FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Vietnamese independent groups challenge government control over ASEAN civic space

Vietnam – 27 January 2016

On June 10th the Vietnamese Independent Civil Society Network (VISCN), a collection of independent civil society organizations in Vietnam, formalized procedures to help independent groups in Vietnam engage with the ASEAN Civil Society Conference and ASEAN People’s Forum (ACSC/APF), the largest and most important regional civil society gathering in Southeast Asia.

Huynh Thuc Vy of Vietnamese Women for Human Rights (VNWHR), one of the groups spearheading regional engagement states, “We have established a new national process based on inclusion and human rights principles. We are open and welcome all to join who can agree to certain fundamental principles, including the universality of human rights and a commitment to protect human rights defenders.”

The independent groups are working to form the Vietnamese delegation to the ACSC/APF that is composed of genuine civil society organizations that are independent of the government. In past years, the delegation from Vietnam has been made up of government-organized NGOs, or GONGOs, and decided through a government-controlled selection process.

The government delegation from Vietnam does not only attend the conference but also selects the Vietnamese appointments for the ACSC/APF’s various committees that govern the forum.  The independent groups claim that those representing government interests have maintained firm control and locked them out of the process for nearly a decade.

“The same hand-picked faces from Hanoi show up every year and give themselves scholarships, while at the same time independent groups are prevented from attending because of state-imposed travel bans on high-profile activists like Huynh Thuc Vy,” adds Lucia Phan, who previously attended consultative meetings on behalf of Vietnam’s independent CSOs and the Con Dau Parishioners Association. “This means that voices critical of the government that ASEAN civil society needs are not heard.”

In a recent article run by a state news agency, the Vietnam Union Friendship Organization (VUFO), the current entity controlling ACSC/APF appointments, was congratulated by a prominent Politburo for its efforts in “implementing the policy of the [Vietnamese Communist] party”.

Throughout 2015, independent groups from Vietnam raised their concerns through a series of statements released and spearheading the #NOTAGONGO movement, an awareness-raising campaign aimed at highlighting the problem of government organized non-governmental organizations (GONGOs) at the regional forum.

To read the English translation of the Vietnamese Independent Civil Society Network (VISCN) Terms of Reference click here.

Democratic Voice of Vietnam is a resource center and hub for independent civil society in Vietnam. It is a space for ASEAN civil society organizations to connect with genuine civil society inside Vietnam to work on human rights issues inside Vietnam and across ASEAN.

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