Every year the United States marks May 11 as Vietnam Human Rights Day to highlight our nation’s support for promoting and protecting basic freedoms in that Southeast Asian nation.
The U.S. and Vietnam recently concluded their 20th annual Human Rights Dialogue in Washington. The meeting covered a wide range of human rights issues this year, including the importance of continued progress on legal reform efforts, rule of law, freedom of expression and assembly, religious freedom, labor rights, disability rights, LGBTI rights, multilateral cooperation, as well as individual cases of concern.
U.S. Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski told the press that over the last year there was a continued overall decline in arrests and convictions for those peacefully expressing their religious and political views in Vietnam. However, Assistant Secretary Malinowski expressed concern about the recent uptick in convictions for peaceful dissent. He said the United States "expressed our hope that this would be addressed and that some of the longstanding cases of concern would be resolved."
Among the individual cases raised by the United States was Nguyen Van Dai, a prominent human rights lawyer who was arrested in December on charges of spreading anti-state propaganda. In 2007 Dai was sentenced to four years on a similar charge.
Another high-profile case is that of blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh, who was sentenced to five years in prison in March for what authorities called “abusing rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the state.” During the last week in March, Vietnam convicted a total of seven activists.
According to the latest State Department Human Rights Report, at the end of 2015, Vietnam still held around 100 political prisoners. The United States continues to call for the unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience.
Assistant Secretary Malinowski noted that the United States also continues to follow Vietnam's progress on legal reform necessary to bring Vietnamese laws in step with Vietnam’s own constitution and international commitments. Vietnam's National Assembly is due this year to take up key laws including the law on association, law on demonstrations, and law on religion - all of which could have a profound impact on human rights.
Concern for the basic human rights of the Vietnamese people remains an integral part of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship.