The People’s Participation Working Group (PPWG) strongly requests the National Assembly to POSTPONE THE ENACTMENT of the Draft Law on Associations, scheduled to be passed into law during the second session of the XIVth National Assembly, for a cautious review of the Draft. The current Draft (dated 10 October 2016) continues to survive many wrongful provisions, which are in direct violation of freedom of association (protected by the Article 25 of 2013 Constitution). It also reverts the current trend of international cooperation and harmony and will attract potential social unrest, as a consequence of stricter restrictions applicable to the normal operations of associations.
In particular, we request the amendment or removal of the following four significant points in the Draft to ensure that the Law on Associations will incentivize the country’s development:
Firstly, Article 4 requires an association “to be granted with the Registration for Establishment Certificate and have its head recognized by the competent authority.” This requirement cancels and disregards hundreds of thousands existing unregistered associations and their great contribution to the society. These are same-origin associations, veterans’ clubs, poor patients care groups, communities of the deaf and mute people, associations of breast cancer victims, HIV-patient aid groups, poor chidren charity, etc. The existence and operation of these associations is very ordinary in a civilized and democratic society. The current definition of an associations will, at best, marginalize these associations or, at worst, restrict their operation and distort the society. PPWG requests the National Assembly to amend this definition on associations in order to protect the freedom of association and avoid social unrest.
Secondly, clause 5 of Article 8 stipulates that “associations may not affiliate with or join a foreign association, may not receive foreign aid; except for special cases as stipulated by the government.” This contradicts the country’s policy of international cooperation and harmony, relapse the country back to isolationism and underdeveloped situation where people and associations are not able to communicate, cooperate, study, and share experience with international partners. It is also a violation of the freedom of association as a constitutional liberty and the country’s international commitments under the Conventions which Vietnam is a Member State. In addition, restricting the associations to receive foreign aids will require the State to continue its subsidy of the associations’ operation. PPWG urges the National Assembly to remove this restriction in the Draft Law on Associations.
Thirdly, provisions under Chapter II on procedure to establish an association are very austere and demonstrates the regime of “begging – patrionizing” in this field. This regime contravents the principle that “the State respects, protects and guarantees the freedom of association” as stipulated in Article 7.1 of the Draft Law. These provisions require the applicants to go through a two-step registration (one step being the application for the Registration for Establishment Certificate, and another step being the notification of the general meetings’ resolutions and the new head for recognition), which is very administratively burdensome. The regime also creates opportunities for the authorities to violate the freedom of association and unduly interfere in the associations’ operation. These provisions also conflict with the principles of voluntary, autonomy, self-management, financial independence, and self-responsibility of associations under the Draft Law. PPWG requests the amendment to chapter II to the direction that creates an one-stop shop for applicants to submit after founding general meeting, and that the associations are not required to seek recognition for their charters and heads after each general meeting.
Fourthly, the Draft violates the principle that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others” as stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which Vietnam is a Member State, when it does not explicitly allow Vietnamese who reside overseas and foreigners who reside and work legally in Vietnam to join an association; or permit foreigners who reside and work legally in Vietnam and offshore enterprises operating in Vietnam to establish associations. Additionally, that the Draft does not permit Vietnamese people who reside overseas to join and establish associations is a contradiction to Article 18 of 2013 Constitution where it stipulates that “Vietnamese people who reside overseas are integral to the Vietnamese nationalities community.” PPWG requests that the Draft Law to stipulate the right to association for the Vietnamese people who reside overseas as well as foreigners who legally reside and work in Vietnam.
We sincerely believe that the Law on Association needs to uphold the spirit of human rights protection enshrined by 2013 Constitution (Article 25 on freedom of association in particular), international standards in the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Vietnam has already ratified, as well as the international commitments that Vietnam has undertaken before the United Nations’ Human Rights Council. It is undisputable that mission of the Law on Association is to engage the society’s resources and promote the mutual cooperation among citizens to assist the State in addressing the country’s economic, social and environmental matters. The Law on Association also needs to enhances the country’s policies on international development and harmony and people-based diplomacy as well as polishes Vietnam’s images and reputation before the international community.
The survival of four abovementioned provisions in the Draft Law on Associations is not only a barrier to achieve these purposes, but also distorts the current associational life, causes social unrest and contravents Vietnam’s commitments to protect human rights and policy of international cooperation and harmony.
For the above reasons, PPWG strongly recommends the deputies of XIVth National Assembly to postponet the enactment of the Draft Law on Assoication in the upcoming second session so the Draft would be better reviewed and amended to reflect the people’s demands.