Viet Nam – 30 sentenced to death as country defies calls to amend laws

The ICJ today condemned the imposition of the death penalty on 30 people found guilty of drug trafficking in Viet Nam and urged its government to amend laws and take steps towards abolishing the death penalty.

On 20 January, 21 men and nine women were convicted of drug trafficking following a 17-day trial held within the compound of a detention center rather than in a court.

“Viet Nam has the highest number of executions in the ASEAN,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific. “This is really of serious concern, especially since its courts have been widely criticized as lacking independence, and judicial proceedings have frequently violated international fair trial standards.”

The ICJ repeatedly has criticized Viet Nam’s violations of Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal established by law.

Under international law, the death penalty may only be lawfully pronounced as a sentence for the most serious crimes, after a full and fair trial. The imposition of the death penalty in this case — a prosecution for drug trafficking — is inconsistent with international law and standards that define the most serious crimes as those involving the intention to kill and resulting in the loss of life.

“Viet Nam’s failure to abolish the death penalty goes against the global trend,” said Zarifi. “The country has chosen to act contrary to repeated calls in several resolutions adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on the issue.”

According to a report by the Secretary General to the General Assembly in 2012, 150 of the 193 UN member states either have abolished the death penalty or introduced a moratorium on it.

Among member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Philippines has ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (OP2), abolishing the death penalty. Cambodia also has abolished the death penalty. Lao PDR, Myanmar and Brunei have not carried out the death penalty in several years. Aside from Viet Nam, four other ASEAN Member States still retain the death penalty: Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.

In November 2013, Viet Nam was elected as a member of the UN Human Rights Council.

Sam Zarifi noted, “The recent death sentences handed down in Viet Nam, in violation of international law, suggest a lack of respect for international law at odds with the spirit of a country newly taking its seat at the UN Human Rights Council.”

It is estimated that more than 600 prisoners are now awaiting execution in Viet Nam. It last imposed the death penalty on 19 December 2013 on two former shipping executives found guilty of embezzlement.

The ICJ considers the death penalty a violation of the right to life and the right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

The ICJ calls on the Government of Viet Nam to immediately establish a moratorium on executions and take steps towards the complete abolition of the death penalty.


Emerlynne Gil, ICJ International Legal Advisor for Southeast Asia, tel. no. (Bangkok) +66840923575, email: emerlynne.gil(a)

Craig Knowles, ICJ Media & Communications, (Bangkok), +66819077653, email: craig.knowles(a)



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