Human Rights Watch has urged Vietnam to investigate “widespread police brutality” in the communist nation and hold to account officers responsible for deaths caused by the use of lethal force.
The New York-based organisation said in a statement released late Wednesday that it had documented 19 incidents of reported police brutality, resulting in 15 deaths during the past year.
“Police brutality is being reported at an alarming rate in every region of Vietnam, raising serious concerns that these abuses are both systemic and widespread,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
The pressure group urged the Vietnamese government to issue orders outlawing abusive treatment by police and make clear that any officers found responsible will face disciplinary action and, where appropriate, criminal prosecution.
There was no immediate response from the Vietnamese authorities.
HRW said some detainees had died after beatings inflicted while in the custody of the police or civil defence forces, while other victims were killed in public areas from apparent use of excessive force by the police.
It cited the case of Vu Van Hien, who died in the northern province of Thai Nguyen on June 30 after being detained following a dispute with his mother.
An autopsy revealed that he died due to severe bleeding in the brain and that he had suffered multiple injuries, including a broken jawbone and broken ribs, HRW said.
Three weeks later, 21-year-old Nguyen Van Khuong died just hours after being taken into police custody for riding a motorcycle without a helmet, it noted.
Police said last month that an officer had been arrested over Khuong’s death, which prompted a protest involving thousands of people in Bac Giang province, northeast of Hanoi, in late July.
But HRW noted there have been no reports of convictions of police officers for their actions in any of the 19 documented incidents.
In the majority of cases, minor punishments have been imposed, such as requiring offending officers to apologise to the victim’s family, accept a transfer to another unit, or write a report about the incident, it said.
“Until police get the message from all levels of government that they will be punished, there is little to stop them from this abusive behaviour, including beating people to death,” Robertson said.