U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sam Brownback (R-KS) and eight of their colleagues today urged Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to advance religious freedom and related human rights in Vietnam by re-designating it a "Country of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.
The designation, which is reserved for governments that commit serious and ongoing violations of religious freedom, can be an effective tool to spotlight abuses of religious freedom and to encourage specific improvement.
In 2004, the State Department designated Vietnam as a "Country of Particular Concern." That designation that was lifted in November 2006 following human rights improvements in Vietnam.
A few months later, the Vietnamese government arrested Catholic priest and human rights activist Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly. Subsequently, Father Ly was sentenced to eight years in prison and five years of house arrest for peacefully practicing his faith, expressing his political opinions and associating with others who shared those opinions.
Although Father Ly was released this week, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Human Rights Watch and other organization have provided credible evidence of severe and ongoing religious freedom violations in Vietnam.
The full text of the Senators' letter is below:
March 18, 2010
The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Clinton:
We write today to respectfully request that you take a meaningful step to help advance religious freedom and related human rights in Vietnam by re-designating Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. It is encouraging that the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi has publicly condemned recent arrests, detentions, and acts of violence that "contradict Vietnam's own commitment to internationally accepted standards of human rights and the rule of law." Unfortunately Vietnam's oppression of its citizens, particularly over the last year, continues to demonstrate that public statements of concern are simply not enough.
We believe that the CPC designation is a powerful and effective tool to both spotlight abuses of religious freedom and to encourage specific improvement. When Vietnam was designated a CPC in the past, it did not hinder advancement on other bilateral interests, but led to real improvements on a number of critical human rights concerns. In addition, protecting and promoting religious freedom is a core American value and essential to the success of many of our global interests.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Human Rights Watch, and other organizations have provided credible evidence of severe and ongoing religious freedom violations in Vietnam, including the active suppression of independent religious activity, forced renunciations of faith, the expulsion of monks and nuns and effective disbandment of the order associated with the renowned Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, the jailing of religious freedom activists, and the human rights lawyers Le Cong Dinh and Nguyen Van Dai.
Additionally, the imprisonment of hundreds of Montagnard Christians and the ongoing arrests and harsh repression of Montagnards belonging to independent house churches is another indication that pressure must be brought to bear on the Vietnamese government. These issues are serious and indicate that Vietnam's religious freedom situation warrants more concerted diplomatic action.
The U.S.-Vietnam relationship is progressing in many ways, and we acknowledge its importance. But we cannot allow Vietnam's continued backsliding on human rights and related rule of law issues to continue with minimal reaction from the United States. Working to guarantee internationally recognized freedoms is in the interest of the American people, the Vietnamese people and future success of U.S.-Vietnam relations.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.
Mary L. Landrieu
James E. Risch