The United States has painted a grim picture of human rights in Vietnam, highlighting the authorities’ use of arbitrary arrest, police violence and denial of fair trials.
In its annual human rights report, the State Department noted that the National Assembly had delayed the implementation of several new laws – including a new penal code, criminal procedure and law on custody and temporary detention.
It said that 94 political prisoners were serving prison sentences, or being held in detention, at the end of 2016, and that 12 activists had been sentenced during the year for peacefully exercising internationally recognised human rights.
By contrast, only two activists had been sentenced the previous year. Observers have noted that the period of relative restraint coincided with the latter stage of negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, when Vietnam was under pressure from the US to improve its record.
“The most significant human rights problems in the country were severe government restrictions of citizens’ political rights, particularly their right to change their government through free and fair elections; limits on citizens’ civil liberties, including freedom of assembly, association, and expression; and inadequate protection of citizens’ due process rights, including protection against arbitrary detention,” said the report.
The United States raised concern about the suppression of rights and freedoms during visits last year by President Obama and the then Secretary of State, John Kerry.
However, analysts noted that Washington no longer appeared to be linking progress in human rights to improved economic and strategic ties between the two countries.
President Obama’s decision in May to lift what remained of the arms embargo on Vietnam made clear where US priorities now lay.
President Trump’s subsequent scrapping of the TPP, which had required the acceptance of free trade unions in Vietnam, has further eroded US leverage on human rights.
The new administration’s apparent lack of interest in the promotion of rights and democratic freedoms overseas means that the Vietnamese authorities are unlikely to feel undue pressure from the State Department’s latest catalogue of its abuses.