A U.N. watchdog group condemns what it says is Vietnam’s repression of basic freedoms and gross violations of human rights, including torture and executions for crimes that breech international law.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee, which monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has examined the records of six countries, including Vietnam during its latest session.

The committee had fulsome praise for the country’s economic achievements, but many criticisms regarding what it sees as an abusive system of governance. Also, it is worried by an apparent dramatic increase in crackdowns against human rights defenders

Committee member Marcia Kran said human rights defenders are harassed, attacked, and held incommunicado in pre-trial detention. She said some have received lengthy prison sentences on bogus charges, and some have been ill-treated in custody as well.

Another area of concern is the reportedly high number of death sentences and executions in Vietnam. The Committee has received reports that 85 people had been executed last year. Kran noted crimes against the state, drug-related crimes, economic and other crimes are punishable by death.

“So, the situation is that the number and the identities of persons sentenced to death are kept secret by the authorities, which means that it is possible for dissidents to be targeted and sentenced to death without due process. Others have died in custody and we heard reports that these deaths are then reported by officials as suicide,” Kran said.

The panel of human rights experts is calling for a moratorium on the application of capital punishment or an abolition of the death penalty.

The committee found the Vietnamese government is making progress in passing new legislation. Kran told VOA a number of laws have been passed that appear to be protective of human rights.

“There is a new law on trafficking that prohibits forced labor. There is, in fact in 2017, there was an amendment to the law on legal aid. So, it expanded the list of persons who could access legal aid. There are also amendments to the penal code and the criminal procedure code on the right to counsel at all stages of criminal proceedings.”

Kran said the legal framework shows some signs of improvement on paper. Unfortunately, she noted these laws are not being applied in practice.

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