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ICC NOTE: As the political fallout of the Obama Administrations decision to lift the decades long weapons embargo on Vietnam, the fallout of a less than stellar critique on the nations human rights record has merely begun. In reality, the political decisions are inherently linked with human rights in this situation as it was noted in an earlier post the weapons embargo was one of the remaining bargaining chips the United States and international community had. As a prime example of how important the issue is to the Vietnamese government, once the embargo was lifted with the U.S. there was no reason to allow all the invited activists to attend the meeting with President Obama. Nor did it seem prudent on their part to release the 100 or so prisoners of conscience that include many Christians and other religious minorities. It will be a situation to continue to monitor on how Vietnam moves forward regarding its human rights record. 

5/25/2016 Vietnam (Radio Free Asia) – U.S. President Barack Obama isn’t giving up on the human rights agenda in Vietnam, but it’s unclear if his visit will have any impact on the Southeast Asian country whose dismal record includes an estimated 100 or more political prisoners.

Obama on Tuesday met with a handful of human rights activists and admonished the government in an address that was televised nationally.

“Upholding these rights is not a threat to stability but actually reinforces stability and is the foundation of progress,” Obama said in a speech from Hanoi’s National Convention Center that was attended by government officials and students from five universities.

“Vietnam will do it differently than the United States does,” he said. “But there are these basic principles that I think we all have to try to work on and improve.”

Obama told the audience that economic growth and human rights are intertwined.

“When there is freedom of expression and freedom of speech, and when people can share ideas and access the Internet and social media without restriction, that fuels the innovation economies need to thrive,” he said.

“That’s where new ideas happen.  That’s how a Facebook starts.  That’s how some of our greatest companies began — because somebody had a new idea.  It was different, and they were able to share it.”

Hanoi usually blocks any criticism of the state from airing on state television, and while broadcasting Obama uncut could be read as a good sign for an improving human rights climate, the government also prevented some prominent activists from joining a meeting of rights defenders with Obama.

Activists blocked

It was a point Obama emphasized after his meeting with the advocates in the JW Marriott hotel, as he revealed that some advocates were prevented from attending.

“I should note that there were several other activists who were invited who were prevented from coming for various reasons, and I think it’s an indication of the fact that, although there has been some modest progress…there are still folks who find it very difficult to assemble and organize peacefully around issues that they care deeply about.”

According to media reports, businessman and politician Nguyen Quang A; prominent blogger and journalist Pham Doan Trang; and attorney Ha Huy Son, who specializes in defending dissidents in court, were kept from the meeting by various security forces.

Human rights activists said Vietnam’s actions on Tuesday underscore their argument that the White House made a mistake when it lifted the decades-old arms embargo against Vietnam on Monday without winning concrete concessions on rights issues.

“Vietnam has demonstrated itself that it doesn’t deserve the closer ties the U.S. is offering,” John Sifton of Human Rights Watch told The New York Times. “Detaining or preventing civil society from meeting President Obama is not just an insult to the president, it’s also a human rights abuse in itself, a deprivation of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of movement.”

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