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The Role of the International Community

In December 1999, Vietnam's donors pledged U.S. $2.8 million in aid to Vietnam, with $700 million conditioned on accelerated economic reforms. For the most part donors were publicly silent about human rights violations, aside from the international outcry after the executionof Canadian citizen Nguyen Thi Hiep. Convicted of drug trafficking, she was executed by firing squad in April, despite the fact that Vietnam had pledged to review her case on the basis of additional information provided by the Canadian government. Afterwards Canada temporarily withdrew its ambassador and its support for Vietnam's entry to the World Trade Organization. Talks on restoring full diplomatic ties resumed in September, when Hiep's mother, Tran Thi Cam, was granted an early release from prison.

In April, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights stated that it would be examining complaints against Vietnam for human rights violations under the "1503 Procedure," a confidential procedure whereby complaints are investigated and sent to the full U.N. Commission on Human Rights. In May, Vietnam was elected to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights for a three-year term. The U.N. Development Program's Growth in Governance program focused on legislative, judicial, and procedural reforms, including revision of the labor code.

United States

U.S. policy towards Vietnam centered on using trade and investment as a means to press for gradual political and economic reforms. Human rights concerns were addressed through a bilateral "dialogue" meeting that failed to include concrete incentives for progress and had minimal effect on overall U.S.-Vietnam relations. The State Department's annual report on religious freedom provoked an angry response from the Vietnamese government, which rejected being labeled one of several "totalitarian or authoritarian regimes" along with China, Myanmar, Laos, and North Korea. In July, after four years of negotiations, Vietnam signed a bilateral trade agreement with the United States. As of this writing the agreement had not received U.S. Congressional approval. In November, President Clinton was scheduled to become the first U.S. president to visit Vietnam since Richard Nixon in 1969.


Japan, which was Vietnam's largest donor, announced in June that it had extended Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Vietnam for another five years. The foreign ministry was considering including human rights and legal reform in a bilateral dialogue with Vietnam at the vice-foreign ministers' level beginning late in 2000. In 1999 (the latest year for which figures were available), Japan gave $680 million in loans and grants to Vietnam.

European Union

The E.U., Vietnam's third largest donor and its biggest trade partner, has provided approximately U.S. $2 billion in ODA since 1993. Most of the bilateral assistance to Vietnam came from France, Germany, Denmark and Sweden. During a visit to Vietnam in May, the Swedish Minister of Culture called for more openness in the media and greater democracy when she announced a grant of U.S. $4 million to support media training and live broadcasting programs. During a December 1999 visit to Hanoi, Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman raised issues of democratization and political prisoners.

Relevant Human Rights Watch Reports:

The Silencing of Dissent, 5/00

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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