“As the U.S. lifted its decades-long arms embargo with Vietnam during President Barack Obama’s visit there, human rights advocates argued that the country had not sufficiently improved its human rights record to warrant the deal.
The advocacy group Human Rights Watch expressed serious disappointment over the deal. “President Obama just gave Vietnam a reward that they don’t deserve,” John Sifton, Asia policy director for the group, said May 23.
After the U.S. had pressured Vietnam “for years” to improve its “human rights record,” he continued, it had not responded in kind. “It has not repealed any repressive laws, nor released any significant number of political prisoners, nor made any substantial pledges,” he said.
Weeks in advance of President Obama’s visit to Vietnam, human rights advocates were insisting that the U.S. make any deal with the country contingent upon human rights concessions. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) asked that the trip not even be made unless the Vietnamese government released religious prisoners. There should be no agreement struck “until there is significant, verifiable, and irreversible improvements in human rights in Vietnam,” he said.“