Australia and Vietnam held their 13th Annual Human Rights Dialogue in Hanoi on 4 August 2016. The two sides had a candid and constructive exchange of views on a wide range of human rights issues.
Australia commended Vietnam for significant poverty reduction and continued progress on the realisation of social and economic rights. The two sides exchanged views on the importance of gender equality and social inclusiveness, and on the shared need to urgently address domestic violence. Australia welcomed Vietnam's recognition of transgender people in the recently revised Civil Code and noted the valuable contributions of the vibrant lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex civil society in both countries.
Australia expressed concern regarding ongoing restrictions on civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, association and assembly. It reiterated its serious concerns about the harassment, arrest and detention of peaceful human rights activists. Australia requested the release of all persons detained for peacefully exercising their freedom of expression and raised particular cases of concern. It also requested access to visit such persons and to be allowed to observe trials.
Australia noted that the recent revelations about the treatment of children in detention centres in the Northern Territory of Australia had underlined the critical role played by free media and independent, transparent and comprehensive inquiries, such as Royal Commissions, in investigating community concerns.
The two sides discussed ongoing legal reform in Vietnam, including the Criminal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code and the Law on Custody and Temporary Detention. Australia urged Vietnam to fully implement these laws, and ensure the rights to, and of, defence lawyers for all detainees. Australia called on Vietnam to amend or remove provisions in the Criminal Code that criminalise peaceful dissent.
Australia welcomed the planned removal of the death penalty for seven crimes and the introduction of stronger safeguards governing its use, while encouraging Vietnam to move towards the abolition of the death penalty.
Australia encouraged Vietnam to ensure the draft Laws on Associations, Demonstrations and Religion and Belief were consistent with the 2013 Constitution and obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Australia welcomed Vietnam's commitment to allow free and independent labour unions.
Australia welcomed cooperation with Vietnam in the United Nations Human Rights Council and in particular on the landmark resolution on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity at the most recent session.
In a submission to Vietnam ahead of the Dialogue, Australia called for Vietnam to implement its 2014 UPR recommendations in consultation with civil society, to issue a standing invitation to UN Special Rapporteurs, and to establish an independent National Human Rights Institution.
In the margins of the Dialogue, the Australian delegation held informative meetings with Government of Vietnam officials, civil society representatives, academics and human rights defenders and visited a prison. DFAT has committed to meet with civil society in Australia after the Dialogue.
The Australian side was disappointed that Dr Nguyen Quang A, a prominent academic and respected member of Vietnam's civil society, was prevented from meeting the delegation on 5 August.
The Australian delegation was led by Dr Lachlan Strahan, First Assistant Secretary, Multilateral Policy Division, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and included a representative from the Australian Human Rights Commission. The Vietnamese delegation was led by Mr Vu Anh Quang, Director General of the International Organizations Department of the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and included officials from a range of government ministries and agencies.
The 14th round of the Human Rights Dialogue will be held in 2017 in Canberra.