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Letter from 3 UN rapporteurs urged Vietnam not to execute inmate

Three United Nations special rapporteurs sent a letter urging the Vietnamese government not to execute death row inmate Nguyen Van Chuong, who was convicted of murdering a police major, RFA has learned.

The letter was not made public by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights until this week, but it is dated Aug. 10, about a week after Chuong’s family was suddenly asked to make arrangements to receive his remains, but were not given an execution date.

The letter follows suit with similar pleas from rights organizations and the international community at that time, who feared Chuong’s execution was imminent.

“In view of the urgency of the matter and the irreversibility of the execution of the death penalty, we respectfully call upon the highest authorities of Viet Nam to ensure Mr. [name redacted] is not executed,” said the letter, signed by the special rapporteurs on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; independence of judges and lawyers; and torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Chuong’s name was blacked out in the version of the letter released to the public.

“His execution, on the facts available to us, may constitute a violation of applicable international human rights standards and constitute an arbitrary execution,” the rapporteurs said, while also urging Vietnam to grant clemency or commute the sentence.

Chuong was convicted in the 2007 robbery and murder of Major Nguyen Van Sinh in northeastern Vietnam’s city of Haiphong. Two others were convicted in the case.
The family has submitted several petitions, asking all levels of government to reconsider Chuong’s death sentence.

The letter detailed several alleged problems with the case that, if true, would make an execution of Chuong “inconsistent with standards of international human rights law, and amount[ing] to an arbitrary execution.”

Problems with the case

It said that the evidence used to convict the defendants in the case included confessions, which Chuong alleges were obtained under extreme duress.

Chuong claims he was beaten and coerced by the investigator, RFA previously reported. Authorities deny that he was tortured at the time of the investigation.

The letter also said that Chuong had a “strong alibi” with several people from his hometown – 40 kilometers (24 miles) from the crime scene – who said under oath that they saw him at a festival at the time of the crime.

“Instead of investigating the validity of the alibi, the police arrested Mr. [name redacted] younger brother, on allegations of manipulating evidence and influencing witnesses,” the letter said. “Further, it is alleged that some witnesses who attested to Mr. alibi were coerced into changing their testimonies by the police.”

RFA also reported that the testimonies of the other suspects contradicted each other and the make of weapon described and the marks on the victim’s body were inconsistent in their statements.

Chuong’s family continues to appeal the case and calls for transparent investigation, his father told RFA Vietnamese.

Vietnamese police investigations often rely on torture and forced confessions that result in “frequent miscarriages of justice,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch told RFA.

“In this case, the tragedy is compounded by Vietnam’s use of the death penalty, which is a cruel, unusual and absolutely irreversible punishment that blatantly violates international human rights,” he said. “The Vietnamese government needs to wake up and recognize that their police force is a major part of the problem in the country, and unless there are serious and systemic reforms in the way the police operate, Vietnam will never be able to seriously comply with its international human rights obligations.”