Saturday, April 07, 2007

U.S. State Dept. describes progress

Vietnam made progress in 2006 in it human rights performance, said an annual report of the U.S. State Department. This is the fifth annual such report, released April 5, and is titled Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2006. It is intended to complement another annual U.S. State Dept. report, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, by describing actions the U.S. has taken to alleviate international human rights abuses.

The report said the U.S. has resumed a human rights dialogue with Vietnam for the first time since 2002. Improvements included the release of three prominent dissidents in 2006, and allowing U.S. officials to visit Vietnam prisons twice during the year. The most significant reported improvement was in religious policy, as the State Dept. removed Vietnam from its list of "Countries of Particular Concern" in November. However, the report also noted:

"Restrictions remain on religious worship for some ethnic minority Protestant groups in the Central Highlands, and the slow progress in registration of Protestant groups in the Northwest Highlands continued to be a focus of U.S. diplomatic efforts. The U.S. government sponsored an International Visitors Leadership Program for four provincial officials and members of the Committee on Religious Affairs to examine religious freedom in the United States, which offered them a unique opportunity to meet with U.S. Government officials, NGOs, and faith-based organizations."

The report described areas of bilateral cooperation, perhaps most notably in promoting rule of law programs, which seemed aimed primarily at making Vietnam's foreign investment climate more hospitable:

"Among the activities supported by this program during the year were the development of eight legal and institutional improvements in the country’s court operations, the training of 170 Ministry of Justice personnel through 40 policy workshops, and the establishment of 13 public fora for national legislators to discuss legal and regulatory reform. As a result of these efforts, five new laws were passed by the National Assembly and 12 legal, regulatory, and institutional actions were taken to improve the country’s implementation or compliance with international trade and investment agreements. In December, a U.S. government sponsored International Visitor program for nine senior National Assembly officials met with U.S. government and non-governmental organizations and learned the complexities of the local, state, and federal lawmaking process. The United States also hosted several U.S. speakers on judicial and legal reform issues. These guest speakers addressed lawyers, judges and law students at various venues to promote and expand the understanding of the U.S. legal system."

Other areas of cooperation included working with Vietnam's Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs to advance labor rights; and various exchange programs with Vietnam journalists.

Source: Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2006: East Asia and Pacific, released April 5.


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