Under Secretary Zeya’s Remarks for the 30th Annual Commemoration of Vietnam Human Rights Day


U.S. State Department | 2024.05.14


Good morning and thank you for the warm introduction.

I would first like to thank the Vietnam Human Rights Day Advisory Board for helping organize today’s events; our distinguished moderator and speakers for providing their insights on this vitally important issue; and Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick for sponsoring this year’s commemoration. Thank you, all.

Distinguished senators and members of Congress, friends, and colleagues, it’s an honor to be here with you all today to mark the 30th commemoration of Vietnam Human Rights Day.

On this anniversary, we have an opportunity to reflect on the decades of work and tireless efforts of courageous champions, including many in attendance today, to advance human rights in Vietnam.

I want to salute Dr. Quan Nguyen and Dr. Nguyen Dan Que in particular, and the countless other human rights defenders, ethnic minority and religious freedom advocates, and members of civil society who for decades have called upon the government of Vietnam to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

I commend you for your unwavering leadership and dedication to these critically important issues. Thank you!

The United States is committed to a world in which human rights are protected, human rights defenders are celebrated, and those who commit human rights abuses are held accountable.

Under the Biden – Harris Administration, the United States has pursued a foreign policy that unites our democratic values with our diplomatic leadership and is centered on the defense of democracy and protection of human rights.

As you know, this past year was significant for the U.S. – Vietnam relationship. In September 2023, President Biden and Secretary Blinken visited Vietnam and announced an upgrade in our bilateral relationship to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. While we seek to deepen our economic partnership and people to people ties with Vietnam so that we can work together to address today’s global challenges, this engagement remains guided by our democratic values and the protection of human rights. In fact, one of the core pillars of our comprehensive strategic partnership is promoting and protecting human rights.

President Biden directly underscored last September during his visit the universality of human rights and the importance of our bilateral cooperation to advance fundamental freedoms, including freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religion or belief, at home and abroad. Secretary Blinken and our most senior leaders continue to reiterate this message and our longstanding bilateral human rights dialogue is centered on engaging in meaningful dialogue that leads to reform. It is in that regard that the United States continues to have serious concerns about the state of human rights in Vietnam.

The Department of State’s recently released Human Rights Report on Vietnam documents a continued crackdown by authorities on human rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly freedom of expression.

We continue to raise our concerns directly with the Vietnamese government, calling for reforms, and are integrating human rights across our bilateral relationship.

Allow me to speak to three human rights concerns in Vietnam that we are particularly focused on.

First, we are deeply concerned that Vietnam continues to impose severe limitations on freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and freedom of religion or belief.

This includes Vietnam’s use of vague national security provisions to criminalize the exercise of fundamental freedoms. This has led to a troubling number of cases of harassment, unjust arrests, and harsh prison sentences targeting human rights defenders, independent journalists, ethnic minority and religious freedom advocates, and everyday people who peacefully express their views.

We remain deeply concerned regarding the welfare of unjustly detained political prisoners, like Pham Doan Trang, a journalist who remains in prison despite her reported deteriorating health.

The work of Trang and other independent journalists is essential to building a prosperous and resilient society. They make invaluable contributions to accountability and transparency and give local communities a voice in addressing challenges like environmental pollution, corruption, and access to public resources.

Trang’s detention is not an isolated incident. Human rights organizations estimate that there are more than 180 unjustly detained political prisoners in Vietnam.

We continue to call on the government of Vietnam to release Trang and other unjustly detained prisoners.

We are also concerned that the government of Vietnam maintains significant control over religious practices and that Vietnam’s laws include vague provisions to restrict the exercise of freedom of religion or belief in the stated interest of national security and social unity.

Religious actors, particularly those representing groups without government recognition or certificates of registration, continue to report incidents of government harassment including physical assaults, arrests, travel restrictions, and property seizure or destruction.

As many of you may know, Secretary Blinken re-designated Vietnam as a Special Watch List country for engaging in or tolerating severe violations of religious freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act in December 2023.

To avoid another Special Watch List designation, Vietnam must take significant and lasting actions to improve the status of religious freedom for all.

The United States will continue to press Vietnam on this issue and urge respect for the rule of law and the rights of individuals to exercise freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religion or belief.

Second, we remain concerned that civic space and the ability for non-governmental organizations to operate are highly constrained in law and practice.

NGOs play a critical role in supporting government efforts to address pressing social problems, filling gaps in public service provision, and promoting civic engagement, including by marginalized ethnic minority and religious groups.

That is why it is especially concerning that at least six prominent environmental defenders and NGO leaders have been convicted of tax evasion since 2021. These convictions have left many other NGO leaders afraid that they might be targeted next.

The trials of Hoang Thi Minh Hong, Dang Dinh Bach, and other environmental defenders raise serious concerns about respect for fair trial guarantees and other human rights.

Having NGOs at the table, and operating without fear of retaliation or retribution, is not only a commitment Vietnam made under the Just Energy Transition Partnership, but it is a pledge both of our countries made as members on the UN Human Rights Council.

We will continue to call on Vietnam to create an enabling environment for NGOs to operate and contribute to their nation’s development, including by releasing unjustly detained NGO leaders.

Thirdly, I am also deeply troubled by Vietnam authorities’ efforts to reach outside their borders to coerce, harass, intimidate, surveil, and censor human rights defenders, independent journalists, and others for exercising their rights. Such actions undermine Vietnam’s commitment to a rules-based international order and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The alleged forced return of Vietnamese blogger and political refugee, Duong Van Thai, who was reportedly abducted by Vietnamese authorities in April 2023, while living in exile in Thailand, is one of the most recent examples of transnational repression reported.

I know many of you here have also had harrowing experiences with transnational repression and continue to contend with the far-reaching, negative consequences of that on your lives and those of your colleagues and family members.

I assure you the United States will continue to push back against governments that arbitrarily and unlawfully surveil, threaten, and attack individuals, both at home and abroad, who are exercising their universal human rights.

The United States stands with and supports those targeted by acts of transnational repression, and we are committed to promoting accountability for its perpetrators.

Finally, as we continue to press Vietnam to address these serious human rights concerns, we are also actively encouraging the government to deepen progress we have seen in recent years to improve the protection of women, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQI+ persons, as well as strengthen labor rights.

As a member of the United Nations, we call on Vietnam, as we do all countries, to uphold its obligations to human rights and to actively work to promote and protect these rights at home and abroad.

I want to close by again drawing attention to the long-standing dedication and bravery of Vietnam’s human rights defenders and civil society leaders for their continued work to advance human rights and fundamental freedoms despite the significant threats and risks they face.

What gives me hope for an improved state of human rights is the resilience, the perseverance, and the ongoing leadership of those in this room and other members of civil society, both inside and outside Vietnam and among the diaspora.

Your resolve is an inspiration, and the United States will always stand behind those who work toward a more just, free, and equitable Vietnam.

Thank you.




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