Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

The government of Vietnam is a one-party state in which citizens cannot change their government, have limited access and influence over government decisions, and are prohibited from organizing grassroots political movements that advocate a multiparty political system. The government arbitrarily detains individuals calling for political 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 tightened controls over the press in 2008 and continues to limit citizens' privacy rights and freedoms of speech, assembly, movement, and association. The government also limits workers' rights, especially to organize independent labor unions. While the government strictly regulates the organized activities of religious groups and some groups are banned from practicing, citizens are generally free to practice their religion, and the government continues to recognize many new religious denominations.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

Persuading the country 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 regularly urges the government to eliminate restrictions on fundamental freedoms, encourages meaningful political reform, and raises specific 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 and independent legal institutions, and a vibrant NGO sector; and countering trafficking in persons. The U.S. Government uses diplomatic influence; targeted dialogue with government officials on the benefits to the country of expanded freedoms and an improved human rights environment; public diplomacy efforts aimed at educating key decision makers, future leaders, and the general public; capacity building programs in a variety of fields that strengthen relevant civil society organizations; and formal dialogues 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.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

In calls on leading government officials and in statements to the local and international media, the U.S. ambassador continues promote human rights as a top U.S. priority. The ambassador regularly calls for the government to improve the human rights situation, to release prisoners of conscience, and to enhance further religious freedom. The ambassador has reiterated that a strengthened bilateral relationship and increasing socioeconomic development are related to continued progress with respect to human rights. Specifically, the ambassador meets regularly with top officials of the ministries of public security and foreign affairs to press for the release of prisoners of conscience and calls for embassy access to individual prisoners of concern to ascertain their conditions and express U.S. interest in their cases. In addition, the ambassador meets with other officials, including the ministers of justice and communication and information as well as leaders of the National Assembly to press for changes to institute rule of law and allow for greater Internet and press freedoms. These include calls to reform the criminal code, roll back recent restrictions on press freedom, and allow foreign news bureaus greater operating rights. He also meets with political dissidents and civil society leaders to encourage their efforts to voice differing opinions that are essential to fostering democracy.

In his meetings with the Vietnamese community in the United States as well as with a wide range of U.S.-based groups, the ambassador listens to specific human rights concerns and seeks input on how best to foster change in Vietnam. The ambassador also meets with top religious leaders in Vietnam to assess the religious freedom situation and difficulties religious groups encounter under the country's legal regime on religion. U.S. officials regularly raise these concerns in meetings with the government's Committee on Religious Affairs and other senior officials, including provincial leaders, where specific problems exist. The United States continues to hold an annual Human Rights Dialogue, in which U.S. officials raise candidly a wide range of issues and concerns. A Human Rights Dialogue took place in Hanoi in May 2008.

The U.S. Government held a bilateral labor dialogue in 2008 to continue labor cooperation in such areas as improving labor inspection and enforcement and preventing and eliminating exploitative child labor and trafficking in persons in Vietnam. The ambassador frequently encourages the government to continue with labor reforms, including revising the labor code and the Trade Union law. The embassy is also working with the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs and the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor to promote industrial relations and better dispute resolution mechanisms. Human resource development, social insurance, expanded labor rights, occupational health and safety, and labor export issues are other important areas of the embassy's ongoing labor dialogue. 

The embassy participates regularly in an international donor dialogue with the government on corruption, sponsored by the Central Steering Committee on Anti-Corruption. On press freedom, the embassy supports the professionalization of the media by regularly bringing local journalists to the United States for training through the International Visitor Leadership Program and conducting training in Vietnam and the region. The United States also actively facilitates the capacity building of civil institutions and NGOs, including through programs to train lawyers and to limit the spread of HIV/AIDS. The U.S. Government engages the government's National Steering Committee on 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 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.