By UCA News
Religious and civil rights groups have petitioned European Union bodies to delay ratifying a free trade agreement with Vietnam until concrete improvements are made regarding human rights.
Eighteen religious and civil rights groups — including three outside Vietnam — stated that any hope that negotiations and the possible ratification of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) would push Vietnam to make progress in human rights have not materialized.
“Nothing suggests that the regime is willing to make any meaningful progress in the short time left for this European legislature to possibly vote on its consent to the agreement,” the groups said in a Jan. 18 letter sent to Donald Tusk, the European Council’s president, and Bernd Lange, chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade.
“We deeply regret that the Vietnamese government has not only failed to heed any of the calls formulated mainly by the European Parliament over the past months, but that the situation in the country has become even worse in the past weeks,” they stated.
The letter pointed out that Vietnam brought a draconian cybersecurity law into effect early this month and Ho Chi Minh City authorities destroyed over 100 houses owned by Catholics and evicted them from their land.
They accused the communist government of routinely using its repressive penal code to jail peaceful government critics, bloggers, religious leaders, labor rights and environmental activists and human rights defenders. The government owns or tightly controls all media outlets, censors the internet and punishes online expressions of dissent.
They said independent trade unions and civil society are not allowed to operate and the judiciary is not independent. The country has never held free and fair elections.
It went on to further state that the EU should ask Vietnam to release over 100 imprisoned activists who peacefully exercised their basic rights, repeal or amend its criminal codes, cybersecurity law, labor law and religious law as necessary for its legislation comply with international standards.
They said Vietnam has to sign the Optional Protocol of the United Nations Convention against Torture, stop executions and declare a moratorium on the death penalty.
“Putting the ratification process on hold until the Vietnamese government’s human rights crackdown ceases would send the regime a clear message that the EU is serious about its pledges to use trade as a tool to promote human rights,” they said.
The EU “expects nothing less than concrete, robust signs that the country is willing to revert its crackdown for this deal to move forward.”
Vietnam and the EU began talks on the EVFTA in 2012. Domestic economic experts expect it to promote Vietnam’s market economy institutions, international integration and economic development.
The EU is Vietnam’s second-largest export market.