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05/16/2012 Vietnam (Eurasia Review) – The U.S. State Department expressed “great concern” Tuesday over the deteriorating human rights situation in Vietnam, saying it is studying whether the tightly-governed state should be included in a blacklist of nations suppressing religious freedom.

Describing the situation as “unacceptable,” the department’s human rights chief Michael Posner said Hanoi’s desire to increase engagement with the U.S. is contingent on measurable progress in improving its rights record.

“In Vietnam today, respect for human rights continues to deteriorate, as it has for the past several years,” Posner, who is Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, said at a hearing held by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress in Washington.

“These are issues of great concern to the United States government.”

He went on to criticize Hanoi’s limiting of religious freedoms, including the harassment of Christian and Buddhist groups, and registration obstacles for religious groups.

“Although Vietnam’s Constitution laws guarantee freedom of religion, these laws are not applied consistently,” he said.

He said that the U.S. State Department is aware that many people in Vietnam, particularly the younger generation, want to share ideas freely and be connected to the rest of the world, and that they desire democracy.

“We support their aspirations and our efforts to publicize the human rights problems there are part of our effort to help them find their voices,” Posner said.

But despite acknowledging major concerns over Vietnam’s rights record, Posner stopped short of pledging anything more than continued dialogue with the one-party Communist nation.

When asked whether the State Department would consider including Vietnam on its list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) on religious freedom, Posner said the U.S. plans to evaluate the country on a continuing basis.

“Our impression is … in terms of religious freedom the situation has not gotten better, but it’s at a sort of steady stage,” he said.

“It is an open process and we can make a judgment at any time … We are looking at it on an ongoing basis.”

A CPC designation can carry economic sanctions unless governments address U.S concerns over their restrictions of religious freedom.

In March, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a congressional watchdog, recommended Vietnam be returned to the State Department list of the world’s worst religious freedom offenders.

The State Department had included Vietnam in the CPC list from 2004 to 2006 but has since ignored repeated calls by the commission to reinstate the country on the blacklist.

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