Vietnam lawmakers pass law creating new grassroots security force

Neighborhood-based members will wear uniforms and will supplement full-time commune police officers.
By RFA Vietnamese
2023.11.29
Vietnam lawmakers pass law creating new grassroots security force Vietnam’s National Assembly opens in Hanoi on Oct. 23, 2023.
(Nhac Nguen/AFP)

Vietnam’s National Assembly on Monday approved a law consolidating volunteer civil defense team leaders, residential ward lookouts and part-time commune police officers into a local security force that will have arrest powers, uniforms and local offices.

The law states that “forces participating in protecting security and order at the grassroots level” will supplement full-time commune and ward police officers in an effort to create a “whole people’s movement to protect the Fatherland’s security.”

Because scams, frauds and debt evasion have become such a problem throughout society, the Ministry of Public Security may have concluded that local police need some assistance, blogger Nguyen Ngoc Gia told RFA.

“The law provides that the force has the right to arrest people who are caught red-handed or chased while committing a crime or after committing a crime,” he said. “So, will this force be equipped with real expertise and skills?”

Several other people told Radio Free Asia they also worry that many members of the new force won’t be professionally trained and probably won’t have a good understanding of Vietnam’s legal system.

It’s an unnecessary and unreasonable addition to the country’s law enforcement apparatus that will likely increase – instead of decrease – social conflict, former military officer Lt. Col. Vu Minh Tri said.

“A genuine rule-of-law state doesn’t need such a force,” he said. “Power abuse at the grassroots level and in irregular forces like the civil defense force has already been occurring for years. And almost all members of the new force are unemployed and don’t have good educational qualifications and expertise.”

New force could have 400,000 members

According to government data, nearly 297,000 people already participate in the three existing forces. 

Local authorities will determine how and where members of the security force will be deployed in villages and residential buildings, according to the law, which allocates 3.5 trillion dong (US$145 million) a year to provide weapons, uniforms, badges, vehicles and other equipment.

Members of the force will be entitled to monthly allowances and financial assistance to pay for health insurance. They will also be entitled to other benefits, including allowances for training courses and for working in dangerous and toxic environments.

The new security force could eventually reach 400,000 people – a number that could prove challenging for regular, full-time police to oversee or monitor, Germany-based human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai said.

In many communities, the new force will likely consist of some former military members or former prisoners who local authorities previously recruited to act as order guards or neighborhood monitors, he said.

It would just be better to expand regular police forces throughout Vietnam and give them the authority to protect the security of residential areas, said Hong Thuy, who used to be a vice head of a residential group and now lives in Binh Thanh district in Ho Chi Minh City.

“However, the most important thing to prevent power abuse is to have strict laws,” she said. “In an unstable country like ours today, if the civil defense force has more power and the law is not properly enforced, the people will suffer greatly."

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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