Independent CSOs discuss Universal Periodic Review

(VNRN) – Three independent human rights organizations met Friday in the first open seminar for Vietnamese CSOs to discuss the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), titled “UPR Vietnam: Process, Potential and Practice.”

The meeting, co-organized by the Vietnam Path Movement, Civil Society Forum, and the Redepmtorist Order’s Office for Justice and Peace, was held just two months after the adoption of Vietnam’s UPR recommendations at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, where the Vietnamese government accepted 182 out of 227 recommendations on promoting and protecting human rights. It also came shortly after the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion concluded his official visit to Vietnam by stating that “Serious violations of freedom of religion or belief are a reality in Vietnam.”

Though there were signs that the authorities prevented some activists from attending the meeting by having local police and “social order defenders” guard their residences, the meeting was well-attended in the presence of various CSOs and representatives from Western diplomatic missions, such as the embassies of the United States, Canada, and Switzerland.

Pham Le Vuong Cac (known as blogger Cui Cac), a member of the delegation which attended the February talks on Vietnam’s UPR, said he recognized efforts, though feeble, by the Vietnamese government in publishing UPR results and implications to the people. “We hope more people will know about this international human rights mechanism after the discussion today,” Cac said.

He highlighted the distance between the state and civil society sector in Vietnam, and UPR appeared to be the only forum where CSOs can find themselves in an equal status to the government.

One founder of the Civil Society Forum, Dr. Nguyen Quang A (pictured), added that “domestically, unregistered CSOs are considered to be hostile forces by the government… so they are denied access to hold dialogues with the government” and that “their presence in the international arena is crucial.”

The meeting was initially planned to take place at New World Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, but organizers had to change the location shortly before the event as the hotel refused to provide the venue, possibly under police pressure.