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Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2004 - Part 2

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Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent, along with my friends on the other side of the aisle, because we have so many speakers, that we extend the debate 10 minutes equally divided on both sides.

The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Nunes). Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from New Jersey?

There was no objection.

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 2 minutes to respond to my good friend from Connecticut that friends do not let friends commit human rights abuses.

Whatever present relationship we might have with Vietnam, when they are torturing and killing and maiming and forcing people to renounce their faith, these are egregious human rights abuses, and they should not be put under the rug and somehow brushed aside. We need to speak out against those abuses, and we need to do it forcefully.

Let me also say to my colleagues that the American Legion supports this bill wholeheartedly, and I will provide their letter for submission into the RECORD.

Mr. Speaker, the AID's funding announced by Ambassador Tobias and the President just a few days ago is totally exempt, as is all medicine, foodstuffs, and humanitarian aid. None of that can be used as a penalty in terms of its provision to the people of Vietnam. We are talking about nonhumanitarian aid. We are talking about capping it at the 2004 levels.

As I said in my opening, it is a very modest effort to say that we do not want this to go on anymore, to stop this abuse; and we have proven through the trafficking legislation and other legislation recently that modest smart penalties or sanctions do work. They do get the attention of offending governments.

Our solidarity is with the oppressed in Vietnam. It is not with the oppressor. We want to see progress. I want to stand on this floor, as does the gentleman from California (Mr. Lantos) and others, and sing the praises of the government, but we need to see progress. We are seeing significant deterioration with regard to human rights abuses.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. EVANS. Mr. Speaker, I yield 4 minutes to the gentleman from Arizona (Mr. Kolbe), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs.

Mr. KOLBE. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding me this time.

I have been listening with interest to what I think is a very spirited and good debate that we have had, but I do rise in opposition to H.R. 1587, the Viet Nam Human Rights Act of 2003.

At this point, I wish to congratulate my colleague, the gentleman from New Jersey, for the passion which he comes to the floor with and in which he expresses his views here. I know he holds these views very dearly and with great sincerity, and I do understand and respect the motivation for supporting human rights in Vietnam and other countries around the world. It is critically important we serve as a champion of human rights, just as we are in the case of Sudan, where tomorrow evening I and the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Jackson) will go in an effort to try to take a look and to bring the attention of the world to the human rights violations which are taking place there today.

However, I would point out that, even as we act as a champion of human rights around the world, that does not provide us carte blanche to undertake bad policy. In 1995, we embarked on a new path with Vietnam. Many opposed that at the time. I supported it. I thought it was the right thing to do. We chose to take a direction towards better political, economic, and consular relations.

In making that decision, we recognized the need to encourage the development of Vietnam as a prosperous country and to encourage Vietnam to move on a path towards greater protection of human rights. We understood how important it was to integrate our former adversary into Asia's economic progress and ultimately into the global community.

Since we have started down that path, I think we have reaped important benefits. It secured Vietnam's cooperation on achieving the fullest possible accounting of the POW/MIAs from the Vietnam War era. It has helped to contribute to regional stability in Southeast Asia, and it has helped to open a new market for U.S. workers to the world's 13th most populous country.

Certainly the United States-Vietnam foreign policy relationship is one that still has many rocky moments to it. It is one that is still maturing. In some areas, we are certainly disappointed with the progress or lack of progress that the Vietnam government has made. I share the concerns about the human rights record, but I think this bill may actually retard our efforts in this regard, rather than accelerate them or help them.

While the House has passed this bill, or legislation similar to it, it has not passed the other body before; and just because it has passed the House before does not mean it is the right thing to do here today. The relationship has changed. It has changed in a way where passage and enactment of this bill could be harmful to the relationship of our two countries.

The bill's unprecedented definition of nonhumanitarian assistance is problematic in many ways, in ways that I am cognizant of as chairman of the Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Programs. For example, it would purport to reach some aspects of assistance provided under the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief. Vietnam, as I think my colleagues know, was recently designated as the 15th focus country under the President's plan, the only one outside of the Caribbean and of Africa.

Generally, I think this human rights act is a blunt instrument. I believe it will risk inhibiting progress in bilateral trade and affect cooperation on issues of importance to the United States, issues that are vitally important to us right now, counterterrorism, the POW-MIA accounting, which is ongoing, and HIV/AIDS; and I do not mean just the actual process of providing drugs but the technical assistance that could be affected by this. Also counternarcotics, which is vitally important for us, and refugee processing and resettlement.

I know there is a waiver authority in this bill, but to use that as an argument is simply to say that the bill has no meaning, so I do not think the sponsors really intend that to be the case.

In short, I think the imposition of unilateral sanctions is not going to lead to an improved human rights record and might actually harm the United States' efforts in our fight against HIV/AIDS, which is accelerating very rapidly in Vietnam.

I urge my colleagues to vote "no" on this legislation.

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield 2 minutes to my friend and colleague, the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Loretta Sanchez).

Ms. LORETTA SANCHEZ of California. Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the gentleman from New Jersey, for yielding me this time and for putting forward H.R. 1587, of which I am in full support, the Viet Nam Human Rights Act.

I know a number of my colleagues oppose this bill, so I would like to reiterate why it is so important to pass this bill today.

First of all, we passed a very similar piece of legislation by a vote of 410 to 1 back in 2001. Unfortunately, the Senate did not take that up; and so the law was not enacted. But, since that time, one would think that our relationship would have gotten stronger with Vietnam; and in many ways it has.

The problem is that there are still very bad human rights abuses by the government of Vietnam against its own people. In fact, things have gotten worse.

Religious dissidents continue to be imprisoned, and crackdowns have been intensified on religious minorities. The leaders of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam remain under house arrest 9 months after this House overwhelmingly passed House Resolution 427 commending the church's courageous leadership.

We have passed a resolution on Father Ly, a Catholic priest who has been arrested and convicted, all for following religious freedom, something that our own country is based on.

And freedom of the press? There is no freedom of the press in Vietnam. Everything is owned by the State. When I talked to the cardinal of the Catholic church, he said he is not even allowed to pass out a newsletter in his church on Sunday because that is press, according to the government of Vietnam.

There is no religious freedom. There is no freedom of the press. People are arrested. I have gone twice now to Vietnam, and they are arrested and put in jail for no reason. I think it is about time that we support this bill and we pass it in this House.

Mr. EVANS. Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from California (Mr. Royce), the distinguished chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa of the Committee on International Relations.

Mr. ROYCE. Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of the Viet Nam Human Rights Act, of which I am pleased to have joined the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith) in introducing.

I have had the opportunity in Vietnam to sit down with some of the religious dissidents, some of the religious leaders under house arrest for speaking out about religious freedom, and I wanted to share with this body that Freedom House has consistently done an analysis every year on Vietnam and ranked that country "not free," because people there cannot practice religious liberty; and efforts by this House to promote human rights in Vietnam have been blocked.

Meanwhile, I will just give this assessment by Freedom House, the most recent. "The regime jails or harasses most dissidents, controls all media, sharply restricts religious freedom, and prevents Vietnamese from setting up independent political or independent labor or independent religious groups."

My colleagues today have pointed out some horrific abuses against those who are simply attempting to practice their religion as they choose, but I want to point out that this regime is also one of the world's worst violators of press and Internet freedom. Prominent nongovernmental organizations have condemned the government of Vietnam's attempt to silence cyberdissidents and stifle freedom of the Internet.

I think the severity of some of these jail terms handed down, last year, we had Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, one of Vietnam's best-known dissidents, who was arrested for sending an email entitled "Communique on Freedom of Information in Vietnam." It was simply an analysis of the government's refusal to implement and lift controls on the media.

I will just take one line out of this analysis that he put forward. He said, "The State hopes to cling to power by brainwashing the Vietnamese people through stringent censorship and through its absolutist control over what information the public can receive."

Now, we have a way here, with this bill, with this legislation, to beef up Radio Free Asia and bring information, bring objective news and truth to the Vietnamese people in a more effective way. I think the spread of democratic values in Asia is critical to U.S. security interests, and I think Radio Free Asia is a large step forward in the right direction. We know these broadcasts are effective. How do we know? Because the Vietnamese government spends so much of their energy trying to block these broadcasts.

So I agree we have a growing relationship with Vietnam. I do not take issue with that. I supported the Bilateral Trade Agreement. But this does not mean the United States should stand moot while grievous human rights abuses occur. So I urge my colleagues to send this legislation to the other body with a strong vote.

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield 1 minute to the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Mario Diaz-Balart).
Mr. MARIO DIAZ-BALART of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I just heard from many of those who are against this legislation that things have gotten better in Vietnam, things are not great but have gotten better.

Coincidentally, today there is a story by Reuters talking about how a 73-year-old man is in prison because he used the Internet to criticize the government of Vietnam. Whoa, things are getting real good over there.

Another person was arrested and sentenced just last week for using the Internet. And what was that horrible crime? Oh, geez, for being critical about corruption in Vietnam and advocating for democratic reforms.

[Time: 19:45]

Things are getting better in Vietnam.

No, they are not. They have gotten worse. We can no longer just turn away and pretend things are not happening to the oppressed people of Vietnam. I want to commend the gentleman from New Jersey for once again standing up for the oppressed, standing up for those people who are just trying to speak out a little bit, just a little bit, about the atrocities that are going on around the world, in this case in Vietnam. I thank him for doing this, for standing up for the oppressed, for those that would love just a little bit of freedom. We need to speak up for them as well. I support this.

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself the balance of my time. Let me thank the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Mario Diaz-Balart) and all of the speakers, my good friend from California (Mr. Lantos) and all of those whom I think made very, very important points about why this bill ought to become law.

Let me just take a moment to speak on behalf of one of Vietnam's most courageous and renowned democracy activists, Dr. Que. Dr. Que has served two lengthy prison sentences and was arrested again for promoting democracy and human rights last year. He has been held incommunicado ever since, unable to see even his family. The Vietnamese government plans to put Dr. Que on trial next Monday. We do not know exactly what the charges are, and it appears that Dr. Que will be tried in secret without access to a lawyer. Unfortunately, this is par for the course for the government of Vietnam because they treat so many dissidents this way. The government of Vietnam should release Dr. Que, a peaceful man whose only crime is to speak out for freedom. Any adverse action against Dr. Que will only make our point as they have made our point regrettably over and over again.

Let me just say one brief point about the POW/MIA issue because I take a back seat to no one in my concerns for a full and thorough accounting about our POWs. As a matter of fact, my first human rights trip to Asia was to Vietnam in the early 1980s on behalf of POWs and MIAs trying to follow up on what we thought were live sightings and also to get a full and thorough accounting. But I would point out that Jerry Jennings, who was mentioned by my good friend from Connecticut, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/MIA Affairs, has pointed out most recently that this is a mutual humanitarian effort between Vietnam and the United States; and, as he pointed out, the United States for its part has turned over hundreds of documents from U.S. national archives containing information about Vietnamese soldiers who died during the war.

It is to our mutual advantage to cooperate on that issue. I believe it is to the advantage of the people of Vietnam that this effort go forward with regards to the AIDS funding which is explicitly exempted by this legislation, as is other humanitarian aid as recounted in the bill.

This is all about human rights. This is about helping dissidents who are languishing in prisons. This is about religious believers who get that knock in the middle of the night and they are told, sorry, you are going to the gulag, where they are beaten, where they are repressed and where their families sometimes never hear from them again. These are modest, modest penalties; but we want to send a clear and unambiguous message to the government of Vietnam that human rights matter, they are important to us, they ought to be important to them.

I urge support. There are 35 cosponsors of this legislation equally divided between both sides of the aisle. It is truly a bipartisan piece of legislation. I urge support.

[Begin Insert]

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I submit the following letter for the RECORD.

[End Insert]

THE AMERICAN LEGION,
Washington, DC, July 14, 2004.
Hon. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH,
Rayburn House Office Building,
Washington, DC.

DEAR REPRESENTATIVE SMITH: The American Legion applauds your continuing leadership in fighting for the rights of the abused minorities in Vietnam. The United States must maintain constant pressure on the Vietnamese government to honor the rights of its citizens and our former allies. The Legion stands in strong support of the Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2004.

The American Legion has grave concerns about the plight of ethnic groups such as the Montagnards, as well as religious minorities, including Buddhists and Catholics who are under constant attack and persecution by Vietnamese authorities for practicing their religion. The American Legion strongly believes that successful passage of the Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2004 will greatly benefit the future of minority ethnic and religious populations in Vietnam. If the U.S. does not have the tools that would be available through the Vietnam Human Rights Act, we will lose the only remaining leverage we have in persuading the Vietnamese to change their egregious behavior.

As a nation at war, I think it is important that America's allies know they serve beside a committed, loyal partner-one that will not desert or betray them in their time of need. Simply ignoring the current violations of human rights is not an acceptable option for The American Legion's membership of wartime veterans, many who served in Vietnam side-by-side with these current victims of tyranny.

Sincerely,
John F. Sommer, Jr.,
Executive Director.

[Begin Insert]

Mr. WOLF. Mr. Speaker, I strongly support H.R. 1587, The Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2004 and commend Representative Chris Smith for his leadership on this issue. In 2001, the House of Representatives passed a similar bill, but unfortunately the human rights situation in Vietnam continues to get worse.

The United States will soon ratify the U.S.-Vietnam bilateral trade agreement. We must send a strong message that trade with the United States should come with a responsibility to uphold basic human rights.

The Government of Vietnam continues to commit serious abuses in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It continues to jail writers, scientists, journalists, and religious leaders.

This year's State Department human rights countries report on Vietnam is 24 pages long and cites numerous violations including:

The Government of Vietnam's human rights record remained poor, and it continued to commit serious abuses. The government continues to deny the right of citizens to change their government ..... The government significantly restricted freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association .....
The government did not permit human rights organizations to form or operate. Violence and societal discrimination against women remained a problem. Child prostitution was a problem.

I am very concerned that religious activity is extremely restricted in Vietnam and reports that over 400 Christian churches in the Central Highlands have been forcibly closed. Imprisonment and harassment of Protestants and Catholics continue and many religious leaders are under house arrest. Many Christians have been forced to renounce their faith.

I also remain extremely concerned about the recent crackdown against Montagnard ethnic minorities in Vietnam, many of whom are Christians. Thousands of Montagnards who gathered to protest ongoing religious repression and confiscation of tribal lands last Easter were met with brutal force by Vietnamese agents and security forces.

Three years ago, Father Thaddeus Nguyen Ly, a Catholic priest, submitted testimony to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. On October 21, 2001, Father Ly was sentenced to 15 years in prison by the Vietnam government. Father Ly has done nothing more than call for religious freedom in Vietnam.

The U.S. House has repeatedly called for Father Ly's release and expressed growing concern about the poor human rights record of the Government of Vietnam. We have been met by silence from the Government of Vietnam.
I continue to ask the State Department to designate Vietnam as a "country of particular concern" (CPC) for its systematic and ongoing religious freedom abuses. The Commission on International and Religious Freedom recommended Vietnam be listed as a CPC last year. This latest incident in the Central Highlands, along with the Vietnamese government's relentless repression of ethnic minority religious groups, clearly supports the need for CPC this year. It is my hope that the State Department will act this year.

I support the Vietnam Human Rights Act. Hanoi must begin to make significant progress toward releasing political and religious prisoners and respecting human rights of all minorities. In closing, we in the United States must continue to speak out for the innocent wherever they are. This is our duty. Those suffering persecution are encouraged when the United States speaks out on their behalf.

Ridding the world of repressive dictators will take time, patience and persistence, and we must press on toward the goal of freedom for all people. We, as a country, and we, as individuals, must have the courage to take on tough issues. Human rights are God-given rights. We should not accept anything less.

Mr. TOM DAVIS of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H.R. 1587, which requires the administration to carefully monitor the status of human rights in Vietnam.

Under this measure, if Vietnam fails to meet basic standards for universally recognized human rights, the President will have the authority to cap U.S. non-humanitarian aid to Vietnam.

The truth is that many of my colleagues may not be aware of the extensive struggle which the Vietnamese people have endured for many years in their ongoing fight for basic human rights and freedom.

Ten years ago, the United States ended its trade embargo with Vietnam and normalized relations with Hanoi. While the U.S. continues to open diplomatic relations with Vietnam, we must remember that many issues remain unresolved, including human rights violations, lack of religious freedom, and government corruption.

In 2001, the House passed a similar bill overwhelmingly by 410-1 to send a clear message to the communist leadership in Vietnam that U.S. trading with Vietnam does not mean approval of its repressive policies.

Unfortunately, this bill died in the Senate.

Since then, despite having the benefits of trade with the U.S., the Vietnamese government has escalated its abuses of human rights and crackdown on religious freedom.

I traveled to Vietnam in 1998 to learn about these issues first-hand, as well as to raise these concerns with high-level officials. In addition, the large Vietnamese-American community in the 11th district, which I represent, continues to update me on continuing concerns.

As a member of the Vietnam Caucus, I am dedicated to promoting awareness and policy debates among the U.S. Congress, the American public, and the international community about the greater need for fundamental human rights in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

While many have chosen to take part in a non-violent struggle for basic freedom and human rights, the Vietnamese communist government has chosen to arrest and imprison the vast majority of them.

The gratuitous arrests of these men and women demonstrate the ongoing human rights abuses and lack of religious freedom in Vietnam. We must continue to bring attention to these issues, generate pressure on Vietnamese officials, and hold the Vietnamese government accountable.

It is only through the hard work of these courageous individuals and the support of the international community in which we can work to bring an end to human rights abuses and religious persecution in Vietnam.

I am hopeful H.R. 1587 will serve as a small stepping stone towards the ultimate liberation and freedom of the Vietnamese people.

However, at the least, I believe it will bring much needed additional awareness to the atrocities committed by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam every day, on its own citizens.

I commend my good friend from New Jersey and the other sponsors for bringing this bill to the floor, and I urge my colleagues to join me in the passage of this important resolution.

Mr. SAM JOHNSON of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of this bill. Having spent nearly seven years in Vietnam as a prisoner of war, I have more than a passing interest in our relations with this country. The simple fact is that we're dealing with a communist government whose human rights record is abhorrent at best.

As you know, during the Vietnam war the indigenous Montagnard people were strong allies of America. Now, in the central highlands of Vietnam, the Montagnards are facing arrest, beatings, torture and even murder at the hands of Vietnamese so called security forces.

Churches have been destroyed and over the past 2 years human rights watch has documented numerous incidents where authorities conduct mass ceremonies forcing Montagnards to renounce Christianity, sometimes while drinking sacrificed animal's blood.

Today in Vietnam the Montagnard's ancestral homelands are currently sealed off from international observers as secret police enforce a campaign to crush the spread of Christianity.

Amnesty International has documented hundreds of political prisoners and even killings of Montagnard refugees who have tried fleeing to Cambodia.

In fact, the Vietnamese/Cambodian border is patrolled by soldiers, where Cambodian authorities hunt down and "sell" refugees to Vietnamese police for bounties. This sounds like something we would read about in history books, not in the year 2004.

This Congress cannot idly stand by. Civilized nations do not deal with barbarians. We must ensure that our aid isn't going to the communist thugs in Hanoi. Support this bill.

Mr. HYDE. Mr. Speaker, I submit an exchange of letters between Mr. SENSENBRENNER, the chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary, and myself on the bill H.R. 1587 for printing in the RECORD.

House of Representatives,

COMMITTEE ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS,
Washington, DC, July 13, 2004.
HON. F. JAMES SENSENBRENNER, JR.,
Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary,
House of Representatives, Washington, DC.

DEAR MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you for your letter on H.R. 1587, the 'Viet Nam Human Rights Act of 2003," which was referred primarily to the Committee on International Relations and additionally to the Committee on Financial Services. This Committee ordered the bill reported favorably on June 24, 2004.

I concur that the Committee on the Judiciary has jurisdiction over §401 of the bill pertaining to the resettlement of refugees from Viet Nam. The manager's amendment which the Committee will call up does not include §401 or any other provision that fall within the Rule X jurisdiction of the Committee on the Judiciary.

I appreciate your willingness to waive further consideration of the bill in the Committee on the Judiciary so that the bill may proceed expeditiously to the floor. I concur, that in taking this action, your Committee's jurisdiction over the bill is in no way diminished or altered. I will, as you request, include this exchange of letters in the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD during consideration of the legislation on the House floor.

I appreciate your cooperation in this manner.
Sincerely,
Henry J. Hyde,
Chairman.
--
[End Insert]

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY,
Washington, DC, July 13, 2004.

Hon. HENRY HYDE,
Chairman, Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives, Washington, DC.

DEAR CHAIRMAN HYDE: I am writing regarding H.R. 1587, the "Viet Nam Human Rights Act of 2003" which was referred primarily to the Committee on International Relations and additionally to the Committee on Financial Services. The Committee on International Relations ordered the bill reported favorably on June 24, 2004, but as of this time has not filed a report.

The Committee on the Judiciary has jurisdiction over §401 of the bill pertaining to the resettlement of refugees from Viet Nam. I understand that you have indicated your willingness to take the bill to the floor under suspension of the rules with a manager's amendment that does not include §401 or any other provisions that fall within the Rule X jurisdiction of the Committee on the Judiciary.

Based on your willingness to follow this course, I am willing to waive further consideration of the bill in the Committee on the Judiciary so that the bill may proceed expeditiously to the floor. The Committee on the Judiciary takes this action with the understanding that the Committee's jurisdiction over the bill is in no way diminished or altered. I would appreciate your including this letter and your response in the Congressional Record during consideration of the legislation on the House floor.

I appreciate your cooperation in this matter.

Sincerely,
F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr.,
Chairman.

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

The SPEAKER pro tempore (Mr. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida.) The question is on the motion offered by the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith) that the House suspend the rules and pass the bill, H.R. 1587, as amended.

The question was taken.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. In the opinion of the Chair, two-thirds of those present have voted in the affirmative.

Mr. EVANS. Mr. Speaker, on that I demand the yeas and nays.

The yeas and nays were ordered.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to clause 8 of rule XX and the Chair's prior announcement, further proceedings on this motion will be postponed.

END

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