Vietnam decree allows cops to shoot at resisters in self defense

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A man in the northern mountainous province of Lang Son Province insulting and threatening to attack two traffic police officers with a broken glass bottle after stopped for traffic violations. Photo by Hoang Trang

The Vietnamese government has issued a decree to take effect in February next year allowing police and military officers to shoot at people in self-defense and to overpower people who resist them when they are on duty.

The decree on measures to prevent and tackle resistance to "people on public mission" stipulates that police officers on duty first need to explain violations of regulations to the violators, ask them to stop such actions and obey police orders and check their personal papers.

If they resist, the officers can "coerce" the resisters to stop their violations and comply with orders, conduct body searches as well as searches of vehicles used to commit violations, and overpower and seize resisters and their weapons and explosives, if any.

In "pressing" circumstances or when resisters attack police officers with weapons, those on duty can use force and armed weapons and deploy them in self-defense and/or to control and capture resisters, the decree says.

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It also says that the officers should consider their actions "depending on the nature and seriousness of the circumstances."

Other people on public mission, including public servants and members of armed forces, must also follow procedures stipulated in the new decree.

The deployment of weapons should also comply with  the ordinance on the management and use of weapons, supportive tools and explosives and other relevant regulations, the decree says.

According to the ordinance, shooting must be the last resort used to stop violators who disobey police officers' warnings.

Police have the right to fire at violators if a delay in doing so directly threatens their lives or the lives and health of other people, or cause other extremely serious consequences.

They are not allowed to shoot at women, children and people with disabilities, except in cases where these people use weapons and/or explosives to attack and directly threaten officers or people's health or lives. 

Police officers can shoot those who try to steal their guns; use weapons to disturb public order and cause "extremely serious" consequences; use weapons or explosives to attack or threaten an important buildings or people; use vehicles to attack and directly threaten officers or people's health or lives; or "extremely dangerous" fleeing or resisting prisoners.

The decree's draft version was introduced nine months ago by the Ministry of Public Security to collect public feedback before submitting it to the government.

The ministry said the decree responds to the fact that resisting people on public mission was getting "complicated" in many fields, "seriously" affecting public security, law enforcement and the health and dignity of on-duty officers.  

Lieutenant-General Tran Ba Thieu, a senior official at the Ministry of Public Security, said between 2000 and August 2012, 43 police officers were killed and 2,218 injured by those resisting law enforcement. Sixty per cent of the resisters were traffic violators.

Earlier, the police ministry also released statistics said between 2002 and June last year, 8,513  cases of people resisting law enforcement authorities were recorded involving more than 13,700 resisters, more than 81 percent of whom faced criminal charges.

More than 90 percent of the cases targeted the police force  the traffic police, those tasked with maintaining public order and those tackling drug crimes.

Many people said they support the new decree considering the danger police and other people on public missions can face when they encounter extreme people and criminals.

But many others were concerned about abuse of power by officers, the correctness and accuracy of their decision-making and responsibility in using guns.  

They noted that many police officers have faced various kinds of punishment for shooting other people when they were on or off duty.

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