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15 November 2018
GENEVA (15 November 2018) - The Committee against Torture this afternoon concluded its consideration of the initial report of Viet Nam on the efforts made by the State party to implement the provisions of the Convention against Torture.
Introducing the report, Quy Vuong Le, Deputy Minister of Public Security of Viet Nam, said that chapter two of the national Constitution of 2013 contained articles on human rights and the fundamental rights and responsibilities of citizens. Among those rights was the right not to be subjected to torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. In addition to those provisions of the Constitution, that right was also guaranteed in various legal acts in the areas of criminal, administrative and civil justice. In 2015, the National Assembly had amended many important laws and regulations pertaining to the prevention of torture, including the Criminal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, the Law on the Organization of Criminal Investigation Agencies, the Law on the Execution of Temporary Custody and Detention, as well as bilateral agreements with third countries on extradition and transfer of sentenced persons. Although the 2015 Criminal Code did not define a separate offence of torture, it did define crimes such as “the use of corporal punishment” and “obtaining testimonies under duress” as offences that in their nature constituted torture. Furthermore, the Law on the Organization of Criminal Investigation Agencies codified the types of behaviour that were strictly forbidden in the organization of criminal investigations related to the protection of the rights of arrested persons, persons held in temporary detention and suspects, namely obtaining testimonies under duress, and the use of corporal punishment or torture in all forms.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts observed that while the right not to be tortured was stated in the Constitution, there was no separate provision on the offence of torture nor the definition of torture. They further wondered whether the State party had any plans to make the provisions on compliance with superiors’ orders in line with the Convention, and whether the amended Criminal Code of 2015 had led to more prosecution of cases of torture. The Committee had received several reports indicating that torture, police brutality and deaths in custody remained prevalent in the country. They noted that the deprivation of liberty could take place in reformatories, re-education camps and compulsory detoxification centres without a trial or safeguards, and asked the State party to ensure that detention in those institutions was not used as a surrogate for ordinary criminal detention?
The Experts further inquired about the statute of limitation, pre-trial detention, the right to legal counsel, registration of persons deprived of liberty, medical staff working in the penitentiary system, an oversight mechanism for the police, the application of non-refoulement, stateless persons, Vietnamese citizens seeking political asylum abroad, prisoners of conscience, prison conditions, death in custody, cooperation with civil society, training for public servants on human rights, legal status of the Public Prosecutor, impartiality of judicial proceedings, arbitrary detention and secret detention, the right to lodge complaints, reparations, inadmissibility of evidence obtained through torture, and the rights of minorities.
In his concluding remarks, the Deputy Minister of Viet Nam assured that the delegation had understood the observations and comments of the Committee Experts, and noted that Viet Nam was well aware of its obligations under international instruments. He invited the Committee Experts to visit the country.
Jens Modvig, Committee Chairperson, drew attention to the Committee’s follow-up procedure in which it would highlight several issues to which the State party should reply within a year. The Chairperson also reminded the delegation of the possibility to submit additional information within the next 48 hours.
The delegation of Viet Nam consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of National Defence, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Labour, War Invalids and Social Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Supreme People’s Procuracy, and the Permanent Mission of Viet Nam to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 16 November, at 10 a.m. to consider the seventh periodic report of Guatemala (CAT/C/GTM/7).
The initial report of Viet Nam can be read here: CAT/C/VNM/1.
Presentation of the Report
QUY VUONG LE, Deputy Minister of Public Security of Viet Nam, said that the country’s initial report had been drafted taking into account the feedback from agencies and bodies in the State apparatus, mass organizations, professional associations, and with the assistance of the United Nations. Chapter two of the national Constitution of 2013 contained articles on human rights and the fundamental rights and responsibilities of citizens. Among those rights was the right not to be subjected to torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, as provided in paragraph 1, article 20 of the Vietnamese Constitution. In addition to those provisions of the Constitution, that right was also guaranteed in various legal acts in the areas of criminal, administrative and civil justice. In 2015 the National Assembly had amended many important laws and regulations pertaining to the prevention of torture, including the Criminal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, the Law on the Organization of Criminal Investigation Agencies, the Law on the Execution of Temporary Custody and Detention, as well as bilateral agreements with third countries on extradition and transfer of sentenced persons.
Although the 2015 Criminal Code did not define a separate offence of torture, it did define crimes such as “the use of corporal punishment” and “obtaining testimonies under duress” as offences that in their nature constituted torture. Such acts were considered a serious threat to society and were thus severely punished. The minimum punishment was six months of imprisonment, while the maximum was life imprisonment. Acts that constituted torture by nature could be further criminally prosecuted according to the offences murder and other offences in the Criminal Code, according to the severity of their acts and consequences, while performing official duty and tormenting persons. Testimonies and evidence obtained under duress were rendered null and void in criminal proceedings.
The Criminal Code of 2015 also contained added provisions on audio or audio-video recording during the interrogation of suspects, which could only be used when receiving denunciations or reports pertaining to criminal acts, requesting to initiate court procedures, collection of testimony, cross-examination and trial. The Law on the Organization of Criminal Investigation Agencies codified four groups of behaviours that were strictly forbidden in the organization of criminal investigations related to the protection of the rights of arrested persons, persons held in temporary detention and suspects, namely obtaining testimonies under duress, and the use of corporal punishment or torture in all forms. Vulnerable convicts and detainees, such as pregnant women or women nursing infants under 36 months, were entitled to food, accommodation, work and healthcare that was appropriate for their gender, health and age. Vietnamese law allowed visits and consultative meetings to prisoners, as well as visits by foreign delegations. To prevent acts of violation of rights in general and acts related to torture by State officials, Viet Nam had established independent agencies or mechanisms to monitor the behaviour of officials responsible for gathering testimonies, administering prisoners and detainees, and supervising prisons and other detention facilities. The People’s Prosecutor supervised judicial activities at all times, from the processing of criminal reports and allegations to the prosecution of cases. Any violation of professional and moral standards was punishable under law through disciplinary action or criminal prosecution.
Viet Nam also paid keen attention to better guarantee the rights of victims of torture and their families. The 2015 Criminal Code stipulated in detail the right to express testimonies and views, legal representation and access to legal aid, contact and visit by family members, fair trial guarantees, and access to consular services. All individuals had the right to submit complaints to authorized agencies, organizations or individuals. Competent agencies, organizations and individuals had to receive and handle those complaints, whereas injured parties were entitled to material and immaterial compensation. The Government also implemented other measures to restore the dignity of victims and to ensure their protection and wellbeing. Those measures included poverty reduction and literacy programmes to enhance awareness and prevent repetition of offences. Furthermore, Viet Nam attached special importance to State officials’ awareness of human rights and countering torture through education, training, and the dissemination of information through the media. The country still had a number of challenges to overcome in order to effectively implement the Convention, such as the standardization of legal documents relating to human rights, resources for the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals, narrowing regional gaps, legal and professional capacity of public servants, and the general awareness of citizens about legal provisions.
Between 2017 and 2018, Viet Nam had adopted three new laws in order to better implement the Convention against Torture: the amended Law on Legal Aid, the amended Law on State Compensation Liability, and the Law on Denunciations. The Supreme Court had implemented the regulation on handling persons holding judicial office in the People’s Court, the Code of Ethics and Conduct for Judges. The Ministry of Public Security had piloted a project of audio-video recording in criminal procedure in 45 facilities, and the authorities had disseminated the content of the Convention and national laws to public officials and citizens. The authorities had adopted a clause by which they refused extradition or transfer of sentenced persons if there was reasonable ground to believe that they would be tortured. In terms of international cooperation, Viet Nam continued to actively cooperate with foreign partners to prevent torture through the exchange of information and experience, the Deputy Minister concluded.
Questions by the Country Co-Rapporteurs
JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson and Country Co-Rapporteur for Viet Nam, noted that while the right not to be tortured was stated in the Constitution, there was no separate provision on the offence of torture nor the definition of torture. Mr. Modvig appreciated the fact that most of the provisions had been amended in the revised Criminal Code in 2015 in order to increase compliance with the Convention. However, the State party had not addressed torture committed through instigation or acquiescence, and it did not seem to be criminalized at all. Did the State party have any plans to make the provisions on compliance with superiors’ orders in line with the Convention?
What statute of limitation applied to torture? Mr. Modvig noted that the Committee found that any statute of limitation for the crime of torture amounted to impunity and was in contravention of the Convention. Had the legislative changes to the Criminal Code undertaken in 2015 yielded more cases of torture for prosecution? Would the State party consider amending the Criminal Code in order to provide a simpler and clearer legal basis for the prosecution of torture?
From 2010 to 2015 Vietnamese courts had handled 10 cases of torture-related offences. At the same time, the Committee had received several reports indicating that torture, police brutality and deaths in custody remained prevalent in the country. Could the delegation comment about that? Had there been more cases of torture before courts since the coming into force of the revised Criminal Code? What measures did the State party intend to take to combat the widespread torture and police brutality?
As for pre-trial detention, the Country Co-Rapporteur asked about the actual time spent in temporary custody and pre-trial detention. Was it possible to appeal a decision on pre-trial detention?
The fundamental legal safeguards, including notification of family members or the right to a lawyer, did not apply to detained persons considered a threat to security, social order or public safety. They could be detained without trial in detention centres. Furthermore, deprivation of liberty could take place in reformatories, re-education camps and compulsory detoxification centres, also without a trial or safeguards. Would the State party take initiatives to ensure that detention in those institutions required a judicial and not only administrative process and application of normal legal safeguards, including the right to appeal, and to ensure that detention in those institutions was not used as a surrogate for ordinary criminal detention?
Mr. Modvig wanted to clarify whether the right to legal counsel was available from the outset of arrest or from presentation before a judge. Did it apply to all detainees, regardless of the nature of their offence? How did the State party know that the right to legal counsel was applied in practice? Was there a provision for legal aid to detainees who could not afford to pay for a lawyer?
The Chairperson also inquired about the right to inform a person of one’s choosing about the arrest, and about the significant difference between the fundamental legal guarantees afforded to those accused of common crimes and those accused of infringing national security. Were all interrogations video recorded? For how long were the recording stored and in which situations were they made available to the accused and their lawyers? What kind of registration or filing applied to persons deprived of their liberty?
Did all newly arrived prisoners and detainees undergo a medical examination in accordance with the Mandela rules? If that was the case, what was the number of cases of torture or ill-treatment identified by the medical doctors, referred to further investigation, and what were the outcomes of those cases? Could the delegation explain the structure of the prison health system? Was it part of hospitals or the public security system? Who hired and fired the medical staff? If medical staff encountered cases of torture in their medical practice, what were their duties?
Mr. Modvig inquired whether there was an oversight mechanism to ensure that police officers only used force when it was necessary and used force proportionately. How many cases had been identified per year by that oversight mechanism where police officers had exceeded the basic rules for the use of force? Where could citizens file a complaint about the police? How many police-related complaints had been received? Was there an independent police complaint commission? How was it appointed and how was its independence from the police ensured?
Did the State party plan to establish an effective independent monitoring of the detention and prison system, and to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention? Did the State party plan to establish a national human rights institution?
Moving on to non-refoulement, Mr. Modvig reminded that Viet Nam did not have specific provisions on non-expulsion cases when there was a ground to believe that the deported person would be tortured. Were there any diplomatic assurances applied in order to protect such persons from torture? Did the State party intend to include into domestic law that deportation could not take place if it violated the principle of non-refoulement?
The Committee was concerned that the State party did not address the 11,000 persons identified by the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees as stateless persons. At the time of reporting the State party did not have a law addressing asylum or a protection system in place for refugees. Were there any updates on the number of stateless persons? What measures did the State party plan to take to address the situation in that respect? What steps were being taken to offer protection to those identified as stateless persons under domestic law? Did the State party track how many individuals within its jurisdiction could qualify as refugees and were any non-legal forms of protection provided to them?
Civil society reports indicated that 698 Vietnamese citizens had sought political asylum with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Thailand between 2015 and 2017 since the State party had ratified the Convention against Torture. What measures was the State party taking to address the number of Vietnamese nationals fleeing and seeking asylum abroad?
On prison conditions, the Country Co-Rapporteur drew attention to the drastic increase in the prison population in the past several decades. In 1996, it amounted to 43,000, whereas it currently stood at around 130,000. Could the delegation provide information about the occupancy of Vietnamese prisons and detention centres? What were the reasons behind the dramatic increase in the number of prisoners? What were the Government’s plans to make prison conditions more acceptable?
How were the cases of death in custody investigated and had they given rise to any sanctions of law enforcement staff? The Committee had received information about the widespread use of physical abuse of prisoners. Would the State party ensure that disciplinary measures did not constitute ill-treatment? How was the use of isolation regulated by law?
Moving to prisoners of conscience, Mr. Modvig noted that many had been held in incommunicado detention for periods of one month to up to two years. There was also information that denial of medical treatment was used by the authorities to put pressure on these prisoners to confess their guilt. Did the State party intend to bring their treatment and detention conditions up to acceptable international standards?
Finally, on cooperation with civil society, the Chairperson expressed concern that the State party did not permit civil society to work for human rights as a constructive counterpart to the Government. That was an indispensable part of a functional democracy. Instead, the State party seemed to consider such counterparts as enemies of the Government and arrested them for being against the system.
ESSADIA BELMIR, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Country Co-Rapporteur for Viet Nam, inquired about the regular training system for public servants on human rights and the provisions of the Convention against Torture, namely about the methods for evaluating its efficiency in reducing the number of cases of torture. Ms. Belmir further asked about the training for medical professionals on the Istanbul Protocol. She reminded that according to the country’s Universal Periodic Review report, which would be examined in January 2019, training manuals for schools and universities did not focus on the universality of human rights due to the differences in religion and cultural values.
On the legal status of the Public Prosecutor, Ms. Belmir asked about the scope of its judicial powers, its oversight of judicial officials, and its implementation of sentences, detention and administration. What fell under the remit of the Public Prosecutor’s Office in terms of judicial prerogatives? Civil society organizations had informed the Committee that the majority of judges and lawyers were members of the Vietnamese Communist Party, which raised the question of the impartiality of judicial proceedings. There was no oversight of legal decisions in the State party. What body was in place in order to mitigate the absence of oversight?
The Country Co-Rapporteur further inquired about fair trial guarantees, noting that many witness accounts indicated non-respect for constitutional and international standards with respect to the rights of detained persons, including the lack of an appeal opportunity. A variety of reports by national and international non-governmental organizations spoke of a number of cases of arbitrary detention and secret detention, which were being investigated by the Working Group on arbitrary detention. There had been reports of death in custody due to police brutality, according to the 2014 report of Human Rights Watch.
Did detainees held in administrative detention hold the same rights as those in pre-trial detention? There was little information about enforced disappearances. Was the State party considering adopting a relevant mechanism for those?
As for prisoners on death row, Ms. Belmir underlined that those individuals did not receive the date of their execution; it might happen unannounced. Many of those on the death row committed suicide and suffered psychological difficulties. How could their additional suffering be alleviated? Did the State party intend to continue the practice of execution by lethal injection, which prolonged the agony of death-row inmates?
The Country Co-Rapporteur drew attention to the fact that grave violations committed by police officers were treated lightly by the authorities. Judicial sanctions were limited to light punishments. Accordingly, there was a need to establish an independent mechanism to examine the complaints against police officers. On the right to lodge complaints, Ms. Belmir asked about the safeguards to ensure the confidentiality of victims’ complaints of torture, and independent mechanisms for detainees’ complaints.
Who had the power to place persons in pre-trial detention? It seemed that the police force had significant prerogatives in that respect, which might give rise to competition with the Public Prosecutor’s Office. It was not clear whether defendants could proceed to a judge without a lawyer. The right to a visit was also not immediately granted which complicated access to legal assistance. How could the State party improve access to lawyers? It was alleged that lawyers were often not independent in their work. What was the situation with respect to the anomalies in the conduct of trials?
Turning to reparations, Ms. Belmir asked about the State party’s response to the decisions made by the Working Group on arbitrary detention on the cases between 2011 and 2017. What follow-up was provided to victims of the internal conflict?
As for the inadmissibility of evidence obtained through torture, the Country Co-Rapporteur noted that despite legal provisions there were a number of reports of forced confessions and of very few cases in which such evidence had been rejected. There was a need to review how courts were conducting their work. Could the delegation provide information about cases when judges had rejected such evidence? Ms. Belmir also asked about the cases when medical doctors had physically abused prisoners or detainees. Had those medical doctors been punished for their conduct?
Ms. Belmir inquired about the exiled Vietnamese nationals who had had their nationality withdrawn, the transfer of prisoners far away from their families, the lack of human contact in prisons, and the placement in isolation. The Country Co-Rapporteur further asked about the use of violent force to disperse demonstrations and the ban on protesting in front of public administration buildings. Finally, Ms. Belmir raised the issue of the exploitation of migrant workers, trafficking of women and young girls, and anomalies in the detention system for drug addicted children.
The Special Rapporteur on minority issues had recommended that the State party establish a legal framework to guarantee the rights of minorities, in particular to protect them from displacement and expropriation of ancestral property without compensation. What had the State party done to implement that recommendation, Ms. Belmir asked.
Questions by Other Committee Experts
An Expert highlighted the cases of death in custody involving persons belonging to religious and ethnic minorities. Had there been any independent investigations into such cases? Had anyone been charged with negligence or for having actively participated in causing death in custody? What mechanisms were in place to protect those who complained about procedural mismanagement from reprisals?
What was the number of cases in which remedy had been provided to victims of torture? Could civil compensation be provided without the criminal liability being determined beforehand?
Since Viet Nam did not consider the Convention as the direct legal basis for extradition, an Expert noted that through that reservation Viet Nam had entirely subjected the provisions of the Convention to its national laws. Would the State party consider withdrawing that reservation and declaring the competence of the Committee to receive individual communications?
What was the legal basis for forced labour in detention centres and did the State party intend to end that practice? Had the Government recorded acts of torture committed by public officials against leaders of religious and ethnic minorities?
JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson, asked whether the State party would consider extending an invitation to the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Replies by the Delegation
QUY VUONG LE, Deputy Minister of Public Security of Viet Nam, underlined that it was the consistent policy of the Government of Viet Nam to acknowledge, respect, protect and guarantee human rights enshrined in the Constitution, in accordance with the United Nations treaties to which Viet Nam was party to. He explained that according to the 2013 Constitution, the power of the State was singular, with checks and balances among State bodies to ensure effective and objective operation in line with the law. In criminal justice, the Constitution and recent laws had mainstreamed the rules of international conventions on human rights in general, including the Convention against Torture. On that basis, the Government had codified a wide range of principles aimed at better protection of human rights in the judiciary: the protection of life, health, honour and dignity, the assumption of innocence until proven guilty, the principle of defence in court, and access to a lawyer. Viet Nam had paid keen attention to the training of public officials and servants to effectively implement the Convention against Torture. However, in practice, the application and enforcement of the law by a number of offices, localities and judicial officials had shown shortcomings and had not ensured the satisfaction of the people.
Speaking of the definition of torture and forced confessions, the delegation noted that relatively few countries fully implemented article 1 under the Convention. The term of forced confession was broader than torture, and all acts of instigation, acquiescence or else were punishable under article 17 of the Criminal Code of 2015. The authorities were looking into that matter to come up with a more appropriate definition in future. Evidence collected through torture was null and void and could not be used in criminal proceedings. The revised Criminal Code stipulated harsher punishments for offences related to torture than the 1999 Criminal Code. The statute of limitation for such offences was very high.
The Government would accede to the Optional Protocol to the Convention when suitable. As for prohibition of the death penalty, the delegation noted that it should not only meet international trends, but the country’s needs as well. The Mandela Rules were optional rules and Viet Nam would make efforts to meet them the best way it could. The treatment of terrorism suspects was no different from other suspects. Every detention centre had standards in place to protect the health and life of detained persons. There were separate sections for vulnerable categories of prisoners. There were 54 prisons under the Ministry of Public Security, another three under the Ministry of Defense, and 82 detention centres.
Arrested persons had the right to inform the persons of their choice about the arrest; the People’s Procuracy had to approve the arrest and the investigation agency had to inform the family or relatives in writing within 24 hours. At the end of 2017, there were 12,581 lawyers and 647 legal providers in Viet Nam. The obstruction of lawyers’ work was strictly prohibited. The Criminal Procedure Code stipulated that arrested persons would be informed about the reasons for their arrest and their rights. The right to visit prisoners was guaranteed once per month. Prisoners could receive money and good from their family and relatives once a month. The State encouraged relatives and families of juvenile prisoners to send them goods and stationary.
As for the Experts’ concern about forced labour in detention centres, the delegation clarified that labour during imprisonment was the primary method of education and social rehabilitation. social rehabilitation. After deducting expenses for supplies, raw materials, electricity and water, remunerations, the results prisoners’ labour was used to supplement food for prisoners, reward for prisoners with good achievements in labour, investment in prisons, serving labour organization, providing vocational training for prisoners, and to set up a community reintegration fund to support prisoners after they served their sentences. Inmates with disabilities might be exempted from labour. On the management of prison files, the delegation explained that files, including medical ones, were established immediately upon arrest. The authorities informed foreign diplomatic services about the arrest of their nationals.
The Ministry of Public Security was tasked to implement adjusted prison planning. There was no solitary confinement in Viet Nam; but there was a sentence of three to five months of stay in disciplinary cells for those who repeatedly violated the rules of confinement. The cells had two square meters per person and they were well ventilated. Prisoners were only shackled if they wanted to commit suicide, escape, or if they threated other inmates.
The procedure of sentencing someone to the death penalty was very stringent. It was not true that those inmates executed with a lethal injection suffered for hours. The death following the injection was swift. As for the Experts’ allegations of multiple transfers of prisoners, the delegation said that they were inaccurate.
On healthcare in prison, the delegation noted that medical professionals were completely independent. They were recruited by the Ministry of Public Security and they were obliged to provide medical treatment in line with the law. In case of signs of torture, investigators were obliged to verify them. Prisoners had the right to freely access medical care. All detention centres in Viet Nam had medical centres and there were always physicians and nurses available. The Government financed all medical treatments of prisoners. Of all the prisoners, some 0.3 per cent had died in custody due to various reasons, mainly because of fatal disease they had had before going to prison (98.6 per cent of deaths). Only 1.4 per cent died due to accident, natural disasters and suicide. All deaths in custody were duly investigated.
There were no prisoners of conscience; in Vietnamese law there were only provisions for convicted persons. Allegations of increased use of torture by State agents in Viet Nam were false and groundless. The delegation reiterated that the three re-education centres were meant for juvenile inmates who had committed minor offences. The purpose of taking them into re-education centres was humanitarian: to help them to learn how to work, study culture, teach them literacy, and to provide them with vocational training in order to reduce the risk of recidivism and to help them stabilize their life later on. There was no house arrest in Viet Nam; there was “probation at home.”
The authorities had mainstreamed the content of the Convention against Torture into training modules. Under a project with the support of the Netherlands, the Ministry of Public Security planned to train about 60,000 police officers on the contents of the Convention against Torture by 2020. As for the training of medical professionals in the penitentiary system, they were properly trained every year, including on signs of torture.
The People’s Procuracy was responsible for the supervision of judicial matters and to ensure that the law was duly obeyed. It reported to the National Assembly and the President. The People’s Procuracy oversaw detention conditions and the implementation of sentences. The investigators of the People’s Procuracy and of the Military Procuracy had the right to investigate any irregularities. The People’s Procuracy decided on temporary detention and pre-trial detention. The extension of temporary detention could take place in very complicated cases to allow additional time for investigation.
The legal committee of the National Assembly and the People’s Procuracy, Vietnamese Father Land Front and some other agencies could inspect the penitentiary system. They had conducted more than 4,000 inspections in 2016 and more than 3,000 inspections in 2017. State authority compensated the aggrieved parties and State officials who violated their responsibilities might be liable to pay back to the State authority.
A representative of the Supreme People’s Court informed the Committee that four cases of corporal punishment and forced testimony had been dealt with between 2015 and 2018. According to the representative of the Supreme People’s Procuracy, in the period between 2013 and 2018, 31 complaints of torture had been received. If any sign of torture was detected in the process of gathering evidence, inspectors would provide that information to judges who would then reject such evidence.
In its bilateral agreements, Viet Nam had incorporated the commitment to non-use of torture and ill-treatment. The authorities had been working on setting up a national human rights institution since it had received a relevant recommendation during its Universal Periodic Review in 2014. The Government was working carefully on a proposal to establish such an institution, including by consulting with experts and civil society.
The United Nations Special Rapporteurs who had visited Viet Nam so far had commended the Government’s efforts to protect human rights. When convenient, the Government would also organize a visit by the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The delegation expressed hope that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would reconsider information regarding certain cases of alleged police brutality and death in custody in Viet Nam from various sources. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had previously had to admit having made decisions on Viet Nam based on erroneous information, the delegation reminded.
Follow-up Questions by the Country Co-Rapporteurs
JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson and Country Co-Rapporteur for Viet Nam, appreciated plans to simplify the legal framework on torture, and agreed that relatively few countries fully implemented article 1 under the Convention. There was still the problem of penalties not being commensurate with the gravity of the crime.
It was difficult to assess to which degree the right to be informed about the reasons of arrest and the right to a lawyer were applied in practice. What was the capacity of all prisons in the country? What conditions applied to separate and ordinary quarters for prisoners?
Mr. Modvig questioned the delegation’s claim that the medical professionals working in the penitentiary system were independent because they were hired by the Ministry of Public Security. How many cases of torture and ill-treatment had been actually reported by medical professionals in prisons? Who decided on prisoner separation and whether prisoners belonged to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community? Who investigated deaths in custody and what did the procedure look like?
Responding to the delegation’s denial that torture was prevalent, Mr. Modvig reiterated that the Committee had received many reports on the use of torture in the country.
What kinds of visits were conducted to the penitentiary system? What were the findings of those visits and were there any recommendations issued to the authorities? Given the number of prisoners in Viet Nam, 31 complaints of torture recorded in the period between 2013 and 2018 was a very low figure.
Finally, the Chairperson inquired about the statistics on temporary and pre-trial detention.
ESSADIA BELMIR, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Country Co-Rapporteur for Viet Nam, asked about the position of the People’s Procuracy vis-à-vis the powers of judges. She further asked for clarification regarding acts that should not be undertaken by investigators when dealing with persons deprived of their liberty.
Ms. Belmir clarified that the cases of police brutality and death in custody that she had previously presented were the cases investigated by the Working Group on arbitrary detention and international non-governmental organizations, adding that those names came up time and again.
Moving on to individuals in re-education centres, it seemed that they were subject to forced labour, which was not in line with the objectives of those centres. Often adolescents in those centres were not separated from adults.
Questions by Other Committee Experts
An Expert questioned the ability of the authorities to assess that the execution by lethal injection did not cause suffering. Did the State party plan to stop that practice?
Another Expert expressed concern about the delegation denying the existence of house arrest and solitary confinement by replacing those terms with semantically different terms, such as “probation at home.”
Many Special Rapporteurs were still waiting for Viet Nam’s invitation. The Special Rapporteur on cultural rights had specifically pointed out the mistreatment of ethnic minorities and the land grabs that had taken place in 2010. Ethnic and religious minorities outside urban areas were subjected to excessive force and surveillance by the police. Was there any data on the treatment of those minorities?
Could a victim of torture pursue other types of compensation in the absence of a criminal sentence? The Experts also asked whether the State party would consider establishing juvenile courts.
Replies by the Delegation
QUY VUONG LE, Deputy Minister of Public Security of Viet Nam, stressed that the authorities had made every effort to clarify in the Criminal Code of 2015 the offences, which in their nature were very close to torture, such as the use of corporal punishment. The Criminal Procedure law had clarified the terms of arrest, detention and custody. A person could only be held in detention with the approval of the People’s Procuracy. The police had no right to hold a person in detention, unless caught in the act.
The People’s Procuracy was tasked to supervise investigation, trials and implementation of sentences. Judges were independent and the accused were presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Video recording was organized in order to prevent any obstruction of justice during the investigation.
All arrested persons had the right to a lawyer. Prisons in Viet Nam were not overcrowded. The National Assembly was looking to amend the Amnesty Law and the President could grant a maximum of three amnesties per year. There were no secret prisons in the country. Prisoners were entitled to send their complaints to all levels of authority in full confidentiality to avoid retaliation of any kind.
Medical professionals in prisons were well trained and they worked independently to protect prisoners’ health. Many prisons had signed agreements with hospitals to have a health care section for prisoners in hospital to receive necessary services for communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.
As for the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities, the Deputy Minister stressed that the construction of churches and various temples was proliferating. Members of minorities in court proceedings were allowed to speak their mother tongue and were provided with interpretation service.
Viet Nam had established juvenile courts in Ho Chi Minh City and the Dong Thap Province. The Deputy Minister insisted that there was no forced labour in re-education centres; prisoners learned about farming and sewing in order to be able to find work after their release.
The Law on Compensation of 2017 clearly stipulated that the responsibility for the provision of compensation lay with the State authorities.
QUY VOUNG LE, Deputy Minister of Public Security of Viet Nam, assured that the delegation had understood the observations and comments of the Committee Experts, and noted that Viet Nam was well aware of its obligations under international instruments. He invited the Committee Experts to visit the country.
JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson, drew attention to the Committee’s follow-up procedure in which it would highlight several issues to which the State party should reply within a year. The Chairperson also reminded the delegation of the possibility to submit additional information within the next 48 hours.
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