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Tuesday, 01 November 2016 16:19
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The Vietnamese State for human rights and the right of the peoples to self-determination

(LLCT) -  The Democratic Republic of Vietnam (now the Socialist Republic of Vietnam), as a product of the great August Revolution, has always kept the consistent objectives defined by the Party since its establishment, which clearly affirm the Vietnamese people’s right to self-determination and the safeguarding of human rights for all. Actual history has proved that the consistency and efforts of the State have led to great achievements in ensuring human rights in Vietnam over the past 70 years.

1. Firm protection of the right of peoples to self-determination

First, affirming the right of peoples to self-determination

The right of peoples to self-determination is significant value to humankind, which has an organic connection with human rights. Without the solid safeguarding of this right, human rights cannot be protected. International law recognizes that “...the principle of equality and the right of peoples to self-determination are solemnly enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, under which all peoples have the right to freely determine, without external interference, their political status and to pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and every State has the duty to respect this right in accordance with the provisions of the Charter”. Further, “Every country has the inalienable right to select its economic, political, cultural and social regime without intervention from other countries”(1).

The right of peoples to self-determination is affirmed in Article 1 of two conventions of human rights in 1966: “... the right to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”(2).

In the Declaration of Independence (1945), President Ho Chi Minh affirmed the inalienable rights of each man, as well as of each nation, among them life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. The head of the provisional Government swore before the entire population of Vietnam and the watching world on the responsibility to respect, protect and promote the noble values of human rights.

After gaining independence, the Vietnamese Government has led its entire people to overcome many challenges, to make sacrifices and consistently affirm the nation’s dignity. Following the resistance wars against the French colonialists and the American imperialists, Vietnam firmly safeguarded its people’s right to self-determination. After national unification, the country continued to defend national independence, national sovereignty, and territorial integrity under the delegation of the people in order to ensure human rights for all.

Thus, without national independence, national sovereignty and territorial integrity the fundamentals of the right of peoples to self-determination, there would be no complete human rights.

The cause of independence for the Vietnamese people strongly encouraged those who struggled under colonial oppression and made important contributions to affirming the right of all peoples in the world to self-determination(3). Since that time, the right of peoples to self-determination has become a fundamental pillar for documents on human rights.

This contribution by the Vietnamese people is important for the noble values of human rights all over the world.

In the future, in spite of complicated and unpredictable developments on the international stage, the Vietnamese Government will consistently pursue its policies of independence and self-reliance in all internal and external activities, maintaining a friendly spirit with other countries and peoples in order to create a peaceful environment for national prosperity.

Second, confirming the legitimacy of the new type of State

Any State that pursues human rights goals requires legitimacy (or “justification”). This means that the existence of the State must be based on a staunch legal basis that is widely recognized in both internal and external relations.

According to international human rights regulations, the legal basis for the existence of a state under the principle of the rule of law is that the State must be founded through election and all the activities of the state must manifest the will and desire of the people.

After the victory of the August Revolution, the provisional Government headed by President Ho Chi Minh was clearly aware of the need to confirm the legitimacy and constitutionality of the new State of Vietnam. The Declaration of Independence, solemnly declared, was a sharp conviction of colonialism and its acts of human rights violation. It also confirmed the legitimate existence of a new type of regime in Vietnam - a republic one led by the people.

Together with the eradication of hunger and illiteracy, and an increase of production, the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam conducted a General Assembly election on a national scale to solve the immediate requirements of human rights. For the first time in history, all Vietnamese citizens of 18 years or older were eligible to vote and self-nominate - a very important right within the system of human rights.

With its specific content for human rights that were truly for the people, the 1946 Constitution of Vietnam was considered to be one of the most advanced constitutions at the time of its drafting. In addition to the values stipulated in the Constitution, the objectives of human rights were demonstrated in the immortal speeches of President Ho Chi Minh in which he said, “If the country is independent, but the people cannot enjoy happiness and freedom, that independence is meaningless”. This idea has profound theoretical and practical meaning, imposing upon the State the responsibility to implement human rights and pointing out the dialectic relationship between national independence, national sovereignty and human rights. This ideology has become an important political guideline for all activities of the Vietnamese State.

President Ho Chi Minh soon realized the role of the State and the relationship between the people and the State. He had deep concerns for the lasting prestige of all organizations, all members of the State and the political Party’s relationship with the people. The people were considered “masters” of the country and government officials from the central to local levels were considered “public servants”. In the fierce context of the resistance war, President Ho Chi Minh signed a number of decrees. In particular, he wrote the book “Modifying work practices”for authorities of all levels. In spite of its small size, this book demonstrated a lofty vision of a government in which responsibilities of duty-bearers were clearly determined, and emphasized human rights law.

Therefore, the civil government founded after the August Revolution, which had overcome the challenge of wars for national defense, continued its role of national management. This Government gained legitimacy through the legal national and international standards and instituted the fundamental requirements for state powers and responsibilities according to international human rights law. The knowledge and precise actions during this early period helped the State of Vietnam gain the people’s trust.

Third, choosing the pathway for national development

The journey towards civilization takes place in a manner that prioritizes, in the end, prosperity, happiness, and freedom for the people. A socialist society is one that meets that desire for humankind. It satisfies the rights of the majority of people effectively and substantively. Theoretically, socialism is the continuation of a capitalist society and, consequently, it inherits and develops the more advanced values of humankind, including economic development and the establishment and organization of a government system according to the law-ruled and civil society.

Despite 30 years of resistance wars, the State of Vietnam has been consistent with the path established in 1930, which was “the policy of conducting democratic bourgeois revolution and land reform to advance to the communist society”(4). Although mistakes were sometimes made due to subjectivity and wishful thinking and the country fell into crisis, wherein human rights were not fulfilled, time will prove that developing the country towards socialism remains the proper choice (5).

2. Increasingly fulfilling human rights for all

First, recognizing and ensuring human rights in reality

The first Constitution of Vietnam acknowledged fundamental human rights for all Vietnamese people. The State also paid special attention to protecting the rights of “vulnerable” groups such as women, children, the elderly, poor working people, and ethnic minorities. The connotations of human rights have been acknowledged more fully in later constitutions, which gradually approached international human rights norms and standards.

During the renewal period, human rights issues have been increasingly recognized by the State and the nature of the society. Many theoretical issues have been gradually perceived and integrated, such as protecting human rights across all fields(6); transparency in all activities of a socialist-oriented State(7); replacing “policy-based approach” with “rights-based approach”; the recognition of the existence of market mechanisms; the necessity of a law-ruled State; and the role of social organizations as “necessary conditions” for ensuring human rights.

Important documents of the Party and State, as well as speeches from leaders at national and international forums, clearly commit to, “Taking care of the people, protecting the legitimate rights and interests of all people, and respecting and implementing international human rights treaties that Vietnam is a signatory or committed to”(8).

The current realities of international integration and theoretical ideological renewal have made the Party and State more deeply aware of many inalienable values, including human rights that every nation and its peoples have the right to enjoy and the responsibility to protect and develop. Vietnam is presently a member of 7 out of 9 fundamental human rights treaties. To date, the law of Vietnam has been made generally compatible with the principles and regulations of international human rights law.

Over the past few years, the State has carried out many important programs in building a law-ruled State(9) and has implemented many socio-economic programs in order to practically ensure and improve the quality of human rights.

These activities have achieved extremely important results, evidenced by economic growth and a thriving Vietnamese society, specifically successes in health care, education, gender equality, hunger eradication and poverty reduction(10). The strong development of a system of information, communication and press throughout the country, as well as nonstop expansion of democracy across all fields of social life, is widely recognized by the international community and provides strong support for the ensuring of human rights in Vietnam.

Human rights achievements during the renewal period resulted directly from increased political awareness, policies and laws implemented by the State during the past 70 years.

New insight on human rights has improved the awareness and effectiveness of the State and supplemented the fulfilment of these rights during the renewal period with valuable experience.

Second, facilitating the realization of human rights

Building a law-ruled State

The Vietnamese State has early established a democratic Constitution demonstrating fundamental human rights: “All powers of the country belong to the entire Vietnamese people, regardless of their race, sex, economic conditions, social class, or religion”(11). The Constitution has undergone progressive provisions that many Western countries found difficult to legalize, although they had shaped general principles(12). Progressive stipulations of the 1946 Constitution created the foundation for the State to ensuring fundamental human rights. The subsequent Constitutions have supplemented and expanded regulations on human rights in addition to the methods used to safeguard them.

During the renewal period, the State has been more aware of the people as masters of their own rights. Therefore, the Vietnamese people are placed at the center of all development policies. Along with this new awareness, the concept of human rights was specifically mentioned for the first time in the 1992 Constitution(13). On this basis, the State has made a number of political and legal commitments and efforts to realize human rights in their practical governance. This is particularly significant because there would be no effort of the Government in respect for and protection of specific human rights without the understanding of state responsibility and political will.

During the renewal process, the policy of the Party has been to build a socialist-oriented law-ruled State in order to effectively guarantee human rights in Vietnam(14). The 2013 Constitution has institutionalized these views and represents a new step in law-making ideology, particularly for human rights(15). These views are compatible with the spirit of the Universal Declaration of human rights: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government” (Article 21.3).

During 30 years of renewal, the Vietnam legal system has been constantly improved(16). The law has regulated most areas of social life and the legal system has been consolidated towards “safeguarding justice and human rights”. The public administration was designed and operated under the rule: “the State serves”, and continues to be enhanced in order to meet the new requirements of the people and the country’s development. A mechanism that protects the Constitution and human rights has been designated to the Vietnam Fatherland Front and certain government agencies and is clearly stated in the Constitution.

Building democracy and implementing socialist democracy

Democracy is a human right and is also the environment and condition for implementing human rights. Defending human rights and promoting democracy have a mutual and proportional relationship with each other in terms of development.

The democracy built by the Vietnamese State is a socialist democracy with its core in the ownership and distribution of social wealth.

Democracy is also demonstrated in the way that the State appreciates the role of the people and mobilizes the participation of the people(17) and the entire political system in carrying out the tasks of the country, including realizing and defending human rights.

Respect for and promotion of the people’s role in Government has created tremendous strength for the country to overcome dilemmas and challenges and achieve the present results of development. In this time of peace, building the country with the participation of the people and the entire political system together with the State will contribute to ensuring human rights, particularly those of “vulnerable groups”.

During international integration, thanks in part to the deep awareness of the role and momentum of democratic rights in developing society, the Vietnamese State has obtained valuable experience from other countries in implementing its own governmental policies. In addition, the State is consistent with its basic principles: Democracy must be closely related to discipline and law. Accordingly, the democratization process occurs across all areas of social life, which is evidenced by the right to vote, to self-nominate, freedom of expression, freedom of information, and people’s right of participation in the management of State and society.

Promotion of economic, social and cultural development

During the current renewal period, the State and Party decided to develop the socialist-oriented market economy in order to tap and utilize the resources of the country, realize human rights in the economic field, increase the potential of the country, meet income and living standards of the people, and to create more material conditions for ensuring human rights.

However, the economy does not operate with extreme freedom. The role of the State is upheld in solving social problems so as to guarantee practical social equality.

Together with developing the economy, the Vietnamese State has made it a point of policy to implement social equity throughout every step of development in order to ensure equal opportunity for all. Accordingly, the State provides equal opportunities to access resources for development and enjoyment of basic services. The State effectively implements hunger eradication and poverty reduction, introduces appropriate policies to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor and the disparities in living standards between the urban and the rural. This is the guarantee of “the right to enjoy the fruits of the country’s development” – an important task in preserving the social stability and sustainability of the country.

The State has also focused on establishing a rich and modern cultural life. That culture has inherited the good traditional cultural values of the Vietnamese people on one side and also absorbed the progressive quintessence of the world on the other to enrich the spiritual values of the Vietnamese people. These measures both ensure the right to cultural enjoyment and preserve the national cultural identity in this era globalization and international integration.

The State and Party have focused on establishing mechanisms for protecting human rights in line with the particularities of Vietnam(18). This has helped to maintain political and social stability, creating the favorable environment and conditions for staunch realization of human rights.

As in many other advanced nations, ensuring human rights in Vietnam is a long-term and continuous process. Apart from fundamental achievements, there are still a number of limitations that must be overcome. These include low living standard compared to those of many regional countries and a number of social problems that are being resolved slowly.

These limitations have been identified and gradually settled by the State and Party by implementing synchronous solutions: human rights education for public officials at all levels; implementing many practical policies and projects to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor and the regional development gap so that all people may benefit from the national development process; accelerate the building of the law-ruled State; combining the exercise of democracy at grassroots level with democratization in all areas of the social life; and enhancing the role of mechanisms that monitor human rights, particularly the role of social organizations. In addition, international cooperation must be strengthened in order to share experience and mobilize resources for increasing the accessibility of human rights for all.

Vietnam must firmly defend the self-determination of its people and fully ensuring human rights to protect national dignity and increase the general human rights values of all humankind.


(1) Declaration on Principles of international law concerning friendly relations and co-operation among states in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations,1970.

(2) International Convention on civil and political rights and International Convention on social, economic and cultural rights,1966

(3) In 1960, the United Nations passed the Declaration on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples, in which, all forms of colonization were eliminated on the global scale.

(4) Party documents: Complete set, vol. 1, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1995.

(5) Despite different implementation methods, socialism has been the striving ideals of 143 political parties and organizations of 140 countries across all continents. People following socialist leanings, in power in 12 out of 28 countries in the European Union, are implementing many policies towards a humanitarian society with the focus on protection for the poor and the working people.

(6) To build policies, law; consolidate institutions, strengthen democracy, enhance public duties until fundamental rights and freedoms are guaranteed in practice.

(7) Like changing the awareness from the State “for the people” to the State “of the people” and “by the people”...

(8) CPV: Documents at 9th Party Congress,  National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1991.

(9) Such as approving programs of judicial reform, public administration reform in the period of 2001-2010 and 2011-2020.

(10) As shown in the Human Development Index (HDI), which is continuously improved. In 2014, Vietnam ranked 121 out of 187 countries and territories (the average grade of the world, above India and China). It is worth noting that Vietnam’s GDP per capita is still low.

(11) Vietnamese Constitution 1946, Article 1.

(12) While the 1946 Constitution of Vietnam recognized “Women are equal to men in all spheres” (Article 9), it took a long time for the immortal declaration on human rights (the United States after 144 years, France after 155 years), for women in these countries to gain the right to vote. Women of Switzerland and Kuwait only obtained this right in 1971 and 2005 respectively. Although the principle of non-discrimination is strongly affirmed, discrimination has still prevailed in the United States.

 (13) The 1992 Constitution, Article 50: “In the Socialist Republic of Vietnam human rights in the political, civic, economic, cultural and social fields are respected. They are embodied in the citizen’s rights and are determined by the Constitution and the law”.

(14) The 11th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam clearly pointed out that the State was organized and operated under the principle of “the State power is unified with assignment, coordination and control of agencies in the implementation of the legislative, executive and judicial powers”; The National Congress also emphasized the task of “Stepping up legislative, executive and judiciary reforms. Renewing the ideology and procedures of law making, increasing the quality of the legal system (...) Focusing on  building a consistent, transparent, clean and strong, effective and efficient administration system”; “Improving mechanisms for strengthening supervision and inspection of activities of legislative, executive and judiciary agencies” (Documents of the 11th National Congress of the CPV, National Political Publishing House, 2011, p.141,142).

(15) The 2103 Constitution dedicates the entire Chapter II to stipulating in detail human rights, fundamental rights and obligations of citizens. Article 14 states “1. In the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, human rights (...) shall be recognized, respected, protected and guaranteed in accordance with the Constitution and law”.

(16) For example, recognizes the principle of presumption of innocence and state compensation for wrongful convictions; deprivation of liberty (even for humanitarian purposes such as compulsory medical treatment) must be approved by the court.

(17) The 11th National Congress clearly pinpointed “Expanding democracy, maximizing the human factor; considering humans as the subject and key resource and objective of development. Attention should be given to ensuring human rights and rights of citizen and conditions for comprehensive development for all. Raising capacity and creating mechanisms for the people to fully execute their ownership right, particularly direct democracy in order to strongly promote all creative capacity and to ensure the high consensus in society, creating momentum for national development”.

(18) Such as highlighting the social criticism of the Vietnam Fatherland Front and its member organizations; granting the Front the function of monitoring the obedience of the Constitution that contains provisions on human rights and control of branches of State power...

Assoc. Prof., Dr. Dang Dung Chi

Institute of Human Rights Studies,

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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