The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and four other organizations condemn in the strongest possible terms the arbitrary execution of Mr. Lê Văn Mạnh in violation of his right to life and freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. He was executed despite credible allegations that Mr. Lê Văn Mạnh had been subjected to severe beatings amounting to torture by the police in order to extract a “confession,” which was relied on at trial to convict him.
Despite the public outcry and the persistent calls within the international community for an impartial, independent and effective review of his case, the authorities proceeded with the execution of Mr. Lê Văn Mạnh on 22 September 2023, in defiance of international law and contrary to the global trend towards establishing a moratorium on the use of the death penalty and abolition of the death penalty.
According to the death certificate issued by Thu Phong village, Cao Phong district, Hòa Bình province that Mr. Lê Văn Mạnh’s family received on 23 September 2023, he was executed at 7am on 22 September 2023. His execution was carried out only four days after his mother had received the notification from the People’s Court of Thanh Hóa, informing her that as Mạnh’s relative, she could apply in writing to receive her son’s ashes or corpse.
The execution notice issued by Thanh Hóa province police indicates that the responsible authorities had exchanged two official letters in August 2023 to uphold the decision to carry out Mạnh’s execution. This means they had waited for more than one month before notifying Mạnh’s family about his impending execution, hindering any efforts by his family and the public to call for an immediate halt of the execution. Additionally, the notification letter shared with the family did not include the date of the set execution and the family was not given the opportunity of a last visit – a cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment that international human rights bodies have repeatedly condemned.
Allegations of violations of due process and procedural irregularities
Lê Văn Mạnh had been convicted of robbery, rape, and murder of a 14-year-old girl – Hoàng Thị Loan – in July 2005.
According to the case’s official records, the victim, Hoàng Thị Loan, was raped and murdered in Yên Thịnh Ward, Yên Định District, Thanh Hóa Province, in March 2005. On 20 April 2005, Lê Văn Mạnh, who was 23-year old at the time, was arrested pursuant to a temporary arrest warrant issued by the investigative police unit of Đồng Nai Province for an entirely different matter earlier that month.
However, according to the criminal complaint, just three days later, by 23 April 2005, a “confession” letter, claimed to be written by Mạnh while in police detention addressed to his father, had surfaced, admitting guilt to the rape and murder of Hoàng Thị Loan. The police confiscated this letter and used it to prove Mạnh’s guilt. The criminal complaint further showed that the investigation relied on the testimony of a 9-year-old child – who was interviewed by the police without parental permission – for leads.
Between 2005 and 2008, Mạnh underwent a total of seven court hearings, including three trials, three appeals, and one cassation trial. In all of his court hearings, Mạnh vehemently denied all of the charges and retracted his earlier “confession”, alleging that he had to provide it after being beaten by both the police officers investigating his case and his cellmates who were acting under police’s instructions.
There was no physical evidence to tie Mạnh to the alleged rape and murder. The only evidence presented by the prosecution was Mạnh’s “confession” letter, which he had already retracted because it was allegedly obtained under duress and torture. Nevertheless, Lê Văn Mạnh was convicted of the rape and murder of Hoàng Thị Loan and sentenced to death.
The execution was arbitrary, as it took place as a consequence of a denial of the right to fair trial among other rights. The execution also is contrary to repeated resolutions of the UN General Assembly and the overall global trend towards establishing a moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view to abolition. We strongly urge the authorities to:
- Immediately halt all pending executions and establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty in Việt Nam;
- Initiate prompt, impartial and effective investigations into the allegations of torture or other cruel, degrading or inhuman treatment with a view to gaining a “confession” from Mr. Lê Văn Mạnh, noting that his was not the only case where there had been allegations of torture being used to extract a “confession” later used as evidence at trial, which resulted in the imposition of the death penalty; and
- Ensure that there is full transparency in the use of the death penalty, including through ensuring that essential information relevant to a specific planned execution is promptly provided to the prisoner and their family, and making publicly available information regarding death sentences, pardons, number of people on death row, notifications of any set executions and executions carried out.
The UN General Assembly, in repeated resolutions and by overwhelming majorities, most recently in General Assembly Resolution 77/222 of 15 December 2022, has called on all States that retain the death penalty to impose an immediate moratorium on executions, with a view to abolition.
In line with opinions shared by many governments and the United Nations, we emphasize that the death penalty constitutes a denial of the right to life protected by Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Việt Nam is a State party; and that it constitutes a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment, prohibited under Article 7 of the ICCPR and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT). Countries like Việt Nam where the death penalty is imposed, must ensure, at a minimum, that it is only used in cases of “the most serious crimes” (i.e. intentional killing) following a trial that meets the highest level of compliance with international law and standards of fairness.
As the UN Human Rights Committee noted: “Violation of the fair trial guarantees provided for in article 14 of the Covenant in proceedings resulting in the imposition of the death penalty would render the sentence arbitrary in nature, and in violation of article 6 of the [ICCPR]” (General Comment No. 36 – Article 6: right to life, UN Doc. CCPR/C/GC/36, para. 41). Mạnh’s trial was clearly neither fair nor compliant with international human rights law.
Furthermore, as a State party to the UNCAT and the ICCPR, Việt Nam has an obligation to respect the prohibition of torture and other forms of ill-treatment at all times.
Article 15 of the UNCAT obliges State parties to “ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings.” International law prescribes that State parties must conduct prompt, impartial and thorough investigations when complaints of torture or other ill-treatment are made (Articles 12 and 13, UNCAT; and Articles 7 and 2(3), ICCPR). In addition, State parties must provide prompt and effective access to effective remedies and full reparations for victims of torture and other ill-treatment (Article 14, UNCAT, and Article 7 in connection with Article 2(3), ICCPR).
International Commission of Jurists
Legal Initiatives for Vietnam
People in Need
Vietnamese Advocates for ChangeAdvocacyNewsPress releases