BANGKOK (22 April 2022) – UN Human Rights and the UN Environment Programme expressed grave concern over the arrest, detention and sentencing of environmental human rights defenders in Viet Nam on charges of tax evasion.
Since June 2021, four prominent environmental human rights defenders have been arrested, detained and sentenced up to 5 years in prison, on charges of income tax evasion. They were accused of not paying income taxes on the foreign non-governmental funding received by their organization for their work on environmental protection.
“The use of income tax evasion charges to stifle critical voices is not a new practice in Viet Nam. However, this time the charge of income tax evasion is being used against registered non-profit organizations whose work focuses on environmental protection,” said Cynthia Veliko, South-East Asia Representative for the UN Human Rights Office in Bangkok.
“It is imperative to stop the use of all punitive measures routinely leveled against human rights and environmental rights advocates in Viet Nam. Human rights and environmental work, including raising issues of public concern, are not criminal offences,” Veliko said.
The continued arrest and sentencing of environmental advocates raises concern about the repressive restrictions on fundamental freedoms and seeks to create an environment that prevents human rights defenders from exercising their rights, an issue previously highlighted by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Mechanisms, including Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council, Treaty Bodies and the Universal Periodic Review.
“We urge the authorities to ensure that environmental advocates and civil society organizations working on the environment in Viet Nam can operate freely, without fear and intimidation and that their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association are protected and upheld,” said Dechen Tsering, the UN Environment Programme’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.
UN Human Rights and the UN Environment Programme noted that the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment should be universally protected. Civil society which peacefully advocates for the right to a healthy environment is a fundamental partner in addressing the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution and to achieve sustainable development.
The United Nations entities called on all Member States to uphold everyone’s right to participate in environmental protection and decision-making and to recognize the importance that environmental advocates play in contributing to the achievement of sustainable development. They also called for concrete steps to prevent and stop the use of legislation to hinder or limit unduly the ability of environmental human rights defenders to exercise their work, including by reviewing and amending relevant legislation and its implementation in order to ensure compliance with international human rights law.
“The promotion and protection of human rights as well as work and advocacy for a healthy environment are much-needed, now more than ever, to protect our collective future and that of our planet,” Veliko said. “Such laudable work must never be considered a crime.”
* See also: Communication to the Government of Viet Nam from the Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; the Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.