Human dignity should be better protected by law enforcement, and hidden cameras should be a crime

July 8, 2024 | 08:00 pm PT
Bui Phu Chau
At 18 I made one of the most important decisions in my life: choosing a university. I chose to apply only to the Hanoi University of Law.

Earlier I had read an article written by a lawyer in 1949 citing Article 1 of the German Constitution that said: "Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authorities. The German people therefore acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights as the basis of every community, of peace and of justice in the world. The following basic rights shall bind the legislature, the executive and the judiciary as directly applicable law."

It is the first article of the constitution of Germany, a country that changed fundamentally with World War II, in which their predecessors attacked and attempted to conquer the world.

The article left a deep impression on me.

As I studied law, I understood that, in one way or another, all republics and democracies treat human rights and dignity as the most fundamental provision of their constitution, the document that lays the foundation of a nation.

For example, Article 20 of the Vietnamese constitution says: "Everyone has the right to inviolability of his or her body and to the protection by law of his or her health, honor and dignity; no one shall be subjected to torture, violence, coercion, corporal punishment, or any form of treatment harming his or her body and health or offending his or her honor and dignity."

Humans exist first with our corporal bodies. Therefore, our bodies first need to be inviolable, the foundation to protect all other values of humanity.

Once a body is violated, all others, including health, honor, dignity, and more, are immediately violated.

Respecting the dignity of each and every human being is the basis for community building, keeping the peace and justice.

While justice has been a much debated concept in the history of philosophy, we can understand it in a narrow sense of all actions aimed at protecting the dignity of humans.

These thoughts crossed my mind when I was reading about a landlord being fined VND12.5 million ($490) by authorities in Ha Dong District, Hanoi, for illegally setting up cameras in female tenants' bathrooms.

After he was caught the landlord said he sometimes watched them showering on his phone and saved some of those videos.

He claimed he never posted any of the videos online.

He was charged with illegally obtaining personal information about others.

According to the Ha Dong police, the man's actions did not warrant criminal prosecution.

I believe many people share my concerns about the lenient punishment meted out to this man.

While law enforcement agencies may not have found sufficient grounds for criminal prosecution since he did not disseminate the videos and the scale of the wrongdoing was somewhat limited, the lenient punishment raises public hackles since there is much ground for concern.

While the official charge against the offender was "illegally obtaining personal information about others," the sensitive nature of images from private spaces such as restrooms means it is not merely "personal information."

The dignity of the victims has been violated. The fact that their naked bodies had been illegally recorded day after day may cause significant long-term emotional trauma, and take them a long time to recover.

Even worse, such a lenient punishment could cause some twisted individuals to think that illegal recordings of other people for their perverted interests will not attract significant punishment.

Without proper deterrence from the law, this impunity might spread.

According to Article 155 of the Criminal Law (2015), any "significant insult" to a person's dignity is punishable by imprisonment ranging from three months to two years if the offense was committed more than once or against two or more people.

The landlord had recorded a number of individuals for a prolonged period of time.

While there will always be a gap between enforcement and what the law says, if the gap remains wide, the government needs to work to ensure citizens are properly protected.

Human dignity is inviolable.

If depravity such as the landlord's only gets a gentle rap on the knuckles, such behavior will continue and citizens will continue to be harmed.

*Bui Phu Chau has a Bachelor's degree in Law.

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