Environmental activists urge UN human rights body to reject Vietnam’s membership bid

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September 14 (Reuters) – More than 50 winners of a top global environmental award have called on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to reject Vietnam’s efforts to join it, citing a crackdown on climate activists in the Southeast Asian nation.

In a letter published on Wednesday, 52 Goldman Environmental Prize laureates raised concerns about a two-year prison sentence handed down to one of Vietnam’s best-known environmental activists, Nguy Thi Khanh.

“What is happening in Vietnam is just the tip of the iceberg,” reads the letter, signed by award winners from 41 countries.

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“As Goldman Prize winners, we have all faced uphill battles in our efforts to protect our planet and catalyze change.”

Vietnam’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the environmentalists’ letter.

The HRC will consider Vietnam’s application for membership during its 51st session, which will run until October 7.

Khanh, who became Vietnam’s first Goldman Prize recipient in 2018, is among a number of Vietnamese environmental activists sentenced to prison on tax-related charges.

The United States said it was “deeply concerned” by her sentencing and called on Vietnam to release her. Read more

In June, Vietnam’s foreign ministry said Khanh had been imprisoned for tax evasion, not her campaign, and rejected calls for her and other climate change activists to be released. Read more

In January, Dang Dinh Bach, an environmental lawyer who worked to protect communities affected by pollution from coal-fired power plants, was jailed for five years for tax evasion.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security also said Bach’s conviction was for tax evasion, not campaigning.

In their letter, the environmentalists urged Vietnam to revise the tax code “so that it can no longer be used as a tool to silence the voices of civil society” and called for the release of Khanh, Bach and d other environmental defenders imprisoned.

Launching Vietnam’s bid to join the UNHRC last year, Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh told a council session that “the protection of human rights is the duty of every progressive nation and civilized,” state media said.

First awarded in 1990 by American philanthropist Richard Goldman and his wife Rhoda, the Goldman Prize aims to highlight the international nature of environmental issues and the need for global action, the prize body says on its website.

(This story corrects paragraph 1 to remove superfluous article ‘the’)

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Reuters staff reports; Editing by Ed Davies and Clarence Fernandez

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