Under Secretary Zeya’s Remarks for 27th U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue
Good morning, everyone. I want to warmly welcome you to the State Department, to Washington, and to the United States and thank you for making the long trip to participate in these important discussions on human rights.
It is a pivotal moment in our two countries’ relationship, with the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership upgrade and President Biden’s recent visit to Hanoi.
Vietnam is a valued partner to the United States, and we continue to expand our ties so that our relationship may grow stronger.
We have moved from a history of conflict and division to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership that spans political, security, economic, and people-to-people ties. The United States is confident that the positive momentum in our relationship will continue.
Why? Because we have a common sense of purpose and a common vision for a secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific, spanning from our close collaboration on war legacy and humanitarian issues to regional security and shared prosperity.
As reflected in our respective declarations of independence, that common vision includes a joint commitment to respecting human rights. Both of our countries were founded on the idea that all the people on this earth are equal from birth, and all people have certain fundamental rights – the right to live, to be free, and to be happy.
Our bilateral engagement must remain guided by this core belief and by our commitment to the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
That is why we have repeatedly emphasized that demonstrable progress to protect human rights is essential to strengthening our relationship. Now, more than ever, as our bilateral relationship deepens, we look to you to address our growing concerns over Vietnam’s restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms.
President Biden and Secretary Blinken recently visited Vietnam and reiterated our human rights priorities with top government leaders. The President and the Secretary called for expanding the space for civil society and non-government organizations, and the need to respect freedoms of expression, association, and religion or belief, and the rule of law.
The President’s visit and the upgrade in our relationship also laid out a common vision for human rights. Our leaders’ joint statement set out clear goals for us to work together on a broad range of human rights issues.
We have seen some positive long-term trends on other human rights issues. This includes notable improvements to align domestic labor laws with international labor standards. It includes advancements in the protection of the rights of women, people with disabilities, and LGBTQI+ persons so that they may live free from discrimination and violence.
We urge Vietnam’s government to sustain these efforts and bring its actions into compliance with international obligations and commitments. And we look forward to continuing to work together to make this happen.
This progress, however, does not extend to all marginalized populations or the exercise of religious freedom.
We call on you to release prisoners of conscience, like Pham Doan Trang, a peaceful journalist, who remains in prison despite a deteriorating health condition. The work of Trang and other journalists are essential to building prosperous and resilient societies. They help identify and give local communities a voice in addressing challenges like environmental pollution, corruption, and access to public resources.
We also call on Vietnam to reduce burdensome bureaucratic restrictions on civil society, advance a digital ecosystem that respects free expression, and to create an enabling environment for domestic and foreign nongovernmental organizations, or social organizations.
NGOs play a critical role in supporting government efforts to address pressing social problems, filling gaps in public services, and promoting civic engagement, including by minority ethnic and religious groups.
The United States and Vietnam have differences of views and different interests at times – this is true for any two countries. But I think we can agree that human rights and fundamental freedoms are universal and, as the Universal Declaration on Human Rights declares, they are to be enjoyed by all people, no matter who they are or where they live.
I am joined today by distinguished colleagues DRL Acting Assistant Secretary Barclay, who is leading our delegation today; Ambassador Hussain, the Secretary’s principal advisor on religious freedom; and Deputy Assistant Secretary Brown, who was a critical member of the team that negotiated the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership upgrade. We also have here today recognized human rights experts from across the U.S. government who bring with them deep experience and expertise. Our team today is committed to the goals of this dialogue as I know your team is as well.
As we turn to today’s discussion, we should keep in mind the vision and courage our leaders have shown over the past quarter century to deepen and strengthen U.S.-Vietnam relations.
This change did not happen overnight but was the cumulative result of numerous actions big and small to bring the United States and Vietnam closer together.
This required a willingness on both sides to address each other’s concerns with respect and candor and resolve outstanding points of friction.
It is this same spirit that I hope will guide our conversations today as we discuss issues important to both our nations.
Thank you and I wish you all a successful dialogue today.