Visiting Vietnam last December, 44 years after he first arrived as a U.S. Navy officer, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke movingly about how our nations are putting the past behind us.
Addressing business people and students, Secretary Kerry said, “I can’t think of two countries that have worked harder, done more and done better to try to bring themselves together and change history.”
Once adversaries, now partners, the U.S. and Vietnam are working together in a Comprehensive Partnership on economics, energy, the environment and international security. However, given our political, historical and cultural differences, it is understandable that there remain challenges, such as human rights.
After more than eight decades of colonial rule and more than four decades of wars, Vietnam understands the importance and value of human rights. We are engaging with the administration and Congress, taking serious steps to further human rights in our country. Vietnam aspires to be a state of the people, by the people and for the people — a goal that is at the heart of the American heritage and enshrined in Vietnam’s legal system. In 2013, after receiving more than 26 million comments from our citizens on the Internet, our National Assembly adopted a new Constitution, with its entire Chapter II devoted to 36 provisions dedicated to citizens’ rights.
As a great American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized freedom of speech and freedom of worship go hand-in-hand with freedom from fear and freedom from want. Vietnam’s economy is growing by an average of five to six percent annually, creating one million new jobs a year. From 2008 to 2012, average annual per capita income grew by 50 percent, and poverty declined by four percentage points. Economic growth allows Vietnam to invest more in the human development that is the cornerstone for human rights.
And Vietnam is one of the model nations in achieving the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals. Vietnam outperforms countries with significantly higher income levels in education and health care outcomes. The country has achieved — ahead of the deadlines — most of the goals, most notably in poverty reduction, universal primary education, gender equality, maternal and child care, and control of malaria and other epidemics.
Vietnam has joined seven of nine United Nations Treaties on Human Rights, ratifying international conventions protecting the rights of women, children, and people with disabilities and prohibiting torture and human trafficking. We have participated in successive Universal Periodic Reviews by the United Nations Human Rights Council and are implementing their recommendations. Last year, Vietnam joined the UN Convention against torture, and we are amending the penal code, reducing the number of crimes punishable by death. In 2013, Vietnam became a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.