Rep. Chris Smith, Chairman of the House subcommittee on global human rights, held a hearing Thursday, April 11 entitled “Highlighting Vietnamese Government Human Rights Violations in Advance of the U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue.” He gave the following opening statement:
"Thank you for joining us for this important hearing to examine the ongoing human rights situation in Vietnam.
"The Vietnamese government continues to be an egregious violator of a broad array of human rights. Our distinguished witnesses who are joining us here today will provide a detailed account; I would like to highlight just a few areas of grave concern.
"Despite the State Department’s decision in 2006 to remove Vietnam from the list of Countries of Particular Concern as designated pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act, Vietnam, in fact, continues to be among the worst violators of religious freedom in the world. According to the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom’s 2012 Annual Report, “[t]he government of Vietnam continues to control all religious communities, restrict and penalize independent religious practice severely, and repress individuals and groups viewed as challenging its authority.” I agree with USCIRF’s conclusion that Vietnam should be designated a CPC country.
"I met courageous religious leaders during my last trip to Vietnam who were struggling for fundamental human rights in their country. Unfortunately, many of them, including Father Ly and the Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, remain wrongly detained today. There are disturbing reports that Father Ly is suffering poor health. Leaders of religious organizations are not the only victimized by the Vietnamese government; individuals and small communities are also targeted by the regime. One of our witnesses today, Mr. Tien Tran, will speak of the brutality that he experienced as a member of the Con Dau parish that was violently repressed in 2010 when they tried to have a funeral procession.
"The State Department’s upgrade of Vietnam from Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 2 with respect to the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking also needs to be critically examined. The Department’s 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report states not only that Vietnamese women and children are being sexually exploited, but that there are severe labor abuses occurring as well–with the government’s complicity. The Report acknowledges that state–licensed labor export companies engage in fraud and charge illegal commissions for overseas employment, and that there are documented cases of recruitment companies ignoring pleas for help from workers in exploitative situations.
"As the sponsor of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, I am deeply disturbed that the Tier Rankings are not being better utilized by our State Department to pressure Vietnam to correct the trafficking abuses occurring within its government, not to mention those in the private sector.
"We will hear from Ms. Hui Danh who will testify about the ordeal that her sister has endured as a victim of human trafficking. I am deeply disturbed by her story because her sister’s situation actually got worse when she asked for help from the Vietnamese embassy. I greatly admire her courage and the Subcommittee is most appreciative of her willingness to speak out and bring attention to this issue.
"Despite the dismal status for human rights in Vietnam, we can exert pressure on the Vietnamese government to cease these abuses. I will be reintroducing the Vietnam Human Rights Act soon; swift Congressional action on this bill will send a strong message that Congress will not tolerate continuing human rights abuses in Vietnam.
"During the Human Rights Dialogue with Vietnam in Hanoi, it is imperative that the United States Government send an unequivocal message to the Vietnamese regime that it must end its human rights abuses against its own citizens. This message however, should not be confined to the Human Rights Dialogue; it must be raised at each opportunity that we have talks with the Vietnamese government.
"I thank all of our witnesses for appearing before the Subcommittee, and we look forward to hearing your testimony."
Click here to watch the hearing webcast, or to read the witnesses testimony.
The witnesses who spoke were:
- Anh “Joseph” Cao, former Member of U.S. Congress (only Vietnamese ever elected to U.S. Congress)
- Anna Buonya, spokesperson for Montagnard Human Rights Organization
- Vo Van Ai, President Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and Que Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam
- Hui Danh, sister of a victim of human trafficking
- Tien Tran, victim of religious persecution at the Con Dau Parish
- John Sifton, Advocacy Director for Asia, Human Rights Watch