Thursday, February 26, 2009

State Department annual report released

The United State State Department released Wednesday (Feb. 25) its annual report titled 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, in which it reports in some detail on the human rights record of each country of the world during the previuous year.

The Vietnam section of the report described the government as an “authoritarian” regime which continues to have serious shortcomings in human rights; including lack of free choice in elections; suppression of opposition parties; unfair trials of dissidents and others; use of the country’s criminal code to punish dissidents; lengthy detentions before trials; a judicial system slanted greatly against the defendant; not providing attorneys to those unable to afford their own, except in cases involving possible life imprisonment or the death penalty; often harsh prison conditions and troubles for families trying to visit their relatives; and tightened controls over the media, assembly, internet and freedom of speech. The report did note some improvements for example in the degree of religious freedom, while noting the serious restrictions that remain; and in academic related activities.

The report was denounced by Vietnam Foreign Ministry spokesperson Le Dung as based on “erroneous information.” He said: “The Vietnamese State always respects people's rights to freedom and democracy and creates favorable conditions for the citizens to exercise them. At the same time, it also fights the misuse of these rights to undermine State interests and the rights and legal interests of organizations and individuals." The last part of his statement is a big loophole, which in the past has been used to justify harsh crackdowns against dissidents, since the party, state and people are all assumed in official rhetoric to be one and the same.

Dung urged the U.S. to take a more pragmatic approach to the differences between the two countries over the issue of human rights, and to continue their dialogue on this topic. His denunciation of the report was relatively mild in comparison to past denunciations of the report from Vietnamese officials.

Sources: Voice of Vietnam news Feb. 27; U.S. State Department report; and Vietnam section of the report.


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