U.S. and Vietnam in 'serious' rights talks
HANOI - The
United States has handed Vietnam a
list of prisoners of conscience it
wants released and urged Hanoi to
improve the country's overall human
rights situation, a senior U.S. official
Bennett Freeman, U.S. deputy
assistant secretary in the Bureau of
Democracy, Human Rights and
Labor, said he had productive talks
so far during the seventh round of
bilateral human rights dialogue
between Washington and Hanoi.
Freeman told Reuters he had
discussed individual cases of
Vietnamese jailed for their political or
religious views and given to
government officials a list of inmates
Washington would like freed. He
gave no names.
``Our discussions so far have been
serious and substantive. We attach
importance to our relationship with
Vietnam but we look forward to
further improvement on human
rights,'' said Freeman, who was
scheduled to fly to Cambodia
``I emphasized the importance of
continuing progress on human rights
and labor as an important part of the
bilateral relationship,'' added
Freeman, who said Hanoi had
demonstrated a willingness to
address the issues.
In a February report on human rights
worldwide, the State Department
cited sources that put the number of
prisoners held for political reasons in
Vietnam at 100-150. Rights group
Amnesty International put the figure
at 40, the report said.
Freeman has been accompanied to
communist Vietnam by Robert
Seiple, U.S. ambassador at large for
religious affairs. Seiple has been
focusing on the issue of religious
freedom in Vietnam, although he has
not yet been available to comment.
The visits throw the spotlight on
Vietnam's human rights and religious
record at a time when Hanoi has
been inching closer to reaching a
landmark trade agreement with the
Some analysts have said Vietnam's
poor human rights record could
hinder approval of the agreement by
the U.S. Congress. A trade deal
would incorporate Normal Trade
Relations (NTR), once called Most
Favored Nation trade status, and
also help Hanoi's bid to join the
World Trade Organization.
Freeman said he had discussed with
Hanoi a 1997 directive on
``administrative detention,'' which
allows authorities to detain people
without trial for up to two years.
Freeman also praised Vietnam for
last year's mass prison amnesty,
which saw a number of well-known
dissidents walk free, but he urged
Hanoi to take similar steps soon. --
In addition, Freeman asked Hanoi to
focus on the state of the country's
prison conditions, which have been
criticized by Western governments
and human rights organizations.
Nearly 8,000 prisoners were
released in two separate amnesties
last year. But some of those
dissidents have since complained of
harassment by security officials.
Hanoi, which tolerates little internal
dissent, denies that Vietnamese are
jailed for religious or political beliefs.
Reuters - July 13, 1999.