrajudicial killings. Following a highly publicized trial and conviction by the Supreme People's Court, a Hanoi policeman was executed for the murder and robbery of a Vietnamese citizen. Little information is available on the extent of deaths in police custody or on official investigations into such incidents.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law prohibits physical abuse. However, there were credible reports that security officials have beaten detainees and used threats and other psychological coercion to elicit confessions. There were no known reports of torture of detainees. Little information is available on the extent of police brutality during interrogations.

Prison conditions are poor, but they do not generally threaten the lives of prisoners. Overcrowding, insufficient diet, and poor sanitation remain serious problems. Conditions in pretrial detention are particularly harsh, and there were credible reports that detainees were sometimes denied access to sunlight, exercise, and reading material. Most prisoners have access to basic health care and, for those with money, to supplemental food. However, there were credible reports that some political prisoners were denied visitation rights and that some prisons employ the use of forced labor. Prisoners doing hard labor complained that the diet and health care were insufficient to sustain their health, especially when they were detained in remote, disease-ridden areas.

Several political prisoners with serious medical conditions are being held in harsh conditions in remote prisons with little access to medical care. For example, Dr. Doan Viet Hoat (see Section 1.e.) continued to serve a 15-year sentence at the Thanh Cam Camp, in a remote and malaria-ridden area of Thanh Hoa Province. His location has made it difficult for his family to provide medicine for his kidney disorder. Similarly, Do Van Thac, imprisoned for 14 years for attempting to overthrow the Government, remain imprisoned in remote Nam Ha Province despite having suffered a stroke and suffering from heart disease. Dr. Nguyen Dan Que has been held in isolation at Xuan Loc Prison for nearly 2 years.

The Government does not permit independent monitoring of its prison and detention system, although it did allow an Australian parliamentary delegation to visit one prison in 1995. The United Nations Working Group on Human Rights visited several prisons in October 1994.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Government continued to arrest and imprison people arbitrarily. Although the 1990 Criminal Procedure Code provides for various rights for detainees, including time limits on pretrial detention and the right of the accused to have a lawyer present during interrogation, in practice the authorities often ignore these legal safeguards.

Law enforcement officials appear able to arrest and incarcerate people without presenting arrest warrants. In cases where a warrant is presented, the procurator rather than an independent judiciary approves issuance of warrants. Once arrested, detainees often are held for lengthy periods without formal charges or trial. For example, two Americans, Nguyen Tan Tri and Tran Quang Liem, arrested in November 1993 along with seven others for trying to organize a democracy conference in Ho Chi Minh City, were held for 21 months before finally being brought to trial in August; the two were released in November (see Section 1.e.).

Those arrested for peaceful expression of their views are likely to be charged under any one of several provisions in the Criminal Code outlawing acts against the State. Several Buddhists who were arrested in November 1994 for organizing an unauthorized flood relief mission in 1994 were held for 9 months before being tried in August (see Section 1.e. and 2.c.) for "sabotaging solidarity."

No official statistics are available on the percentage of the prison population made up by pretrial detainees or the average period of time such detainees have been held. Similarly, it is difficult to determine the exact number of political detainees in part because the Government often does not publicize arrests and frequently conducts secret detentions, trials, and sentencing.

The Government does not use external exile as a means of political control but has employed internal exile to restrict the movement of certain political or religious dissidents. For example, credible reports indicate that the leader of the United Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), Thich Huyen Quang, was involuntarily moved from his pagoda to a more remote area of Quang Ngai Province.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

While the Constitution provides for the independence of judges and jurors, in practice the VCP controls the courts closely at all levels, selecting judges primarily for political reliability. Reliable reports indicate that party officials, including top leaders, instruct courts how to rule on politically important cases. The President appoints judges.

The Vietnamese court system consists of local people's courts, military tribunals, and the Supreme People's Court. The Supreme People's Court can review cases from the lower courts or tribunals. In addition, local mass organizations are empowered to deal with minor breaches of law or disputes, and the National Assembly in late 1993 approved the establishment of economic courts to handle commercial disputes. In its October-November session, the National Assembly passed a new 834-article civil code due to go into effect in mid-July 1996. The National Assembly also passed a law to establish a system of administrative courts to deal with complaints by citizens about official abuse and corruption.

The People's Procuracy has unchecked power to bring charges against the accused and serves as prosecutor during trials. A two-person judging council, made up of a judge and one or more people's jurors (lay judges), determines guilt or innocence and also passes sentence on the convicted. The relevant people's council appoints people's jurors, who are to be people of high moral standards but who are not required to have legal training.

Trials are generally open to the public, although judicial authorities sometimes closed trials or strictly limited attendance in sensitive cases. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial, and to have a lawyer and the defendant or his lawyer has the right to cross-examine witnesses. In political cases, there are credible reports that defendants were not allowed access to government evidence in advance of the trial. Little information is available on the extent to which defendants and their lawyers have time to prepare for trials. Those convicted have the right to appeal. Although Vietnam has made some progress in developing a legal system, many judges and other court officials lack adequate legal training. However, government efforts to develop a fair, effective judicial system were undermined by the lack of openness in the judicial process and the continuing subservience of the judiciary to the party.

The Government continued to hold a number of political prisoners incarcerated for the peaceful expression of dissenting religious or political views. For example, Doan Viet Hoat is serving a 15-year sentence for publishing a reformist newsletter. Others arrested with him, including Pham Duc Kham, Nguyen Van Thuan, and Le Duc Vuong, are also serving lengthy prison sentences. Human rights activist Nguyen Dan Que, sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment in 1991 for publicly supporting political reform and respect for human rights, remains in isolation in prison despite being in poor health. In August a Ho Chi Minh City court convicted nine people, including the group's leader, Nguyen Dinh Huy, and two Americans, Nguyen Tan Tri and Tran Quang Liem, for trying to organize a democracy conference in Ho Chi Minh City and sentenced them to lengthy prison terms. Following diplomatic appeals, in November the SRV released Tri and Liem from prison and expelled them from Vietnam.

The authorities arrested Hoang Minh Chinh and Do Trung Hieu for "antisocialist propaganda," apparently for writings that urged the party to admit past mistakes and move toward national reconciliation (see Section 2.a.). Chinh and Hieu were later convicted of "abusing democratic privileges."

Vietnamese exile groups have claimed there are as many as 1,000 political prisoners in the country; other reliable sources put the figure closer to 200. The Government continued to release prisoners as part of regular amnesties to commemorate important national holidays. Approximately 3,300 prisoners were released in amnesties in April, September, and December. Buddhist monk Thich Hai Chanh, who had been imprisoned for participating in unrest in Hue in May 1993, apparently was the only political prisoner released.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Government continued to operate a nationwide system of surveillance and control through household registration and block wardens who use informants to keep track of individual activities. However, many foreign observers believe this monitoring was done with less vigor and efficiency than in the past as authorities focused on those suspected of involvement in unauthorized political or religious activities. Anecdotal evidence suggests government monitoring is stricter in the south, especially Ho Chi Minh City. In urban areas, most citizens were free to maintain contact and work with foreigners, although many remained nervous about extensive social contacts.

The Government continued to censor mail, confiscate packages, and monitor telephone, electronic mail, and fax transmissions. In the past, the party pressed people to belong to one or more mass organizations, which exist for villages, city districts, schools, workers (trade unions), youth, and women. However, with the growth of the private sector, those organizations play a less important societal role. While membership in the VCP remains an aid to advancement in the Government or in state companies and is vital for promotion to senior levels of the Government, the party faced increased difficulty attracting new members.

The Government continued to implement a family planning policy that urges all families to have no more than two children. In principle, the Government can deny promotions and salary increases to government and party employees with more than two children. In practice, the penalty is not applied to employees in good standing. For others, there are no penalties for those with more than two children, but local regulations permit fines based on the cost of extra social services incurred by the extra child, or reductions in state subsidies for those services. These penalties are not uniformly or universally applied.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, but in practice the Government severely limits these freedoms.

Both the Constitution and the Criminal Code include broad national security and antidefamation provisions that the Government uses to strictly limit such freedoms. The party and Government tolerated public discussion and even criticism somewhat more than in the past. For example, Vietnamese citizens could and did complain openly about bureaucratic lethargy, administrative procedures, corruption, and even economic policy. However, the Government continued to clamp down on free speech that ventured outside narrow limits to question the role of the party, criticize individual SRV leaders, promote multiparty democracy, or question the regime's policies on sensitive matters such as human rights. In June the authorities arrested VCP members Hoang Minh Chinh and Do Trung Hieu, and on November 8, tried, convicted, and sentenced them to 12 months' imprisonment for "abusing democratic privileges" (see Section 1.e.). There continued to be an ambiguous line between what constituted private speech about sensitive matters, which would be tolerated, and public speech in those areas, which would not. Late in the year, the authorities arrested two more dissidents, Nguyen Xuan Tu (aka Ha Si Phu) for criticizing the regime and Le Hong Ha for involvement with efforts to convince the party to address past mistakes.

The party, Government, and party-controlled mass organizations control all print and electronic media. Pervasive party guidance and national security legislation remained sufficiently broad to ensure effective self-censorship in the domestic media. In 1995 the Government closed two newspapers temporarily for questioning policy too bluntly, and senior party and government leaders made several speeches reminding the press that it should support the party.

The Government also approved a number of new newspapers for publication. With apparent party approval, several newspapers engaged in investigative reporting on corruption and mismanagement as well as in open and sometimes heated debate on economic policy. The Government made no effort to limit access to international radio or television, which many Vietnamese listen to regularly, or to foreign language periodicals, which are widely available in the cities. The Government has not allowed citizens free access to the Internet, citing concerns for national security and cultural preservation.

Foreign journalists must be approved by the Foreign Ministry's Press Center and must be based in Hanoi, and the number of foreign staff allowed each foreign press organization is limited. The Center monitors journalists' activities and decides on a case by case basis whether to approve their interview and travel requests. A Foreign Ministry official accompanies foreign journalists during all interviews. The Government censors television footage and delays export of footage by several days.

A general trend toward increased information flow appeared to extend into the university system. Foreign academics working temporarily at Vietnamese universities said they were able to discuss nonpolitical issues widely and freely in the classroom, but government monitors regularly attend classes taught by foreigners, without official notification to the teachers. Vietnamese academic publications usually reflect the views of the party and the Government.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The right of assembly is restricted in law and practice. People wishing to gather in a group are required to apply for a permit, which local authorities can issue or deny arbitrarily. However, people routinely gathered in informal groups without government interference. The Government generally does not permit demonstrations that could be seen as having a political purpose, but was more tolerant than in the past of occasional popular demonstrations about specific grievances against local officials. With a few exceptions, the Government prohibits the establishment of private, independent organizations, insisting that individuals work within established, party-controlled organizations. Citizens may not establish independent political parties, religious organizations, labor unions, or business companies, or veterans organizations.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution and government decrees provide for freedom of worship, but the regime continued to restrict severely religious activities it defined as at variance with state laws and policies. The Government generally allowed people to practice the religion of their choice, and participation in religious activities throughout Vietnam continued to increase. However, the Government also maintained policies designed to control religious hierarchies and organized religious activities, in part because the Government perceives that organized religion may undermine the party's monopoly of influence. An American clergyman was detained and then expelled in February after meeting with Vietnamese citizens. Two other Americans were expelled after attending a meeting of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Religious organizations must obtain government permission to hold training seminars and conventions, to build or remodel places of worship, to engage in charitable activities or operate religious schools, and to ordain, promote, or transfer clergy. All religious groups continued to face difficulty in obtaining teaching materials, expanding training facilities, and publishing religious materials.

The Government requires all Buddhist monks to work under the party-controlled Buddhist organization's umbrella. The Government has continued actively to suppress efforts by the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) to operate independently. The tension between the Government and the UBCV, which resurfaced in 1992 and increased in 1993-94, continued in 1995. The Government arrested Buddhists who have pushed for an independent organization and has harshly criticized the UBCV in a series of speeches and publications, calling it a tool of reactionary exiles. Despite SRV claims to the contrary, credible reports indicate that the UBCV's leader, the Venerable Thich Huyen Quang, remains under house arrest or other confinement in a remote area of Quang Ngai Province. Following a 1-day trial, five other Buddhists, including UBCV Secretary General Thich Quang Do, were tried, convicted and sentenced to prison in August for "sabotaging solidarity" by organizing an unauthorized flood relief mission. The appeals of the three Buddhists were rejected by a Ho Chi Minh City court in October. In December the official press announced that the Government Commission on Religious Affairs had rejected an appeal by a small Buddhist sect--the Doan Phu Tho 18 group--and declared its activities illegal.

The Government has sought to control the Catholic Church hierarchy, in part by requiring all clergy to belong to the government-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association. It has also insisted on its right to approve Vatican appointments. Vietnam allowed the appointment of some high level clerical positions that had not been filled for years, most notably the appointment of Cardinal Pham Dinh Tung. However, the Vatican remained frustrated with the Government's restrictions on the Church, particularly after the Government rejected four Vatican nominations, including its candidate for Archbishop Adjudicator of Ho Chi Minh City. The delay in filling the latter position prompted unusual public criticism from Ho Chi Minh City Archbishop Nguyen Van Binh, whose death in July left another key church position vacant.

A March 1994 decree allowed bishops and priests to travel freely within their dioceses, but the Government continued to restrict their travel outside these areas. In 1995 the Church opened five training seminaries, with 120 to 150 students. However, all students must be approved by the Government, both upon entering the seminary and prior to ordination as priests. The number of students permitted by the Government to study at the seminaries increased in 1995, but it was insufficient to support the growing Catholic population, estimated unofficially at 2 million.

The Christian Missionary Alliance of Vietnam, the only government-approved Protestant organization in the country, enjoyed slightly greater freedom to operate. Church attendance grew despite continued government restrictions on proselytizing activities. Nongovernment organizations (NGO's) reported continued arrests and government harassment of some ethnic Hmong Protestants for proselytizing in northern Vietnamese villages.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Most citizens enjoyed greater freedom of movement within the country, and the Government dropped the requirement for permits for interprovincial travel. However, there were credible reports that local authorities required members of ethnic minority groups to obtain permission to travel outside of certain highland areas. Officially, citizens must obtain permission to change their residence, but in practice many people continued to move without approval. Foreigners are generally free to travel throughout the country. Although the Government retains the right to approve travel to border areas, to some areas in the central highlands, and to some islands, in practice, foreigners can easily travel to most border areas without approval. Some foreigners were deported for involvement in unauthorized activities (see Section 2.c.).

The Government still requires citizens traveling abroad, including government officials, to obtain exit and reentry visas, but is more willing to grant those visas than in the past. Both law and regulation provide the right of all citizens to obtain an exit permit with the exception of members of Vietnam's small Muslim community seeking to make the hajj, political activists, certain Buddhist clerics, the mentally ill, or those serving prison sentences, under criminal investigation, holding state secrets, suffering serious health problems, involved in tax or real estate disputes, or where sponsors are engaged in anti-SRV activities abroad. The Government maintains the right to reject exit visa applications in these categories.

The Government continued to permit emigration for some categories of Vietnamese. The U.S. Orderly Departure Program (ODP) continued to resettle immigrant and refugee beneficiaries in the United States, including Amerasians, former reeducation camp detainees, and family unification cases, at the rate of about 4,000 persons per month. Other nations operate smaller resettlement programs for Vietnamese nationals. There are some concerns that members of minority ethnic groups, particularly highland peoples, such as the Montagnards, may not have ready access to these programs. Former political prisoner Nguyen Chi Thien emigrated to the United States under the ODP in October.

The Government generally permits Vietnamese who emigrate to return to visit, but it considers them Vietnamese citizens and therefore subject to the obligations of a Vietnamese national under the law even if they have adopted another country's citizenship. However, Vietnamese who have emigrated are not able to obtain Vietnamese passports. Because it regards overseas Vietnamese both as a valuable potential source of foreign exchange and expertise and as a potential security threat, the Government generally encourages them to visit Vietnam but monitors them carefully.

In 1988 Vietnam signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to increase acceptance of voluntary repatriates, provided there was financial assistance. The agreement included a commitment by Vietnam to waive prosecution and punitive measures for illegal departure from Vietnam of persons who return under the UNHCR Voluntary Repatriation Program. Vietnam also agreed to permit the UNHCR to monitor the returnees through direct visits. More than 72,000 Vietnamese have returned voluntarily. The UNHCR, which extensively monitors those who have repatriated voluntarily, reports that they do not face retribution or discrimination. There was no credible evidence to substantiate claims that refugees returning under UNHCR auspices were harassed because of their status as returnees.

Although a source of refugees itself in the past, Vietnam also has been the country of first asylum for some refugees, particularly from Cambodia. The Government cooperates with the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. There were no reports of forced expulsion of those having a valid claim to refugee status.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens are not free to change their government. All authority and political power is vested in the VCP; political opposition and other political parties are not tolerated. The VCP Central Committee is the supreme decisionmaking body in the nation, and the Politburo is the locus of policymaking. The Secretariat of the Central Committee oversees day-to-day implementation of leadership directives. Debate and criticism are limited to certain aspects of individual, state, or party performance determined by the VCP itself. No public challenge to the legitimacy of the one-party state or even debate on the subject is permitted (see Section 2.a.).

Citizens elect the members of the National Assembly, ostensibly the main legislative body, but the party approves all candidates. During the October-November session the National Assembly engaged in increasingly vigorous debate on economic, legal, and social issues, including corruption, management of the budget, and the long-awaited civil code. Legislators questioned and criticized ministries. The sessions' approval of a civil code was an important step in the Government's effort to develop a comprehensive legal infrastructure. However, the National Assembly remained largely subservient to the VCP. Party officials occupy most senior government and National Assembly positions and continued to have the final say on key issues.

The law provides the opportunity for equal participation in politics by women and minority groups, but in practice they are underrepresented. Most of the top leaders, including all 17 politburo members, are male. Women hold a number of important positions, including vice president, member of the party secretariat, and several vice ministerships. The President of the National Assembly, who is also a politburo member, is a member of an ethnic minority.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

The Government does not permit private human rights organizations to form or operate. It generally prohibits private citizens from contacting international human rights organizations. The Government permitted international visitors to monitor implementation of its repatriation commitments under the Comprehensive Plan of Action and carried on a limited dialog with human rights organizations.

The SRV has shown increased willingness to discuss human rights issues bilaterally with other governments if such discussions take place under the rubric of "exchanges of ideas" rather than as "investigations." Several foreign governments held official talks concerning human rights issues, and an Australian parliamentary delegation on human rights visited Vietnam in April.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution and the Legal Code prohibit discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, religion, or social class. Enforcement of these prohibitions has been uneven. People released from reeducation camps have reported varying levels of discrimination in the areas of housing and education. They generally are not eligible to regain their citizenship rights until 1 year after their release. They and their families are not allowed employment with the Government, though this prohibition was less problematic than in the past because of the growth of private sector job opportunities.

Women

Although the law addresses the issue of domestic violence, there is credible evidence that the problem is on the rise and that the laws are not enforced adequately. International NGO workers and many Vietnamese women have stated that domestic violence against women is common. Most divorces are due to domestic violence although many women remain in abusive marriages rather than confront the stigma of divorce. Domestic abuse appears to be more prevalent in rural areas.

The Government, with international NGO's, and the press reported a marked increase in recent years in the trafficking of women both domestically and abroad for the purposes of prostitution. Organized rings reportedly lure poor, often rural, women with promises of jobs or marriage and force them to work as prostitutes. Some are kidnaped and sold as wives to men in other countries. The press and anecdotal sources indicate that the problem of sex tourism is growing. The Government began to work more closely with NGO's to supplement law enforcement measures in these areas.

While there is no legal discrimination, women face deeply ingrained social discrimination. Despite extensive provisions in the Constitution, in legislation, and in regulations that mandate equal treatment, and although some women occupy high government posts, in general few women are able to compete effectively for higher status positions. The Government has not enforced the constitutional provision that women and men must receive equal pay for equal work. The large body of legislation and regulations devoted to the protection of women's rights in marriage as well as in the workplace, as well as the new labor law calling for the preferential treatment of women, are distant from the reality of many, if not most, women.

The party-controlled Women's Union has a broad agenda to promote women's rights, including political, economic, and legal equality, and protection from spousal abuse. NGO's and international organizations regard the Union highly but believe it will take some time to overcome societal prejudices. The Government also has a committee for the advancement of women, led by the Vice President, who is a woman.

Children

Reputable international organizations, including the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF), commended the Government's interest in children's issues and its promotion of child welfare. Education is compulsory, but the authorities do not enforce the requirement, especially in rural areas (see Section 1.d.). The Government has continued a nationwide immunization campaign, and the government-controlled press regularly stresses the importance of health and education for all children. Despite some success, UNICEF estimates there are still 3 million children living in "especially difficult" circumstances. There is no information publicly available on the extent of child abuse (see also Section 6.c.).

People with Disabilities

The Government provides little official protection or support for the disabled, and there are no laws mandating access. However, the 1994 Labor Law calls on the State to protect the rights and encourage the employment of the disabled. It includes provisions for preferential treatment for firms that recruit disabled persons for training or apprenticeship and a special levy on firms that do not employ disabled workers. It is not clear whether the Government enforces these provisions. The Government has permitted international groups to assist those who have been disabled by war or by subsequent accidents involving unexploded ordnance.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although the Government says that it is opposed to discrimination against ethnic minorities, there continued to be credible reports that local officials sometimes restricted ethnic minority access to education, employment, and travel, both domestic and foreign. The Government continued to implement policies designed to narrow the gap in the standard of living between ethnic groups living in the highlands and lowland ethnic Vietnamese by granting preferential treatment to domestic and foreign companies investing in highland areas. There is no information available on whether the Government continued to repress some highland minorities for suspected ties with resistance groups, as reported in the past.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers are not free to form or join unions of their own choosing unless they have obtained approval from the local office of the Communist Party-controlled Trade Union Federation of Vietnam (VGCL). The VGCL is the umbrella organization under which all local trade unions must operate. The Labor Law requires provincial trade union organizations to establish unions at all new enterprises with more than 10 employees as well as at existing enterprises that currently operate without trade unions. Management of those companies is required to accept and cooperate with those unions. However, many joint ventures and small, private companies, especially at the retail level, do not have unions.

The Labor Law issued in 1994 provides for the right to strike under certain circumstances. It calls for management and labor to resolve labor disputes through the enterprise's own labor conciliatory council. If that fails, the matter goes to the provincial labor arbitration council. Unions have the right to appeal a council decision to the provincial people's court or to strike. However, the Law prohibits strikes at enterprises that serve the public and those that are important to the national economy or national security and defense, as defined by the Government. It also grants the Prime Minister the right to suspend a strike considered detrimental to the national economy or public safety.

A number of strikes occurred in 1995, primarily against foreign-owned companies but also involving state-owned and private firms. The Government tolerated these strikes, which were often illegal. The new Labor Law prohibits retribution against strikers, and there have been no credible reports of such retribution.

Unions are not legally free to, and do not in practice, join, affiliate with, or participate in international labor bodies.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Workers have the right to organize unions in their enterprises, but they must be approved by the provincial or metropolitan branch of the VCGL. They also can bargain collectively through the party-approved unions at their enterprises. In the past, the State generally set wages, since most people worked for state companies. With the growth of the private sector and the increased autonomy of state firms, a growing percentage of companies are setting wages through collective bargaining with the relevant unions. Market forces also play a much more important role in determining wages. The Labor Code prohibits antiunion discrimination on the part of employers against employees seeking to organize.

The Government has approved formation of a number of export processing zones and new industrial zones, which are governed by the same labor laws as the rest of the country.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The 1994 Labor Law prohibits all forms of forced labor, and there were no reports of such practices.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Labor Law sets the minimum age for employment at 15. Children as young as 13 can register at trade training centers, which are a form of vocational training. Vietnam has compulsory education laws, but laws are not effectively enforced, especially in rural areas where children are needed to farm. However, the culture's strong emphasis on education leads most people to send their children to school, rather than to work.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labor Law requires the Government to set a minimum wage, which changes with inflation and other economic changes. The monthly minimum wage for foreign-invested joint ventures is $35 (385,000 Dong) in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and $30 (330,000 Dong elsewhere. The minimum monthly wage for Vietnamese companies is $11 (120,000 Dong). This by itself is insufficient to provide a worker and family with a decent standard of living. Many workers receive bonuses and supplement their incomes by engaging in entrepreneurial activities. A declining number of workers receive subsidized housing. The Government enforces the minimum wage at foreign and major Vietnamese firms.

The Labor Law sets working hours at a maximum of 8 per day and 48 per week, with a mandatory 24-hour break each week. Any additional hours require overtime pay, and the law limits compulsory overtime. It is not clear how well the Government enforces these provisions.

The Labor Law calls on the Government to promulgate rules and regulations to ensure worker safety. The Ministry of Labor, in coordination with local people's committees and labor unions, is charged with enforcing the regulations. In practice, enforcement is inadequate because of the Ministry's insufficient resources. Anecdotal evidence indicates that workers, through labor unions, have been more effective in forcing changes in working conditions than has the Government. There was no information on the ability of workers to remove themselves from work situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their continued employment.

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