US Vice President Kamala Harris stressed human rights concerns during a meeting with Vietnamese civil society leaders and then again in a press conference before departing Hanoi on Thursday – a day after a state critic was jailed on charges of subversion.
“We will always be true to our values and we will not shy away from speaking out even when those conversations may be difficult to have and perhaps difficult to hear,” Harris said.
During the discussion with Vietnamese “changemakers” at the US ambassador’s residence, Harris spoke with advocates from Vietnamese social advocacy organizations that focus on issues related to disabilities, transgender rights and the environment.
“Transgender people deserve equal access to health care service. This is an issue we still face in the United States and it is an issue here in Vietnam,” Harris said.
She added that “women need to live free of gender-based violence” and that “people with disabilities need full accessibility.”
Vietnam has long been criticized for its human rights record, particularly the silencing of criticism of the ruling Communist Party.
On Wednesday, a court in south-central Phu Yen province sentenced a man to 10 years in prison for “engaging in activities to overthrow the people’s administration.”
“The US and Vietnam hold different opinions about human rights,” said Pham Quang Minh, a former dean of the University for Social Sciences and Humanities in Hanoi. “Vietnam always says there are no political prisoners or prisoners of conscience, but rather that people are arrested for breaking the law.”
“That is why Vietnam continues to arrest people who criticize the government under anti-state charges or breaking cybersecurity laws,” Minh added.
Nguyen Quang A, a retired banker and prominent dissident activist, told dpa: “When the two sides discuss human rights, the Vietnamese government always says they will listen. But listening is one thing, doing is another. I would never have high expectations for changes to human rights issues in Vietnam after the visit of a vice president.”
Rights group Amnesty International said in a December 2020 report that they continue to chronicle arbitrary arrests and prosecutions of human rights defenders. The report also documented a record number of prisoners of conscience, 40 per cent of whom are behind bars for their social media use.
Harris’ visit, which began on Tuesday and ended on Thursday with a flight to Hawaii, marks the first time a US vice president has visited since the Vietnam War ended in 1975.