Vietnamese Bishops' Assessment and Comments on the 1992 Constitution Revision Draft (revision in 2013)

The government of Vietnam has promulgated the Draft Revision of the Constitution (Hereinafter referred to as “The Draft”) to gather its people’s feedback from Jan. 2nd 2013 to March 31st 2013. We welcome this approach, since the Constitution of a country must be first and foremost people-oriented, inciting the people's sense of responsibility, and to serve the people, not excluding anyone. With a sense of responsibility, on behalf of the Vietnamese Catholic Bishop Conference, the Standing Committee would like to send to the Committee for the 1992 Constitution Revision Draft and our countrymen our assessment and comments

1. Human Rights

The Draft has reserved the whole chapter II (article 15-52) to talk about human rights. Human rights had been officially recognised by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Dec 10, 1948) to which Vietnam signed. The Draft has provided a fairly complete list of all the fundamental human rights. The issue here is how to make these rights correctly understood, respected, protected, and guaranteed by the law in reality?

Human rights are basic rights and freedoms which are essentially connected with human dignity, and hence are universal, inviolable and inalienable. They are universal as everyone, from all areas and at all times, are entitled to enjoy these rights; inviolable, for any violation means to strip people of their human dignity; inalienable, for no one is permitted to strip off these others' rights.

The political power, handed over to the authorities by the people, is to facilitate a favourable legal condition and environment for the implementation of human rights, not to be dispensed at the authorities own will. Therefore, “to ensure human rights be actually recognized, respected, protected, and guaranteed by the government and the society in accordance with the law and the constitution” (Article 15), we see the need to clarify a few things.

The Draft asserts freedom of speech (Article 26), of artistic and literary creation (Article 43), of freedom of religion and belief (Article 25). However, from the beginning, the Draft already asserts the ruling party is "the leading force of the government and society to ensure Marxist-Leninist doctrine and Ho Chi Minh's ideology to be the ideological foundation in all aspects of the society’s life” (Article 4). If so, how do we suppose to understand and implement the rights to free speech and to artistic and literary creation, since our thoughts must be framed in a specific doctrine? Similarly, how do we understand and implement our rights to freedom of religion and belief, since Marxism-Leninism is atheism itself. Are these rights only privileges bestowed on the people whenever or wherever, not such universal, inviolable, and inalienable rights? The Constitution needs to eliminate those inconsistencies and irrationalities so that it may be convincing and capable to win people's hearts.

In reality, imposing a single ideology to the whole nation would only impede creativity of the Vietnamese people. This is one of the biggest reasons leading to stagnant and slow progress of the country in many fields: education, science and technology, culture and fine arts. Should a foundation of the society be needed, we think it must be the rich traditional culture of Vietnamese people, not any other ideologies. Such cultural tradition has been formed throughout centuries and has helped Vietnamese people in founding and developing our country, building a humane lifestyle. That very culture is the foundation of the social life of the people of Vietnam on which new ideas may and should be welcomed to flourish but not to replace our cultural tradition. Only so we can hope to be able to preserve and promote national identity amid the rapid changes of today's era of globalization

We therefore suggest:

1. The Constitution needs to clearly determine: that everyone is free and equal in terms of dignity and rights. Human rights are those which are connected to human dignity, thus are the rights that are universal, inviolable and inalienable.

2. Take national tradition of the people to be the foundation to organize and manage the society.

3. Clearly indicates right to life (comparing with Article 21 of The Draft): everyone has the inalienable right to life. No one have the right to take others' lives, from conception to death. The government has the duty to protect life. Everyone has the right to protect his/her own life, as long as it doesn't jeopardize others.

4. Clearly indicates the freedom of speech (comparing with Article 26 of the Draft): everyone have the right to think, to express their views and beliefs.

5. Clearly indicates the freedom of religion (comparing with Article 25 of the Draft): Everyone has the right to religion and belief. This right would include freedom to follow or not to follow any religion, freedom to practice religious rituals, individually or collectively. Neither any religion nor doctrine can be imposed over the people of Vietnam. The government would not spread negative propaganda against religions, interfere with religious internal affairs such as training, ordaining, transferring, separating or merging... All religious organizations are at their liberty to carry out social activities in education and health care.

II. Sovereignty of the people

Political authority is necessary to manage the society, but people as a whole must be truly the sovereigns of the country. The citizens of the country give the rights to carry out this authority to those who are competent, devoted, and legally elected as their representatives, disregarding that these individuals belong to a particular political party or not. Only in this case, we can have the juridical government "of the people, by the people and for the people" (see Preamble). Therefore, the freedom of self-nomination of each citizen is an essential requirement in a democratic, civilized, and healthy society. Meanwhile, elections must be conducted fairly and freely on a periodic basis within a framework of laws guaranteeing the effective exercise of voting rights is a necessary requirement, for the people to pick representatives whom they trust. The people themselves have the right to evaluate the competency of those whom they elected, and if necessary, they also have the right to replace those representatives.

We therefore suggest:

1. The Constitution has to highlight the sovereignty of the people, i.e. should not only be a theoretical clause but rather be demonstrated in particular articles of the Constitution, and be implementable in reality.

The Draft asserts: "All power of the state belongs to the people with the foundation is the alliance between the peasantry and the intelligentsia "(Article 2). But in reality, workers, farmers and intellectuals are social components that have suffered most injustices in society. Reality shows that the assertion of sovereignty of the people only on paper and in theory.

2. To respect the sovereignty of the people, the Constitution should not and cannot categorically assert the leadership of any political party, as the subject of political authority is the people themselves, and the people give this authority to those they trust by elections. The elected individuals have to take responsibility for what they do before the people, they cannot simply be a vague collective body and in the end no one takes responsibility for anything.

3. The current Constitution only recognizes the right to use land, not the right to own land of citizens. This has caused many serious abuses and injustice. Therefore, the new Constitution should recognize the right to land ownership by citizens and private organizations like the vast majority of countries around the world do.

4. The Constitution must respect the right to participate in the governmental system at all levels, of all citizens, regardless of their social class, ethnicity, religion

III Enforcement of political authority

Political power that the people give to the authorities are divided into legislative, executive and judicial ones. For this authority to be implemented correctly and efficiently, it needs a legitimate independence of each side and to be for the interest of the entire society. In reality, Vietnam over the years has none of this independence, leading to abuses and misuses of power, causing too much injustice and degradation in many aspects: economic, social, moral. In the end, poor people have to be burdened with the consequences and Vietnam, until now still be viewed as an underdeveloped country.

The root cause for this is the fact that there has been no distinction between the ruling party and the juridical government. This is shown right in the content of the 1992 Constitution, and the Draft continues to follow along the line.

On one hand, Article 74 asserts the Congress is "the governmental body with highest authority", on the other hand Article 4 asserts the ruling party is “the leading force of the government and society." So who is leading whom? Is it true Congress is only a tool of the ruling party? If so, what meaning does people's election of the National Assembly bear? A truly free election or just a democratic formality?

The Draft also spent many long chapters to talk about the National Assembly (Article 74-90), the President (Article 91-98), the Government and the Prime minister (99-106). However there has been nothing about the Secretary General of the ruling party. In reality the Secretary General is actually is the highest authority according to the Draft, the ruling party is "the leading force of the Government and society" (Article 4)! If so, is the party above and beyond the law, not bound by the law? If the ruling party leads both the government and society, then what are the needs for the parliament and the courts?

The above analysis demonstrates the inconsistencies and irrationalities right in the content of the Constitution. This irrationality leads to injustices, social instabilities, and deterrence to a healthy and stable development of the country.

We therefore suggest:

1. To overcome the unreasonableness in the structure of The Constitution, we need to eradicate any privileges of any political parties, meanwhile emphasize the role of the National Assembly, "the highest governmental authority ", voted by the people and is the true representative of the people, not a tool to any ruling party.

2. To determine the independency of the legislative, executive and judicial authorities, we need to provide legal basis for the implementation of those rights more effectively and independently


Our assessments and suggestions are only to contribute to formation of a Constitution that is reasonable and suitable for the people.
We wish all the people of Vietnam would be actively contributing to the revision of the Constitution to serve the comprehensive and stable development of the people of Vietnam

The Archbishopric of Hanoi, Mar 01, 2013

Translated from Vietnamese by VietCatholic Network