Explaining Death Penalty Clemency in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam from 1986 to 2015

Research output: Journal Publications and ReviewsRGC 21 - Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-198
Journal / PublicationJournal of International Constitutional Law
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016


Regarding the operational specifics of death penalty policy, David T. Johnson and Franklin E. Zimring have argued that it is extreme left or right wing authoritarian states’ aversion to a limitation of their own powers that determines high rates of executions in countries such as Vietnam, Singapore, China and North Korea as opposed to other, less-punitive Asian nations which share similar cultural and religious characteristics. For a regime like Vietnam’s, the swift carrying out of a death sentence, especially when performed in public, serves to highlight the state’s power over life and death and enhance political control over the domestic constituency. At first glance then, little scope for the exercise of the clemency power as a form of lenient reprieve from the death sentence by the executive government appears possible under a repressive regime of this nature. However, unlike China and Singapore, a notable feature of Vietnam’s death penalty practice since the Doi Moi reforms of 1986 has been the executive’s willingness to reprieve a large minority of prisoners sentenced to death through Presidential clemency, even though executions themselves have continued. What official and unofficial justifications have been given for grants of Presidential clemency in Vietnam, and relatedly, what structural and cultural factors explain the use of clemency in a noticeable proportion of death penalty cases? These are the under-researched questions I provide plausible explanations for in this article, incorporating an empirical study of Vietnam’s death penalty clemency grants since the mid-1980s, interpreted through the lens of the relevant academic literature on clemency and pardon grants.

Research Area(s)

  • Death Penalty, Vietnam, Clemency, Pardon, Authoritarianism