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ClientEarth Communications

1st March 2018

Rule of law
Access to Justice for a Greener Europe

Call for release of environmental activists jailed over protesting on toxic spill in Vietnam

ClientEarth is joining the United Nations experts call to release individuals jailed for protesting against a discharge of toxic industrial chemicals into coastal waters of Vietnam.

On 6 February 2018, Hoang Duc and Nguyen Nam Phong were respectively sentenced to 14 years in prison for writing about protests regarding the Formosa “marine life” disaster and 2 years for allegedly refusing to obey order of public officials while driving to a protest. Last year, two other bloggers Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh and Nguyen Van Hoa were also sentenced to jail for reporting about the spill.

ClientEarth lawyer Laurens Ankersmit said:

“The victims of the 2016 Marine Life disaster should have had proper access to justice against Formosa and the Vietnamese government. Instead, the Vietnamese government has jailed individuals speaking out about the disaster.”

In April 2016, a steel mill company owned by Taiwanese investor Formosa deliberately and illegally discharged significant amounts of wastewater containing hazardous substances into the sea to save costs.

The Vietnamese government inadequately handled the disaster and its aftermath. The toxic spill polluted more than 200 km of local waters, killing a large number of fish and affecting the life of thousands of people. This led to a number of protests by Vietnamese citizens in some cities on 1 May 2016, calling for a cleaner environment and demanding transparency in the investigation process.

Instead of ensuring respect for human rights and respect for basic environmental principles and laws, the European Union is seeking to ratify a trade agreement with Vietnam and already gives it privileged access to its markets through the GSP (Generalised System of Preferences) Regulation.

Rather than ensuring that foreign investors have environmental obligations, the trade agreement gives them special rights that they can enforce before investment tribunals, the so-called Investment Court System. This would have a chilling effect on environmental law by allowing investors to sue governments over laws designed to protect people and the planet.

Laurens Ankersmit added : “The EU must reconsider initiating the trade agreement with Vietnam and the privileged status of Vietnam under the GSP Regulation while these individuals are in prison.”