The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Vietnam is a state party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Vietnam is not a state party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the state has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
There is not yet a regional human rights treaty to which South-East Asian nations can adhere, although a non-binding human rights declaration was issued by the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2013. Paragraph 24 of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration provides that: "Every person has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly." Vietnam joined ASEAN in 1995.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Article 25 of the 2013 Constitution of Viet Nam provides that Vietnamese citizens "shall enjoy the right to assemble, form associations and hold demonstrations. The practice of these rights shall be provided by the law."
The 2015 Criminal Code outlines penalties for the offences of “violating the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, rights to information access and right to demonstration of citizens”.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the state and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
Article 24 of Vietnam's 2015 Criminal Code provides that:
1. If violence and infliction of bodily harm to a criminal is the only way to capture him/her, the use of violence in this case does not constitute a criminal offence.
2. If the bodily harm inflicted by the use of violence is obviously more than necessary, the person who inflicts such damage shall bear criminal responsibility.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
Article 127 of the 2015 Code provides that any law enforcement officer "who, in performance of his/her official duties, causes the death of another person due to the use of violence in cases other than those justified by law shall face a penalty of five to ten years' imprisonment".
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2019 Concluding Observations on Vietnam, the Human Rights Committee reiterated its concern about
the excessive restrictions imposed on the freedom of peaceful assembly and public meetings, including on human rights. It is concerned at allegations of the disproportionate use of force and arbitrary arrests by law enforcement officials to disrupt demonstrations, including those related to labour rights, land dispossession and the Formosa steel plant ecological disaster....
It called on the authorities to:
(a) Effectively guarantee and protect the freedom of peaceful assembly and avoid restrictions that are incompatible with article 21 of the Covenant;
(b) Ensure that all instances of excessive use of force are promptly, impartially and effectively investigated and that those responsible are brought to justice;
(c) Take measures to effectively prevent and eliminate all forms of excessive use of force by law enforcement officers, including by providing training on the use of force and the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Vietnam:
Freedom of assembly is tightly restricted. Organizations must apply for official permission to assemble, and security forces routinely use excessive force to disperse unauthorized demonstrations. After nationwide anti-China protests in June 2018, during which dozens of participants were assaulted and arrested, the courts convicted well over a hundred people of disrupting public order, and many were sentenced to prison terms. The protests were driven in part by opposition to a draft law allowing long-term leases of land in special economic zones that critics said would be dominated by Chinese companies. The legislation in question was postponed and still pending at year’s end.