Ambassador Shear’s Vignettes from Vietnam on International Human Rights Day

U.S. Department of State

Welcome to my new blog! I look forward to this opportunity to talk with you directly about important issues, share my perspective on the U.S.-Vietnam relationship, and perhaps most importantly hear your opinions, thoughts, and questions as we continue the progress that the United States and Vietnam have made together over the last seventeen years.

Let me start this discussion by addressing one of the most difficult but important issues in our relationship – human rights. Today is International Human Rights Day. Throughout the world, people are celebrating the rights and freedoms that every person possesses. These rights apply universally and equally to all, no matter where you were born or which country you live in.

As an American, I see “rights” as a defining feature of my country. The U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights were designed to create a government required to respect and protect the rights of its citizens. U.S. citizens enjoy freedom of association and freedom of speech. They are free to express their political views and opinions and to practice the religion of their choice. These rights, protected by law, form the foundation of America’s democracy and prosperity.

While the term “human rights” is relatively new, people all over the world have long spoken of universal concepts such as freedom and liberty. This year marks the sixty-fourth anniversary of world leaders gathering at the UN General Assembly to capture these universal concepts and ideas in a comprehensive list of rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights pledges to uphold and protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people. It also states that the way a country treats its people is a matter of legitimate international concern and subject to international standards.

The protection of these universal human rights is a central part of our identity as Americans and an important facet of our relationship with Vietnam. We have not forgotten those imprisoned for peacefully exercising these rights and have called for the release of all prisoners of conscience. We advocate for a free press and greater internet freedom by urging the Vietnamese government to allow journalists and bloggers to operate freely and without fear of arrest and detention. We promote freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of association by speaking up when people peacefully expressing their opinions are detained and imprisoned. We advocate for all people to have the freedom of religion- to believe, to express their beliefs and to worship. We will continue to publicly and privately call for the Vietnamese government to release all political prisoners and stand by our fundamental belief that no person should be imprisoned for exercising their freedom of expression or any internationally recognized human right.

We believe in the importance of human rights as universal principles. As Secretary Clinton has noted, we also see a clear connection between human rights and economic development. Companies seek markets where transparency, freedom of information, internationally recognized labor standards, and rule of law provide a safe and predictable environment for business to flourish and encourage inclusive economic growth. Controls on the Internet discourage innovation and information sharing; limitations on freedoms of expression and press prevent Vietnam from creating the stable and welcoming investment climate necessary to fully develop Vietnam’s economic potential.

We have made remarkable steps together in the expansion and growth of our relationship with Vietnam. This 64th annual International Human Rights Day gives us an opportunity to reflect once again on our obligation under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to promote these universal values, to recognize their importance to our collective economic and social development, and to encourage an environment in every country where these values can thrive and unlock the true potential of our people. It is progress in this area which will truly move our bilateral relationship further forward.

Cross posted from Vignettes from Vietnam, Ambassador Shear’s Blog.

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