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Key seeks dialogue on Vietnam human rights issues

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
John Key
John Key

By Kate Chapman of NZPA

Hanoi, Vietnam July 11 NZPA - Human rights issues are a serious concern in Vietnam but Prime Minister John Key says improving New Zealand's relationship with the southeast Asian nation can help.

Mr Key, who is in Vietnam, said the Government was aware of human rights issues in Vietnam and discussed them with the Vietnamese.

"I don't think we're going to make progress lecturing people but we can certainly make progress having a discussion and dialogue with them, pointing out the expectations of the developed world when it comes to human rights.

"And from time to time there may always be issues that may either involve New Zealanders or involve others where we step in and take a strong stance," he said.

Amnesty International said in its 2009 report on human rights in Vietnam a crackdown on dissidents continued, with severe restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly.

A group of Catholics peacefully protesting over a land dispute were attacked and more than 200 ethnic minority Montagnards fled to Cambodia to seek asylum from persecution, the report said.

The United States State Department said Vietnam's human rights record was unsatisfactory, with instances of police abusing suspects during arrest, detention and interrogation, and people being denied the right to fair and expeditious trials.

According to the Human Rights Watch group, three Vietnamese men who campaigned for workers rights and victims of land confiscation had been detained since February.

It was unknown if charges had been laid against the men who were not allowed to contact lawyers or their families.

The group's deputy director for Asia, Phil Robertson, said given the harsh treatment of political detainees in Vietnam, he was concerned authorities would use torture or cruel treatment to extract confessions from the men.

Mr Key said while human rights issues in Vietnam were not perfect, progress was being made.

"We try our best to use our economic relationship and the growing strength of the relationship to improve human rights," Mr Key said.

"One option is just to say that we wouldn't have a commercial relationship with a country that had a human rights record that we didn't approve of, but I'm not sure that that would actually take us anywhere."

Instead, the Government would use its friendship to reach out and speak about the issues.

New Zealand's two-way trade with Vietnam is worth about $500 million a year; exports to Vietnam totalled about $315m, 40 percent of which was dairy products.

New Zealand mainly imported wood, furniture and clothing.

New Zealand essentially has free trade agreement with Vietnam through the Asean-New Zealand-Australia agreement, to which both are parties.

Vietnam was also involved in Trans Pacific Partnership) negotiations.

Mr Key hoped building on that economic relationship would put New Zealand in a position to guide Vietnam to improved human rights issues.

Today he met with Vice President Nguyen Thi Dzoan and laid a wreath at the mausoleum of the late president Ho Chi Minh and at the monument of the National Heroes and Matyrs to commemorate the 37 New Zealander servicemen who died during the Vietnam war.

Mr Key departs Vietnam tomorrow after a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and a courtesy call on President Nguyen Minh Triet.

(Kate Chapman travelled to Vietnam with the help of funding from the Asia New Zealand Foundation)

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