Smith Introduces Vietnam Human Rights Act
Bill to Promote Freedom, Human Rights and Rule of Law as Part of U.S.-Vietnam Relations
Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), chair of the House Subcommittee on Global Human Rights, introduced the Vietnam Human Rights Act (HR 5621) on Wednesday to hold Vietnamese officials accountable over their treatment of religious groups and ethnic minorities.
“The communist government in Vietnam to often gets a free pass on human rights but it has one of the world’s worst records, violating the fundamental rights of its citizens including independent religious groups, ethnic minorities and individuals vulnerable to human trafficking,” Smith stated.
“Governments that brutally assault the fundamental human rights of their own people are unlikely to become trustworthy allies. Thus, as the Vietnamese government seeks to expand trade and security relationships with the United States, we must link tangible human rights improvements to better relations, including by seeking the release over 150 political and religious prisoners,” Smith said.
Smith’s bill would make it U.S. policy to assess and sanction Vietnamese officials and others complicit in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights or particularly severe violations of religious freedom using the Global Magntisky Human Rights Accountability Act (P.L. 114-328) and the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (22 USC 6401).
It would also make it U.S. policy to prioritize international religious freedom, internet freedom, labor rights, and the release of all prisoners of conscience in Vietnam as fundamental U.S. national interests, and make access to the General System of Preference and loans from international financial institutions contingent on the Government of Vietnam settling claims by U.S. citizens for illegal expropriated properties.
The bill also authorizes new anti-trafficking projects and others programs to assist Vietnamese women and girls under the goals of the Girls Count Act (P.L. 114-24). It also creates the Vietnam Ethnic Minority Development Fund, targeting economic development and technical assistance programs to areas with the highest concentration of human rights abuses; and requires new reporting on internet freedom in Vietnam and globally.
Representatives Barbara Comstock (R-VA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) are original cosponsors of the bill, sending a bipartisan message to the Vietnamese government that continued repression of its citizens is unacceptable as part of United States-Vietnam relations.
The bill has passed the House of Representatives three times (2004, 2008, 2012) with overwhelming bipartisan support, only to languish in the Senate.
“A freer Vietnam is a U.S. national interest,” said Smith. “With its economic potential, dynamic population and critical location, a free and modern Vietnam has the potential to be the strategic anchor of the region and a close U.S. ally. The U.S. should not be propping up the privileged elite of the Communist Party, but rather pressing for liberties and rights desired by the vast majority of the Vietnamese people.”
“This bill sends the message that a freer Vietnam is a U.S. national interest,” said Smith. “With its economic potential, dynamic population and critical location, a free and modern Vietnam has the potential to be the strategic anchor of the region and a close U.S. ally. U.S. policies should not be propping up the privileged elite of the Communist Party, but rather pressing for liberties and rights desired by the vast majority of the Vietnamese people.”
Smith has held more than a dozen hearings on human rights, religious freedom, and democracy in Vietnam.