WASHINGTON, D.C. (Aug. 2, 2013) — The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday condemns the ongoing human rights abuses and religious persecution in Vietnam by passing the Vietnam Human Rights Act, HR 1897, almost unanimously with a vote of 405 to 3.
Dr. Nguyen Dinh Thang, executive director of Boat People SOS (BPSOS), said today that the near-unanimous passage of the Vietnam Human Rights Act by the House of Representatives is evidence that “Congress and the American people understand that the United States cannot and should not enter into a strategic partnership with a regime that systematically oppresses its own people.”
The Act would condition non-humanitarian assistance to the government of Vietnam on a number of human rights benchmarks including the release of political and religious prisoners, respect for freedom of religion and the rights of ethnic minorities, and an end to Vietnamese government complicity in human trafficking. Other provisions of the bill authorize assistance to Vietnamese human rights and democracy advocates, measures to overcome the Vietnamese government’s jamming of Radio Free Asia, and extension of refugee resettlement programs for applicants who were detained or otherwise denied access to these programs.
But the action that makes the passage of the Vietnam Human Rights Act even more significant, and further conveys the message that the U.S. House of Representatives is increasingly troubled by the human rights and religious freedom abuses of the Vietnamese Government is a Congressional hearing held on the same day in the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade in which several Members of Congress questioned whether Vietnam should be admitted as a member of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Representative Ted Poe (R.-Texas), who chairs the trade subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, raised his concern over human rights abuses going on in Vietnam. Practically all members of Congress present at the hearing asked whether it was appropriate to “reward” a government like that of Vietnam at a time when its human rights record is getting worse: Representative Brad Sherman (D.-California), Representative Alan Lowenthal (D.-California), and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R.-California).
Former Congressman Joseph Cao, in his written testimony to be included in the hearing’s record, vehemently opposes Vietnam’s participation in the TPP on several grounds, in one of which he states: “Prisoners of conscience in Viet Nam are falsely accused and convicted on bogus charges because they attempted to organize independent labor unions, or advocate for the rights of workers to organize…”
About the passage of Vietnam Human Rights Act, Thang noted that “the overwhelming House vote on human rights in Vietnam and the Trans-Pacific Partnership hearing took place only a week after the official visit to Washington of Vietnam’s President, Truong Tan Sang. Although both Sang and President Obama expressed confidence that the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement would soon be concluded, this week’s developments suggest that many in Congress want to see real progress on human rights before deciding whether the Vietnamese government can be trusted as a partner and ally.”
Finally, Thang noted that during his U.S. visit President Sang had issued a public appeal to the Vietnamese-American community to “help build the relationship” between Vietnam and the United States. Thang responded that “the overwhelming majority of Vietnamese-Americans are already working to build a relationship with the people of Vietnam based on shared values: freedom, democracy, and the dignity of individual human beings. The Vietnamese government can contribute to such relationship by complying with the core principles of the Vietnam Human Rights Act: release all political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience, respect the rights of religious believers and ethnic minorities, stop trafficking human beings in the government’s labor export program, and stop denying the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.”
Boat People SOS, founded in 1980, is a Vietnamese-American organization with operations across the U.S. and in three Asian countries.