Hanoi - Participants at a seminar held last week expressed their concerns about the draft Law of Associations, arguing that it was "a step backward" from existing law and some of its articles were illogical or unclear.
|Economist Phạm Chi Lan speaking at the seminar. — Photo Vietstock.vn
They urged authorities to delay passage of the proposed bill, which is set to be submitted to the National Assembly for consideration tomorrow.
Some experts speaking at the seminar, entitled "Formulating Law on Associations in line with Vietnam’s international integration strategy", even claimed the draft legislation was inconsistent with the policy of international integration Vietnam is pursuing. Some suggested that a number of provisions are unconstitutional.
Too many restrictions burdening the associations’ establishments
The definition of "association" as well as organizing principles in the draft requires that all associations register with authorities and receive permission to establish and operate.
La Khanh Tung of the School of Law at Vietnam National University said this requirement would enable authorities to ban associations that fail to register or do not receive permission – thus hindering people’s rights as stated in Vietnam’s 2013 Constituition and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Vietnam is a party.
A representative from the Disabled People Association lamented the new regulation which requires that the founder of an association be "healthy", saying this requirement implies discrimination against vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities or diseases – who might want to organise self-help groups.
He also voiced his concern over the unrealistic requirement that an association must have headquarters. “Even large disabled people’s associations in Hanoi or HCM City do not have the financial means to build headquarters for themselves, let alone smaller associations in poor regions,” he said.
The regulations on the required conditions for establishment of an association are also considered unnecessarily complicated, inconsistent with the push for administrative reforms.
In addition, the requirements of relevant authorities to appprove association rules and leaders infringe on the "voluntariness, autonomy, and self-accountability" of the associations which is stated in the draft law itself (Article 5, Chapter 1).
No affiliation with foreign associations?
Article 8 under Chapter 5 stipulates that associations must not affiliate with foreign associations or receive funding from abroad; except under special circumstances with the Government’s permission.
“It’s an inconceivable and glaringly backward regulation, especially in the context of increasing globalisation and Vietnam’s own international integration in every aspect,” Pham Chi Lan, an economist and former advisor to the Prime Minister at the Prime Minister’s Research Commission, commented.
This new regulation also contradicts Decree 45 by the Government which allows such partnerships and cooperation.
Lan cited the example of Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association which partnered with ASEAN’s Federation of Textile and Industries to fight for equal treatment of developing countries.
Some are also afraid the law would greatly hurt many associations whose operations rely on foreign donations or funding.
Two examples were cited - Hanoi’s Disabled People Association, which receives humanitarian assistance worth of US$710,000 from Denmark, and the Vietnam Disabled People Association, which is also a beneficiary of support from the German-based organisation Bread for the World, heard from the seminar.
Echoing the same concern, Quoc Viet, a sophomore student from HCM City’s Pedagogical University, said the draft law, with its lack of regulations for ’unregistered associations’, if passed, would be a "death knell" for various clubs and associations that focus on promoting the rights of the LGBT community of which he is a member.
Not being recognised by the authorities, no foreign assistance and donations, no cooperative programmes, no exchange of information and experience, the dissolution of these civil societies becomes a very real possibility, Viet added.
The requirement that an association founder must be at least 18 years old has also come under fire for violating children’s rights to freedom of association and assembly.
The absence of a recourse mechanism in the law through which to channel complaints and appeals also needs to be remedied, seminar participants said.
Other issues raised at the gathering included the doubtful necessity of an "establishment meeting", illogical ceiling on the number of members, weaning associations of state budgets, and unclear language on the health status and reputation and qualifications required of the founders.
Cut some slack
Most agreed that the Law on Associations, as well as the mindset of the lawmakers, should be centered on promoting a robust and healthy civil society, rather than on furthering state control and supervision.
“During 30 years of Doi Moi (renewal), the private sector has been untied and become a locomotive for the country’s socio-economic development and international integration. When the Law on Enterprises helps to unleash economic potentials by alleviating the burdens and restrictions on private enterprises, then the formulation of the Law on Associations must also mirror this process,” Nguyen Đuc Thanh, Director of the Vietnam Institute for Economic and Policy Research (VEPR), said.
VEPR and the Institute for Studies of Society, Economics, and Environment (iSEE) proposed delaying passage of the Law on Associations in order to invite more opinions, generate debate and make appropriate adjustments in order to ensure people’s freedom of association and to match Vietnam’s international integration efforts.
The seminar was organised by VEPR and iSEE last week in Hanoi.VNS