The Government of Vietnam (GVN) is a one-party state in which citizens cannot change their government, and the government prohibits political opposition groups. The government arbitrarily detains individuals calling for regime change and denies them the right to fair and expeditious trials. Despite a general loosening of control over many aspects of life for most Vietnamese, the government still limits citizens' freedom of speech, assembly, movement, and association. The GVN also limits workers' rights, especially to organize independently. While the government restricts the organized activities of religious groups, Vietnamese citizens are generally free to practice their religion, and the government continues to legalize many religious congregations.
Persuading Vietnam to adopt internationally accepted norms in respecting human rights and religious freedom is at the top of the embassy's agenda. The U.S. ambassador continues to urge the government to eliminate limitations on fundamental freedoms and advocates in cases where the government has infringed on the human rights of individuals. The U.S. government focuses on four main areas of human rights: promotion and protection of individual human rights, including releasing political prisoners; freedom of all religious denominations to organize and worship; growth of civil society, including promoting a free press, strong legal institutions, and empowering the NGO sector; and countering trafficking in persons (TIP). The U.S. government uses diplomatic influence; targeted dialogue with government officials on the benefits to Vietnam of expanded freedoms and an improved human rights environment; public diplomacy efforts aimed at educating key decision makers, future leaders, and the general public; and formal dialogue with the government on human rights and labor issues. The U.S. government works closely with like-minded diplomatic missions in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to coordinate efforts on human rights.
In his calls on leading government officials and in his statements to the local and international media, the U.S. ambassador continues to explain that the promotion of human rights is among his top priorities during his tenure. He calls for the government to improve the human rights situation, to release prisoners of conscience, and to enhance further religious freedom. The U.S. ambassador has reiterated President Bush's message to President Nguyen Minh Triet in June 2007 that, in order for the United States–Vietnam relationship to progress, the country will need to do more to respect human rights.
Specifically, the ambassador meets with top officials of the Ministry of Public Security to press for the release of prisoners of conscience and calls for embassy access to certain prisoners to ascertain their conditions. In addition, the ambassador meets with other officials, including the ministers of justice and communication and information, to press for the institution of rule of law and an allowance for greater Internet and press freedom. In this context, the U.S. calls for reforming Vietnam's criminal code and granting of greater operating rights for foreign news bureaus in Vietnam.
In his meetings with the Vietnamese community in the United States as well as a wide range of U.S.-based groups, the ambassador listens to specific human rights concerns and explains his approach to foster change in Vietnam. The U.S. ambassador also meets with top religious leaders to assess the religious freedom situation and the difficulties religious groups may encounter under the country's legal regime on religion. The ambassador regularly raises these concerns in meetings with the chairman of the government's committee on religious affairs and other senior government leaders. Other embassy officials regularly reinforce these messages.
In February 2006 the United States resumed its annual Human Rights Dialogue (HRD) with Vietnam. After the April 2007 HRD, the government released additional prisoners, increased legalizations of religious organizations, and demonstrated a more cooperative response to United States entreaties in areas of judicial reform and governance. In addition, in the 2006 bilateral labor dialogue, the United States and Vietnam signed a letter of understanding to renew labor cooperation in such areas as improving labor inspection and enforcement and preventing and eliminating exploitative child labor and TIP in Vietnam. Both sides continued to discuss labor issues in the October 2007 bilateral labor dialogue. Ongoing U.S. government labor and TIP advocacy resulted in the government's 2007 ratification of International Labor Organization Convention No. 29 outlawing forced labor and the establishment of new antitrafficking and antichild sex tourism units within the police department. Human resource development, industrial relations, expanded labor rights, and occupational health and safety are other important areas of the embassy's ongoing labor dialogue.
The embassy participates regularly in an international donor dialogue with the government on anticorruption, sponsored by the Central Steering Committee on Anticorruption. On press freedom, the embassy supports the professionalization of the media by regularly bringing Vietnamese journalists to the United States for training through the International Visitor Leadership Program. On civil society, the U.S. embassy actively facilitates the capacity building of civil institutions and NGOs. The U.S. government's TIP report on Vietnam has served as an entry point for engaging the government's National Steering Committee on antitrafficking and discussing its antitrafficking National Program of Action and the role of civil society. The U.S. embassy also continues to engage the government on many women's-related issues through active grant programs on the prevention of domestic violence and the promotion of women's political participation, among others, in support of the U.S. government's human rights agenda.