The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an authoritarian state ruled by a single party, the Communist Party of Vietnam, and led by General Secretary and President Nguyen Phu Trong, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, and Chairwoman of the National Assembly Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan. The most recent National Assembly elections, held in 2016, were neither free nor fair; there was limited competition among Communist Party-vetted candidates.
The Ministry of Public Security is responsible for internal security and controls the national police, a special national security investigative agency, and other internal security units. The Vietnam People’s Army aids civilian authorities to provide relief in times of natural disaster. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by the government; torture by government agents; arbitrary arrests and detentions by the government; political prisoners; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including arbitrary arrest and prosecution of government critics, censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; significant restrictions on freedom of movement, including exit bans on activists; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; restrictions on political participation; serious acts of corruption; trafficking in persons; significant restrictions on workers’ freedom of association; and use of compulsory child labor.
The government occasionally took corrective action, including prosecutions against officials who violated the law, but police officers and state officials frequently acted with impunity.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports indicating officials or other agents under the command of the Ministry of Public Security or provincial public security departments arbitrarily or unlawfully killed protesters. There were reports of at least eight deaths in custody; authorities attributed at least three of the deaths to suicide or chronic medical issues and another to a beating by a fellow prisoner. Authorities sometimes harassed and intimidated families who questioned the police determination of cause of death. In a small number of cases, the government held police officials responsible, typically several years after the death. Despite guidance from the Supreme People’s Court to charge police officers responsible for deaths in custody with murder, such officers typically faced lesser charges. Police conducted their own internal affairs investigations to determine whether deaths in custody were justified.
On January 9, a large contingent of armed police officers belonging to the Ministry of Public Security and Hanoi police surrounded Dong Tam village, My Duc District, Hanoi. During the early morning hours, they raided the house of local elder Le Dinh Kinh, who had led the villagers’ years-long resistance against the seizure of 145 acres of agricultural land for use in a new military installation. During the raid police officers and armed villagers clashed violently, leading to the deaths of three police officers and Le Dinh Kinh. Eyewitnesses, including Kinh’s wife, claimed police threw tear gas grenades into the house while the family was asleep and shot Kinh on sight. Human rights activists expressed doubts about the legality of the raid as well as official police reports that Kinh was armed with a hand grenade, noting the 84-year-old was disabled (see also sections 1.c and 1.e.).
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit torture, violence, coercion, corporal punishment, or any form of treatment harming the body and health or the honor and dignity of persons detained or incarcerated. Nonetheless, suspects commonly reported mistreatment and torture by police, plainclothes security officials, and compulsory drug-detention center personnel during arrest, interrogation, and detention. Police, prosecutors, and government oversight agencies seldom investigated specific reports of mistreatment.
Activists reported Ministry of Public Security officials assaulted political prisoners to extract confessions or used other means to induce written confessions, including instructing fellow prisoners to assault them or making promises of better treatment. Abusive treatment was not limited to activists or persons involved in politics. Human rights monitoring groups issued multiple reports of police using excessive force while on duty and investigators allegedly torturing detainees.
One of the Dong Tam villagers who was detained and then released following the January 9 clash with police (see section 1.a.) alleged that Ministry of Public Security interrogators tortured many of the 29 defendants by a variety of methods, including electric shock, cigarette burns to various parts of the body, waterboarding, and other methods that would not leave physical evidence.
According to state media, the Investigation Agency of the Supreme People’s Procuracy initiated criminal proceedings against the police chief of Vinh Tuy local police, Bac Quang District, Ha Giang Province, and two other police officers for their alleged beating of a pretrial detainee. The police chief was detained; the two other officers were held under house arrest pending the completion of the investigation. Impunity in the security forces was a significant problem.
By law all land belongs to the government (“all the people of Vietnam”), which granted considerable decision-making authority for land pricing, allocation, and reclamation to local people’s committees and people’s councils, which in turn contributed to unfair business practices and corruption.
There were numerous reports of clashes between local residents and authorities at land expropriation sites during the year. Disputes regarding land expropriation for development projects remained a significant source of public grievance. Many individuals whose land the government forcibly seized protested at government offices for failure to address their complaints. Some coercive land seizures resulted in violence and injury to state officials and residents. There were also reports that development companies hired suspected plainclothes police officers and “thugs” to enforce government seizures by intimidating and threatening residents or breaking into their homes. Authorities arrested and convicted multiple land rights protesters on charges of “resisting persons on duty” or “causing public disorder.”
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government restricted the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The government restricted freedom of peaceful assembly. Laws and regulations require persons wishing to gather in a group to apply for a permit, which local authorities issued or denied without explanation. Only those arranging publicized gatherings to discuss sensitive matters appeared to require permits. The government generally did not permit any demonstrations that could be perceived as political. The law permits security forces to detain individuals gathering or protesting outside of courthouses during trials. Persons routinely gathered in informal groups without government interference so long as the gathering was not perceived as political or a threat to the state.
The Ministry of Public Security and local police routinely prevented activists from peacefully assembling. There were numerous reports of police dispersing gatherings of environmental activists, land rights advocates, human rights defenders, bloggers and independent journalists, and former political prisoners. For example, on July 18, local police in Cam Vinh commune of Ha Tinh Province dispersed a gathering of Falun Gong members at a private residence.
Police and plainclothes authorities routinely mistreated, harassed, and assaulted activists and those demonstrating against the government.
Freedom of Association
The constitution affords individuals the right of association, but the government severely restricted the establishment of associations involved in what the government considered “sensitive” activities such as political, religious and labor issues. The country’s legal and regulatory framework includes mechanisms particularly aimed at restricting the freedom of NGOs, including religious organizations, to organize and act. The government generally prohibited the establishment of private, independent organizations, insisting that persons work within established, party-controlled mass organizations, usually under the aegis of the VFF.
Laws and regulations governing NGOs restrict their ability to engage in policy advocacy or conduct research outside of state-sanctioned topics and prohibit organizations focused on social science and technology from operating in fields such as economic policy, public policy, political issues, and a range of other areas considered sensitive. Authorities also did not permit them to distribute policy advocacy positions publicly.
The law requires religious groups to register with authorities and to obtain official approval of their activities. Some unregistered religious groups such as the Vietnam Baptist Convention and independent Pentecostal groups reported government interference.
According to some recognized groups and others attempting to register, implementation of the law varied from province to province. Some registered organizations, including governance, women’s rights, and environment-focused NGOs, reported increased scrutiny of their activities.
c. Freedom of Religion
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government imposed limits on the movement of individuals, especially those convicted under national security or related charges or outspoken critics of the government.
In-country Movement: Several political activists on probation or under house arrest, along with others not facing such legal restrictions, were officially restricted in their movements. Authorities continued to monitor and selectively restrict the movement of many prominent activists and religious leaders, including Nguyen Dan Que, Pham Ba Hai, Nguyen Hong Quang, Thich Khong Tanh, Tran Ngoc Suong, Le Cong Cau, and Duong Thi Tan. Authorities continued to prevent activists from travelling by preventing them from leaving their houses during events that might draw great public attention. Several activists reported authorities had confiscated their national identification cards, preventing them from traveling domestically by air or conducting routine administrative matters.
During the September trial of 29 villagers from Dong Tam (see section 1.a.), security forces prevented Dong Tam residents, family members of the defendants, and prominent activists from leaving their homes. Villagers alleged government security forces actively stymied their efforts to travel to Hanoi to attend the trial.
Religious leaders were required to specify geographical areas where they would be preaching. Some reported that authorities told them that preaching outside of the approved areas was illegal, although enforcement was inconsistent.
Government restrictions required citizens and resident foreigners to obtain a permit to visit border areas, defense facilities, industrial zones involved in national defense, areas of “national strategic storage,” and “works of extreme importance for political, economic, cultural, and social purposes.”
Citizens (or their hosts) must register with local police when staying overnight in any location outside of their own homes; the government appeared to enforce these requirements more strictly in some Central and Northern Highlands districts. Foreign passport holders must also register to stay in private homes, although there were no known cases of local authorities refusing to allow foreign visitors to stay with friends or family. There were multiple reports of police using the excuse of “checking on residency registration” to intimidate and harass activists and prevent them from traveling outside of their place of registration (see sections 1.d. and 1.f.).
Authorities did not strictly enforce residency laws for the general population, and migration from rural areas to cities continued unabated. Moving without permission, however, hampered persons from obtaining legal residence permits, public education, and health-care benefits.
Foreign Travel: Prospective emigrants occasionally encountered difficulties obtaining a passport or exit permission, and authorities regularly confiscated passports of activists and government critics, at times indefinitely. There were multiple reports of individuals crossing the land borders with Laos or Cambodia illegally because they were unable to obtain passports or exit permission; in some cases, this included persons wanted for crimes and political or other activism.
The Ministry of Public Security continued to use foreign travel prohibitions against certain activists and religious leaders. Authorities banned and prevented dozens of individuals from traveling overseas, withheld their passports on vague charges, or refused to issue passports to certain activists or religious leaders without clear explanation; activists believed that international travel authorization was denied to reduce those activists’ opportunities to speak out against the Vietnamese government. Authorities also refused to issue passports to the family members of certain activists.
In May authorities refused without explanation to renew the passport of Catholic priest Nguyen Van Toan. Father Toan, who had a record of making critical statements about the government and participating in protests, later said he found a notation stating his passport was not renewed because he “conducted activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.”
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits using or threatening violence against women, including rape, spousal rape, “other sexual contacts,” and “forced sex crimes.” It also criminalizes the rape of men. Conviction for rape is punishable by imprisonment of up to 15 years, depending on the severity of the case. Authorities prosecuted rape cases but did not release arrest, prosecution, conviction, or punishment statistics. There was little information on the prevalence of rape or on reporting of the crime.
Authorities treated domestic violence cases as civil cases unless the victim suffered injuries to more than 11 percent of the body. The law specifies acts constituting domestic violence and stipulates punishments for convicted perpetrators ranging from warnings to imprisonment for up to three years.
Domestic violence against women was common. The Women’s Union reported in November 2019 that at least 58 percent of married women were worried about domestic violence on a daily basis and that 87 percent did not seek help. Officials acknowledged domestic violence was a significant social concern, and media discussed it openly. Social stigma prevented many survivors from coming forward due to fear of harassment from their spouses or family.
While police and the legal system generally remained unequipped to deal with cases of domestic violence, the government, with the help of international and domestic NGOs, continued to train police, lawyers, community advocates, and judicial officials in the law; supported workshops and seminars that aimed to educate women and men about domestic violence and women’s rights; and highlighted the problem through public-awareness campaigns.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. Publications and ethics training for public servants did not, however, mention the problem of sexual harassment.
In serious cases victims may sue offenders outside the workplace under a law that deals with “humiliating other persons” and specifies punishments for conviction that include a warning, noncustodial reform for up to two years, or a prison term ranging from three months to two years.
Reproductive Rights: The constitution stipulates that society, families, and all citizens implement “the population and family planning program.” The law affirms an individual’s right to choose contraceptive methods; to access gynecological diagnosis, treatment, and check-ups during pregnancy; and to obtain medical services when giving birth at health facilities. The government generally enforced these provisions.
The law states that couples or individuals have the right to give birth to one or two children, with exceptions based on government decree. There is no legal provision punishing most citizens who have more children than the stipulated number, although regulatory penalties apply to CPV members and public-sector officials.
The CPV, certain ministries, and some localities issued their own regulations, applying only to party members and government officials, regarding family size. A politburo decree subjects party members to reprimand if they have three children, removes them from a ranking position if they have four, and expels them from the CPV if they have five. Violating the decree also decreases the likelihood of promotion and may lead to job termination. The CPV did not enforce these provisions consistently.
The Population and Reproductive Health Strategy for 2011-20 applies to all citizens and strives to maintain the average number of children per reproductive-age couple at 1.8. The government, primarily through broad media campaigns, maintained its strong encouragement of family planning.
Access to sexual and reproductive health services was provided to all persons, including survivors of sexual violence.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
The constitution stipulates society, families, and all citizens implement “the population and family planning program,” which allows couples or individuals the right to have one or two children, with exceptions based on government decree. No legal provision punishes citizens who have more than two children.
The CPV and certain government ministries and local governments issued their own regulations on family size for their staff. A decree issued by the politburo, for example, subjects CPV members to official reprimand if they have three children, removes them from a ranking position if they have four children, and expels them from the CPV if they have five children. Violating the decree also decreases the likelihood of promotion and may lead to job termination. The CPV did not enforce these provisions consistently.
Discrimination: The law provides for gender equality, but women continued to face societal discrimination. Despite the large body of law and regulation devoted to protecting women’s rights in marriage and the workplace as well as provisions that call for preferential treatment, women did not always receive equal treatment in employment, education, or housing, particularly in rural areas.
Although the law provides for equal inheritance rights for men and women, a son was more likely to inherit property than a daughter, unless otherwise specified by a legal document such as a will.
Gender-biased Sex Selection: According to 2019 data from the Ministry of Health, the average male to female sex ratio at birth was 111.5 boys to 100 girls, far from the natural norm of 104-106 boys to 100 girls. To address the issue of gender-biased sex selection, the government prohibits gender identification prior to birth and gender-based violence and discrimination. Violations of these provisions are subject to fines or even imprisonment. At the local or provincial level, some authorities give cash incentives for giving birth to female children. For example, Hau Giang provincial authorities awarded couples that give birth to two female children a one-time payment of 390,000 to 1.3 million dong ($17 to $56). In some provinces women enjoy preferences in such areas as education, vocational training, and starting a business.
Birth Registration: By law the government considers anyone born to a citizen parent to be a citizen. Persons born to non-Vietnamese parents may also acquire citizenship under certain circumstances.
Children born to stateless parents or to a stateless mother and unknown father may acquire Vietnamese citizenship if the stateless parents or stateless mother are permanent residents, making the process difficult in most cases.
The law requires a birth certificate to access public services, such as education and health care. Nonetheless, some parents, especially from ethnic minorities, chose not to register their children, and local authorities prevented some parents from registering children to discourage internal migration.
Education: By law education is free, compulsory, and universal through age 14, but school fees were common. Under a government subsidy program, ethnic-minority students were exempt from paying school fees. Authorities also did not always enforce required attendance laws or enforce them equally for boys and girls, especially in rural areas, where government and family budgets for education were limited and children’s labor in agriculture was valuable.
Gender gaps in education declined, but certain gaps remained. There were substantial differences in the education profile of men and women at the postsecondary level, notably in applied technology programs.
The government sometimes denied education to children from families not registered in their locality, with particular discriminatory effect on H’mong communities in the Central Highlands and on the children of some political and religious activists.
Child Abuse: The government did not effectively enforce existing laws on child abuse, and physical and emotional mistreatment was common.
Observers concurred that violence against children occurred in many settings including schools and homes and was usually inflicted by someone known to the child. The most common types of school violence were bullying and corporal punishment by teachers. The number of reported cases of child abuse, especially child sexual abuse, was increasing. UNICEF stated in July 2019 there were no effective interdisciplinary child- and gender-sensitive procedures or processes for handling child-abuse reports and that the responsibilities of government agencies were unclear. The child protection workforce, from social workers to relevant professionals such as police, judges, prosecutors, teachers, and medical experts, was poorly trained, uninformed, and generally insufficient to address the problem, especially at local levels.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for girls and 20 for boys, and the law criminalizes organizing marriage for, or entering into marriage with, an underage person.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes all acts of sale or deprivation of liberty of children as well as all acts related to the exploitation of children in prostitution and forced child labor for children younger than 16. The exploitation of children in prostitution is not fully criminalized for 16- and 17-year-old children. Sentences for those convicted range from three years’ to life imprisonment and significant fines. The law specifies prison sentences for conviction of acts related to the exploitation of children in prostitution, including harboring prostitution (12 to 20 years), brokering prostitution (seven to 15 years), and buying sex with minors (three to 15 years). The production, distribution, dissemination, or sale of child pornography is illegal, and a conviction carries a sentence of three to 10 years’ imprisonment. The country is a destination for child sex tourism.
The law prohibits all acts of cruel treatment, humiliation, abduction, sale, and coercion of children into any activities harmful to their healthy development and provides for the protection and care of disadvantaged children.
The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. Conviction for statutory rape may result in life imprisonment or capital punishment. Penalties for sex with minors between the ages of 16 and 18 vary from five to 10 years in prison, depending upon the circumstances. The penalty for rape of a child between the ages of 13 and 16 is seven to 15 years’ imprisonment. If the victim becomes pregnant, the rape is incestuous, or the offender is in a guardianship position to the victim, the penalty increases to 12 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law considers all cases of sexual intercourse with children younger than 13 to be child rape, with sentences ranging from 12 years’ imprisonment to death. The government enforced the law, and convicted rapists received harsh sentences.
Displaced Children: Media outlets reported approximately 22,000 children lived on the streets and sometimes experienced police harassment, sexual exploitation, and abuse.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at .
There were small communities of Jewish foreigners in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City; there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.