Opening with human rights by mattsteinglass
February 26, 2009, 10:30 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

The US State Department’s new 2008 Human Rights Report: Vietnam is out. It’s the first broad official statement on Vietnam released by Sec. of State Clinton under the Obama administration, and is highly critical, as is typical of such reports. Summary:

The government’s human rights record remained unsatisfactory. Citizens could not change their government, and political opposition movements were prohibited. The government continued to crack down on dissent, arresting political activists and causing several dissidents to flee the country. Police sometimes abused suspects during arrest, detention, and interrogation. Corruption was a significant problem in the police force, and police officers sometimes acted with impunity. Prison conditions were often severe. Individuals were arbitrarily detained for political activities and denied the right to fair and expeditious trials. The government continued to limit citizens’ privacy rights and tightened controls over the press and freedom of speech, assembly, movement, and association. The government maintained its prohibition of independent human rights organizations.

One should note that these summaries can seem more critical than they really are in context, because only the offending points make it into the summaries. For instance, 5+ years ago there would undoubtedly have been something in there on repression of religious freedom. But freedom of religion has improved steadily in Vietnam, and by last year’s report the summary sentence read: “Overall respect for religious freedom improved during the year, but the government persisted in placing restrictions on the political activities of religious groups.” By this year the assessment is that religious freedom is broad enough that the issue no longer even makes it into the lead paragraph.

Curious to hear what reaction the Vietnamese government will have, and what tone this sets for US-Vietnam relations under the new administration.


2 Comments so far
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Hi Matt. You’re right that these State Dept human rights reports need to be read “against the grain”.

The annual review seems to be largely a box-ticking exercise that gives very little flavour of the complex dynamics affecting a country like Vietnam.

Having said that, it’s useful to have a long series of annual studies that you can use as a bechmark of sorts for comparison.

Comment by Ben Bland

The US really has no business doing such a report. If one must be done – and that is a very big if – then it should be done by the UN. Just another example of the imperial nature of US foreign policy these days.

Comment by Frank

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