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Message from the People Participation Working Group on the right to association and the draft Law on Associations

The People Participation Working Group (PPWG)1, established in 1999, is an open network with participation from hundreds of individuals and civil society organisations in Vietnam. On the occasion of the publication of the draft Law on Associations on the Ministry of Home Affairs website (on June 4th 2015) for public opinions, PPWG would like to present some comments and messages on the right to freedom of association and this draft. These comments are drawn from consultations with 30 people who are specialists of human rights and civil societies, representatives from non-governmental organisations, and interested individuals, from 6 June to 5 July 2015.

Right to association is a fundamental human right

The right to association, recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, is a fundamental right of the humans and plays an important role in promoting other human rights. In Vietnam, the right to establishment of associations is stipulated in Article 25 of the amended Constitution 2013. Through the establishment and participation in associations, individuals connect to protect their rights, as well as to help each other in social, cultural and economic activities. In the field of politics, the right to freedom of association also plays a vital role in institutionalizing the rights to election, candidature and to management of the country. For vulnerable groups (people with disability, migrant workers, gays and lesbians, bisexuals and trans-genders etc…), the right to association is the key to reduction and eventually elimination of prejudice and discrimination, as well as to protection of other rights whilst the voice of individuals in these groups are usually neglected by the society or the state. The introduction of the Law on Associations will provide a solid legal corridor to promote the right to freedom of association, and will act as a firm foundation for improving human rights in different areas in the context of the current Vietnamese society.

In common terms, there are three main elements in the right to association: i) right to establishment of association; ii) right to accession to association; iii) right to freedom of operation and management of associations. Similar to other human rights, the exercise of the right to freedom of association, which is a choice of each individual, is associated with state obligations to protect the fundamental rights of the people, including: i) respect of self-control and independence of associations; ii) facilitation of access to financial resources; iii) assurance of equality between individuals and associations; and iv) suitable legal mechanisms to resolve violations to the right to association.

The government of Vietnam made positive undertakings to members of the United Nations and UN Human Rights Council on comprehensive implementation, under the most radical standards, of human rights in general, and 11 specific issues relating to the right to association at the Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights 2014 (Recommendations no. 143.144, 143.145, 143.147, 143.65, 143.167, 143.169, 143.172, 143.173, 143.174 and 143.175 in Document no. A/HRC/26/6 and A/HRC/26/6/Add.1, 26th meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, 27th session on June 20th 2014). PPWG is confident that the development and endorsement of the draft Law on Associations in the coming time will be an opportunity for Vietnam to demonstrate these positive undertakings.

The draft Law on Associations needs to promote the people’s right to association

PPWG welcomes the National Assembly’s scheduled endorsement of the draft Law on Association in the October 2016 meeting sessions of the 13th National Assembly after more than 10 years of delay. PPWG is also delighted that the draft law was immediately published by the Ministry of Home Affairs on 4 June 2015 on the incumbent’s website for public opinions until 4 August 2015, in accordance with the provisions on collection of comments on proposed laws of the Law on the Promulgation of Legal Documents

The compilation and collection of public opinions on the draft law showcase the government of Vietnam’s goodwill in undertaking international commitments on promotion and implementation of human rights according to international standards. Nevertheless, there are weaknesses in the current draft which need to be rectified. These include (i) failure to recognize right to association as a constitutional right and the Law on association is supposed to enable citizens to exercise their rights, (ii) failure to create equality between different types of associations and between individuals with varying needs to association, and (iii) maintenance of intrusive interference and restrictions against the right to association by individuals and associations, which has been recognized in the Vietnam Constitution 2013. In addition, the draft still includes ambiguous contents and conflicting provisions.

PPWG requests that a good law on association needs to fulfil and ensure the implementation of fundamental rights, including the right to freedom of association, in accordance with the practical needs of the Vietnamese society, while maintaining Vietnam’s international commitments. In details:

1. The Law on Association must be developed on the basis of human rights based approach, namely the right to freedom of association, in the spirit of international commitments on human rights and the Constitution 2013 of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Any

articles that conflict with this principle should be removed.

2. In fact, there are different forms of associations in Vietnam, including groups which are either registered or not with state agencies, or groups operating at local, national or international levels, or groups working in areas of economics, culture or social issues… The law needs to be developed on the basis of freedom and equality protection of citizens to association and corresponding obligations of the state in the maintenance, protection and promotion of this right.

3. Vietnam needs to develop a suitable legal framework to ensure equality, self-control and decision-making of the associations, as well as legal mechanisms to protect the rights and sanctions against violations of the right to association.

In order to achieve these, PPWG recommends that the National Assembly and the drafting committee conduct broader and more in-depth researches on the needs and operational practices of public association, including official and unofficial ones, international standards and best models for implementation of the right to association in the world, while creating forums to promote awareness and contribution from the public.

With close and effective cooperation of a team of experts and a membership of hundreds of organisations and individuals, PPWG is capable of and willing to dedicate contributions to this process.

For more information, please contact Ms. Vu Phuong Thao – Communication Manager – at email or phone number 04. 6273 7933 (ext: 105).

PPWG (People’s Participation Working Group) was established in 1999 and has since become a forum for exchange of information and initiatives between experts and organisations relating to public participation, core issues of democracy and civil society. Since its early days, PPWG has actively contributed to the meetings of the Vietnam Consultative Group and the current Vietnam Development Partnership Forum. In addition, PPWG has been actively collecting opinions from individuals and organisations on the amended Constitution 2013, draft Law on Access to Information etc…

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