News / Asia

VOA Exclusive: US Official Says Vietnam Must Progress on Rights to Deepen US Ties

A senior U.S. diplomat says Vietnam must make "demonstrable progress" on human rights in the coming months, if it wants to deepen its relationship with the United States, a former wartime foe.

In an exclusive interview with VOA, acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Scott Busby said he stressed the importance of human rights to Vietnamese officials on a trip to Vietnam last week.

Busby visited the country from October 29 to November 2, traveling to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to meet representatives of the government and Vietnamese civil society groups.

US calls for action

In an interview Wednesday, Busby said the United States needs Vietnam to show signs of progress on human rights in the "near term."

"Such signs would include releasing some people who have been detained or imprisoned for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression; signing, ratifying and implementing the convention against torture, lifting any and all restrictions on the Internet, enhancing the state of religious freedom, and allowing civil society to operate freely," said Busby.

Busby said he also "strongly encouraged" Vietnam to begin working with four international rights investigators appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The Vietnamese government's Washington embassy did not provide a comment on the talks with Busby when contacted by VOA.

Vietnam's position

Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang recently said his government has made "sustained efforts to protect and promote human rights." He made the comment in a landmark meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on July 25.

The meeting earned Sang the honor of being only the second Vietnamese President to hold talks with a U.S. president in Washington since the former enemies normalized relations in 1995.

Sang said Vietnam and the United States still have differences on human rights and held "straightforward, open discussions" on the matter.

Some U.S. lawmakers and rights groups accuse the Vietnamese government of intensifying repression of political dissidents and religious figures in recent years.

Focusing on arrests

Busby said arrests and harassment of Vietnamese social activists were a "primary topic" of his meetings with government officials.

"They did share some information about who was arrested and who was in custody and why they were in custody. I would say, as a general matter, the government officials characterized all of their actions as efforts to enforce their laws and to protect their national security," he said.

He said protecting the work of Vietnamese civil society groups is a high priority for Washington.

"We are stressing to the government the importance of the activities that civil society is engaged in, whether it is religious practice, exercising rights to free speech, working on human rights issues, or organizing humanitarian activities. We have clearly indicated the esteem in which we hold these activities. We do provide some programmatic support to civil society as well, although I can't get into the details," said Busby.

Engaging Vietnamese activists

Busby said he met with a "wide array" of civil society members and was impressed by what he called their "energy, optimism and courage" in the face of government restrictions.

Busby said those constraints affected how he conducted his meetings.

"One does have to tread carefully. The government is not allowing civil society to do all that it wants to. And indeed there were some individuals who were not able to meet with me because of those restrictions. We did not inform the government of whom we were meeting with. We went ahead and tried to meet with whoever was willing to meet with us," he said.

One Vietnamese blogger who met the U.S. official in Ho Chi Minh City on Friday is Pham Chi Dung. Speaking to VOA by phone, Pham said he tried to help Busby understand what he and other activists want to achieve.

Rights movement's aims

"The main goal of civil society in Vietnam is to help resolve social, economic and political issues. 'Civil society' helps to voice people's concerns regarding the nation's sovereignty, basic human rights, land rights of farmers and legitimate rights of workers, as well as [their concerns about] corruption," said Pham.

Pham said those who want to help Vietnamese activists should be careful about the kind of assistance they provide.

"Vietnam's civil society does not want financial support from the United States or any foreign country, but rather moral support for civil society-related activities such as establishing civic culture or civic forums both online and offline. If we get support financially, we will be accused of receiving money from foreign countries with the aim of overthrowing the government," he said.

Burma's example

Pham said he told Busby that Burma is the best regional model for Vietnam to follow in terms of democratic development. A Burmese civilian government took office in 2011, ending decades of military rule and initiating political reforms that have won growing support from the West.

Busby said he discussed Burma as one model of a transition from an authoritarian to a free society.

"I don't remember discussing it as the best [model], because there are other examples like Indonesia that I think could be drawn on.  We did talk about the positive developments in Burma and what might be learned from how that could be applied to Vietnam," he said.

UN cooperation

Busby said Vietnamese officials also promised to receive a visit from one of the U.N. investigators whom he encouraged them to co-ordinate with: the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights Farida Shaheed of Pakistan.

The other three investigators include Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression Frank La Rue of Guatemala, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association Maina Kiai of Kenya, and Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Gabriela Knaul of Brazil.

Vietnam is seeking a seat on the 47-member Human Rights Council in a U.N. General Assembly vote to be held on November 12.

The U.S. diplomat said the Vietnamese government told him it would like U.S. support for its candidacy. But, he said Washington does not divulge how it is going to vote on such matters ahead of time.

Additional agenda items

On other issues, Busby said Vietnam "reaffirmed its commitment" to joining the U.N. convention against torture.

Busby also asked officials and activists about the government's August decree restricting Internet access. He said he learned that the measure is "still in the process of being implemented" and was not aware of any cases to which it has been applied so far.

In the area of religious freedom, the diplomat said he urged Vietnam to speed up the registration process for churches throughout the country.

Busby said he hopes to return to Vietnam next year.

Editor's note:
Busby spoke about his visit with Pham Chi Dung only after the Vietnamese blogger had talked about the meeting in an earlier interview with VOA. Busby wouldn’t provide details about the meetings he held with other activists in Vietnam.


This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Vietnamese service. Tra Mi contributed from Washington.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Video US Landmark Highlights Endangered Species

People gathered in streets, on rooftops in Manhattan to see image highlights that covered 33 floors of Empire State Building More

World’s Widest Suspension Bridge Being Built Over Bosphorus

Once built, Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge will span 2 kilometers with about 1.5 kilometers over water, and will be longest suspension bridge in world carrying rail system More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs