The United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (the “Working Group”) has issued an opinion about ELAW partner, Dang Dinh Bach, finding that the Government of Vietnam arbitrarily detained him and calling for his immediate and unconditional release.
Bach has been imprisoned since June of 2021, when police entered his home, confiscated his computer and phones, and arrested him. His wife, parents, and two-week-old infant watched in shock as he was taken away. Weeks passed before he was informed of the charges against him—and nearly eight months passed before he was tried and sentenced to five years in prison.
ELAW’s Defending Defenders program supports public interest environmental lawyers to work without fear of reprisal. We take action when our partners are targeted in response to their advocacy and help them build skills and alliances to protect themselves and their organizations, deter threats and attacks, and carry on their high-impact work.
The Working Group investigates cases of deprivation of liberty imposed arbitrarily or inconsistently with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and other human rights treaties. Vietnam is bound by both the UDHR and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The Working Group’s opinion states that the Government violated Bach’s rights, including rights to
- a fair trial
- freedom of expression
- political opinion
- assembly; and
- freedom of association.
It also concluded that his arrest and deprivation of liberty were discriminatory and directly related to his environmental advocacy.
The Working Group found that the tax laws used to prosecute Bach and other environmental defenders in Vietnam do not comport with international standards. The Working Group cited the same conclusions issued by two United Nations Special Rapporteurs and the UN Human Rights Committee that have commented on these laws, expressing that they “encourage self-censorship and stifle important debates on matters of public interest.”
The Working Group’s findings may help other defenders detained under these laws.
On May 31, 2023, Hoang Thi Minh Hong, the Director of the environmental non-profit organization CHANGE, was arrested and charged under the exact same laws as Bach. Her arrest underscores the Working Group’s finding that there is a “systemic problem with arbitrary detention” in Vietnam, particularly the detention of human rights defenders and environmental actors.
The Working Group’s opinion was released just days before an international coalition of climate justice and human rights organizations launched a relay hunger strike in solidarity with Bach, who will begin his own hunger strike starting on June 9, 2023. Over 100 organizations have committed to joining in the hunger strike during May and June, and individuals will be invited to join in their personal capacity starting June 24, 2023 – the two-year anniversary of Bach’s arrest. Per Bach’s request, the solidarity hunger strike will be conducted in the spirit of peaceful protest to bring attention to climate justice and advocate for the release of all environmental defenders detained in Vietnam.
Bach and his wife, Thao, have shared their appreciation for the ongoing support and solidarity from the ELAW network and hope this peaceful action will be an inspiration to others to protect mother earth and stand up for human rights.
Defending Defenders Program
Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide
For more information, please see:
Stand with Bach Coalition Site
Vietnam’s human rights record is being scrutinized ahead of $15 billion climate deal. NPR. 26 May 2023.
Opinions adopted by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention at its ninety-sixth session, 27 March. UN Working Group. 5 April 2023.