House Passes Smith Bill to Promote Human Rights Reform in Vietnam
Bill would block increases to non-humanitarian aid if abuses continue
The U.S. House of Representatives today forcefully condemned the ongoing human rights abuses in Vietnam and approved legislation authored by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) to hold the Vietnamese Government accountable for further human rights abuses.The U.S. House of Representatives today forcefully condemned the ongoing human rights abuses in Vietnam and approved legislation authored by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) to hold the Vietnamese Government accountable for further human rights abuses.
“Sadly, in recent months, the human rights situation in Vietnam has deteriorated and become substantially worse—and over the last couple months a new, ugly wave of brutal repression has been launched by Hanoi. Some of the bravest champions of democracy have been dragged into court and sent to the Gulag for promoting human rights, including trade unions,” Smith said during House debate of the bill (Access Smith’s entire Floor statement here).
Smith’s bill, the “Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2007” (H.R. 3096), prohibits increased U.S. non-humanitarian assistance to the Government of Vietnam unless there is verifiable evidence that the Vietnamese Government has made substantial progress towards the release of its political and religious prisoners, respecting the right to freedom of religion, returning properties, allowing free and open access to refugee programs, respecting the human rights of members of all ethnic minority groups, and taking appropriate steps to end trafficking in persons.
Additionally, Smith’s bill authorizes $4 million over two years for organizations and individuals that promote human rights in Vietnam, authorizes over $10 million to help stop the Vietnamese Government’s jamming of Radio Free Asia, and requires the State Department to issue an annual report on the progress of human rights reform in Vietnam.
The “Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2007” does not restrict any humanitarian assistance to the people of Vietnam—including assistance to combat the spread of HIV-AIDS—in any way.
“Massive human rights violations perpetrated by the Government of Vietnam cannot be overlooked. They cannot be trivialized. These human rights violations—which are ongoing and they occur as we meet here today—cannot continue without equally serious consequences,” Smith told his colleagues.
Earlier this year, the parish house of Father Ly—a former prisoner of conscience who spent 14 years in prison—was raided. Father Ly was moved to a remote location and placed under house arrest. Father Ly is an advisor to “Block 8406”—a democracy movement which started on April 8, 2006, hence the name 8406—and a new political party, the Vietnam Progression Party.
On March 30th, Father Ly was sentenced to 8 years in prison for distributing “anti-government” materials.
Father Ly was among a number of dissidents swept up in a recent crackdown in Vietnam. Vietnamese police arrested another member of “Block 8406,” principal spokesperson for the Vietnam Progression Party and the founder of the Vietnamese Labor Movement, Le Thi Cong Nhan. On the same day—March 6, 2007—Vietnamese police arrested one of Vietnam’s few practicing human rights lawyers, Nguyen Van Dai.
Smith noted that the court proceedings for Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan read like “a chapter out of George Orwell’s chilling book 1984.”
“I want to tell the persecuted—you are not forgotten. Republican and Democrat alike want you to know you are not forgotten. We care deeply about you and about your right to exercise your fundamental human rights and we will not forget you—not now, not ever. And we will do all that is humanly possible, God willing, to effectuate your release and hopefully, some day, welcome a free and democratic Vietnam,” said Smith, who authored a resolution, which passed the House earlier this year, that insists the Vietnamese Government immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience who have been arrested in a recent wave of government oppression.
Smith’s bill has garnered the support of powerful allies, including the American Legion.
In a letter of support distributed to Members of Congress, American Legion National Commander Martin “Marty” Conatser wrote, “This legislation makes clear the position of the Congress and the people of the United States to have the government of Vietnam take steps to ensure that voices of political opposition, and those expressing religious views, are not arbitrarily silenced.”
Smith introduced bills similar to the “Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2007” in the 107th Congress (H.R. 2833) and 108th Congress (H.R. 1587) and both times they passed the House, but were never taken up in Senate.
Smith called on his colleagues in the Senate not to let the “Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2007” meet the same fate.
“On behalf of those who are risking their freedom and their lives in Vietnam to obtain democracy for their fellow citizens and their country, I would plead with my distinguished colleagues in the Senate not to allow economic or other interests to obstruct these measures that will assist them in their efforts,” Smith said.