Allen S. Weiner is a senior lecturer in law at Stanford Law School, where he serves as director of the Program in International and Comparative Law. He has filed a petition with the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention challenging the legality of the arrest and detention of 17 Vietnamese activists last year.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced in Hanoi last month that the United States would sign a new regional trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, with Vietnam by year’s end. Vietnam’s desire to promote economic development through expanded trade is understandable, and U.S. interest in supporting Vietnam’s economic advancement is commendable. But even as Vietnam seeks to move forward economically, its political system remains mired in a repressive and authoritarian past. Indeed, Clinton’s announcement came shortly before the one-year anniversary of the first stage of the Vietnamese government’s detention of activists whose “crime” has been to advocate governmental action on a broad range of human rights and social justice issues, including environmental, health, legal, political, land and corruption-based concerns.
To her credit, Clinton raised concerns about Vietnam’s human rights record during her recent trip, including the detention of activists, lawyers and bloggers whose only crime is the peaceful expression of ideas.
U.S. officials should demand that Vietnam can start by releasing the activists arrested last year and others who have been detained solely for seeking a voice in their country’s future.
The United States should not reward Vietnam by including it in the Trans-Pacific Partnership while the government in Hanoi uses its legal systems to stifle dissent and perpetrate human rights abuses.