(By Patrick Goodenough, CNSNews.com) – Vietnamese pro-democracy activists have welcomed the passage of legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that ties future increases in U.S. non-humanitarian aid to Hanoi to verifiable improvements in its human rights record.
The Vietnam Human Rights Act, passed by a 414-3 vote Tuesday, also authorizes $4 million over two years for groups promoting human rights and nonviolent democratic change in Vietnam, and another $10-plus million towards efforts to overcome the government’s jamming of Radio Free Asia.
It requires the State Department to issue an annual report on the progress of human rights reform in Vietnam and the president will also have to confirm that Vietnamese officials are not involved in human trafficking. Humanitarian aid is not affected.
“This important vote by the Congress tells the Vietnamese Communist Party that there is a price to pay for the ongoing human rights crackdown,” Duy Hoang, a U.S.-based representative of an underground opposition party, Viet Tan, told Cybercast News Service.
“The Hanoi communist regime can try to deny imprisoning people for their peaceful beliefs, but these lies only underscore the repressive nature of the regime,” he said.
Hoang said Vietnamese-Americans would focus their lobbying efforts on the Senate, to have the legislation become law.
Founded in 1982 Viet Tan — the Vietnamese Reform Party — says it has members inside Vietnam and among Vietnamese communities around the world.
Republican Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, who sponsored the legislation, said on the House floor Tuesday that the human rights situation in Vietnam has deteriorated in recent months, and that “a new, ugly wave of brutal repression has been launched by Hanoi.”
In a statement, Smith cited the case of Nguyen Van Ly, a Catholic priest and former prisoner of conscience. Ly was arrested earlier this year and on March 30 was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment for distributing anti-government material and communicating with pro-democracy activists abroad. Ly served as an advisor to a nascent democracy movement called Block 8406 – a reference to its launch date of April 8, 2006.
Tuesday’s vote comes after a series of developments viewed as setbacks by opponents of the communist government, including the normalizing of U.S. trade ties with Vietnam ahead of its World Trade Organization accession, and an administration decision to remove it from a list of “countries of particular concern” (CPC) for severe religious freedom abuses.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent panel set up to advise the executive and legislative branches, has urged the administration to keep Vietnam on the CPC list, a designation that provides for a variety of steps against rights-violating governments, including sanctions.
Smith in his floor speech noted the USCIRF’s assessment that Vietnam’s removal from the blacklist had been premature.
He said the move to delist it “was part of an effort, I think, of suggesting that if they just got into the World Trade Organization, somehow they would matriculate from dictatorship to democracy. Regrettably, that has not happened.”
The Montagnard Foundation, a U.S.-based organization representing the predominantly Christian Montagnard minority in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, appealed to the American government this month to return Vietnam to the CPC list, citing new cases of arrests and harassment.
Last Friday, the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for religious freedom, John Hanford, cited Vietnam as an example of a successful U.S. effort to engage foreign countries on religious freedom — although he did acknowledge that progress “has slowed.”
Hanford said the department believed that in most cases where groups are still banned or leaders under house arrest, it was the result not of religious activity, but of political views expressed publicly by religious leaders.
“We, of course, believe in their freedom to do that, but we believe that the restrictions that they’re placed under are not the result of their religious practices.”
Smith has twice before piloted similar legislation through the House, but on both previous occasions the measures were not taken up by the Senate. He urged senators “not to allow economic or other interests to obstruct” the latest effort.
Last June, Bush hosted Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Minh Triet at the White House, and said, “In order for relations to grow deeper, it’s important for our friends to have a strong commitment to human rights and freedom and democracy.”
The three lawmakers who voted against Smith’s bill Tuesday were Reps. Tom Tancredo of Colorado and Ron Paul of Texas — both long-shot candidates for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination — and Rep. Jeff Flake or Arizona, also a Republican.
All original CNSNews.com material, copyright 1998-2007 Cybercast News Service. Reprinted here with permission from CNSNews. Visit the website at CNSNews.com.
1. a) Name the capital of Vietnam.
b) What type of government does Vietnam have?
2. Match the following people and organizations with their descriptions. (Write the name of the person/organization next to its description):
Nguyen Van Ly
a) _______________ a U.S.-based representative of Viet Tan
b) _______________ the Vietnamese Reform Party, an underground opposition party to the Communist Vietnamese government founded in 1982
c) _______________ Republican Rep. from New Jersey, who sponsored the Vietnam Human Rights Act
d) _______________ a Catholic priest and former prisoner of conscience who is again imprisonment for distributing anti-government material and communicating with pro-democracy activists abroad
e) _______________ a democracy movement in Vietnam whose name is a reference to its launch date of April 8, 2006
f) _______________ the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent panel set up to advise the executive and legislative branches
g) _______________ a U.S.-based organization representing the predominantly Christian Montagnard minority in Vietnam’s Central Highlands
h) _______________ the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for religious freedom
3. a) By what numbers did the Vietnam Human Rights Act pass in the House this week?
b) Name the three Congressmen who voted against the bill.
4. List five provisions of the legislation that are mentioned in the article.
5. What is thought to be the Bush administration’s reason for removing Vietnam from the U.S. list of “Countries of Particular concern” (CPC)?
6. How did John Hanford, U.S. ambassador for religious freedom, portray religious freedom in Vietnam?
b) Do you agree with Mr. Hanford’s assertion? Explain your answer.
For a map and background information on Vietnam, go to the CIA World FactBook at cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/vm.html.
Click here for a copy of the Vietnam Human Rights Act [in PDF FORMAT]
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