June 24 2015 – This July, the Convention to End Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) will hold its 61st session in Geneva. Among those countries up for review is Vietnam. Leading up to the session, official state reports along with shadow and alternative reports from civil society are submitted to the CEDAW Committee for review.
Image: Tran Thi Nga, a member of VNHRR, beaten by police-sponsored thugs in May 2014
One alternative report that stands out is that of Vietnamese Women for Human Rights (VNWHR), an independent Civil Society Organization inside Vietnam, who jointly prepared their report with Boat People SOS (BPSOS), a regional organization focused on human rights and civil society in ASEAN.
The report takes a unique focus and argues that the greatest obstacle in CEDAW’s implementation for Vietnam is the state’s draconian laws restricting independent civil society and freedom of association. “Presently, the power to monitor and implement CEDAW rests solely in government hands. Civil society is immobilized. As long as this is the case, progress on women’s rights will be slow and partial and Vietnam will remain in non-compliance with the Convention”, argues Tran Tri Nga, who serves on the board of directors for VNWHR. The report goes on to argue that a free civil society would not only immediately fulfill components of the Convention, but is the best way to ensure implementation in the long-run.
However, as the report indicates, laws are not the only obstacles stifling the role of civil society and moving Vietnam further away from fuller CEDAW implementation rather than towards it. State violence against women is another. VNWHR, founded in 2013 and being the only genuinely non-governmental organization to defend and protect the rights of Vietnamese women, is not only barred from operating legally, but its members are also frequently harassed, beaten and even detained by the authorities.
“Violence against women, in particular systematic attacks on female human rights defenders, is a serious problem in Vietnam”, says Huynh Thuc Vy, coordinator for VNWHR. “The Convention guarantees women the right to lead a public life, including basic civic engagement and a right to membership in independent organizations, yet women, myself included, are often attacked for acting on such rights.“ In fact, several members of VNWHR are survivors of harassment, arbitrary detention, arrest, police brutality, and forms of torture.
The report, using a variety of sources, unveils a pattern of abuse, violence, and torture used as tools against female human rights defenders and female members of independent organizations, including religious groups. Incidents of violence as recent as last week and a long list of female prisoners of conscience are also detailed in the report.
The full report, along with other pre-session documentation for Vietnam, can be found at: http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/SessionDetails1.aspx?SessionID=944&Lang=en