Australian Statement on the 15th Annual Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue
Australia and Vietnam held their 15th Annual Human Rights Dialogue in Hanoi on 28 August 2018. This is the first Dialogue held following the signing of the Strategic Partnership between Australia and Vietnam earlier this year, and discussions were frank, broad-ranging and constructive.
While recognising Vietnam's progress and achievements in enhancing social and economic rights over recent decades, Australia encouraged Vietnam to allow more space and freedom for independent civil society organisations to make a contribution to Vietnamese society.
Australia also expressed concern about ongoing restrictions on civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, association and assembly. It reiterated serious concerns about the harassment, arrest and detention of human rights activists and the recent trend for these activists to attract longer and harsher prison sentences. Australia raised particular cases of concern. Both sides agreed to exchange further information intersessionally to help respond to priority challenges, including child abuse.
Australia recognised the ongoing challenge to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians, including the importance of addressing the findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory. Australia outlined the policies and programs in place to address these systemic challenges.
The two sides discussed the recent legal reforms in Vietnam, including the potential impact on freedom of expression from the newly introduced Cyber Security Law. Australia recognised that Vietnam's amended Penal Code has abrogated the death penalty for seven crimes, and encouraged Vietnam to move towards abolition of the death penalty.
Australia provided an update on its membership of the Human Rights Council and encouraged Vietnam to engage with civil society in the lead up to its next Universal Periodic Review cycle in January 2019. It encouraged Vietnam to follow Australia's example by issuing a standing invitation to all human rights Special Rapporteurs and establishing a national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles.
The Australian delegation undertook a program of site visits on 27 and 29 August, which included:
- meeting with Vietnamese civil society organisations to learn about their work in Vietnam; and
- visiting a temporary detention centre in Hanoi to gain insight into conditions.
Australia also held a roundtable with students and lecturers from the Vietnam National University (VNU) School of Law to discuss human rights education. Australia welcomed the focus Vietnam accords to human rights education, and is providing support in this area by funding Monash University's Castan Centre for Human Rights Law to partner with the VNU School of Law to update and deliver the syllabus for VNU's Masters of Human Rights course.
The Australian delegation was led by Dr Justin Lee, First Assistant Secretary, Multilateral Policy Division at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He also led civil society consultations in Canberra before the dialogue and will debrief these organisations in the coming weeks. Ms. Padma Raman, Executive Director of the Australian Human Rights Commission, was also part of the Australia delegation. The Vietnamese delegation was led by Mr Pham Hai Anh, Director General of the International Organizations Department of the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and included officials from other relevant Vietnamese ministries and agencies.
Both sides agreed that the discussions had been a valuable learning experience, and underlined their commitment to continual improvement on human rights issues. The 16th round of the Human Rights Dialogue will be held in 2019 in Canberra.
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