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Public Statements

Letter to the Honorable Barack Obama, President of the United States

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Unknown

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, today called for the firing of the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam.

Wolf said Ambassador David Shear should be removed because he has repeatedly failed to advocate for human rights and speak out for the voiceless in Vietnam. Wolf recommended that Shear be replaced by a Vietnamese-American.

Wolf was particularly upset by Shear's failure to invite more dissidents and human rights activists to the U.S. Embassy for a July 4 celebration after promising that he would.

Wolf also has been disappointed in Shear's handling of the case of Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan, a Vietanmese-American democracy activist and U.S. citizen presently being held by the government.

"I have long believed that U.S. embassies should be islands of freedom -- especially in repressive countries like Vietnam," Wolf wrote in a letter to President Obama. "Under Ambassador Shear's leadership it didn't appear that the U.S. embassy in Hanoi was embracing this important task."

Wolf said Shear's "sidelining" of human rights issues in Vietnam is symptomatic of the Obama Administration's overall approach to human rights and religious freedom.

"Time and again these issues are put on the back-burner -- to the detriment of freedom-loving people the world over," Wolf wrote. "In a Constitution Day speech, President Ronald Reagan described the United States Constitution as "a covenant we have made not only with ourselves, but with all of mankind.' We have an obligation to keep that covenant. If you were to take this action, it would send a critical message to U.S. ambassadors globally, and just as importantly, to repressive governments which fear the words of the Constitution and the promise they hold as much as they fear the aspirations of their own people."

Below is the text of Wolf's letter to president:

The Honorable Barack H. Obama
The President
The White House
Washington, DC 20501

Dear Mr. President:

On May 15, 2012, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, which I co-chair, held a hearing on human rights abuses in Vietnam. As you undoubtedly know, the State Department's own annual human rights report aptly describes Vietnam as an "authoritarian state." During the hearing, several of my colleagues and I heard testimony from Mrs. Mai Huong Ngo, the wife of Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan, a Vietnamese-American democracy activist and U.S. citizen. Upon his arrival at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City on April 17, he was arbitrarily detained and has been in prison ever since. Dr. Quan's wife was invited to testify in light of her husband's plight.

Assistant Secretary Michael Posner was also invited to testify at the hearing on behalf of the State Department. At the time I expressed my shock and dismay that no one from the department, not even the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, David Shear, had been in touch with Dr. Quan's wife since his detention. Only at my urging did Ambassador Shear initiate contact with Mrs. Ngo to update her on her husband's situation.

This was disturbing on a number of levels. I have long believed that U.S. embassies should be islands of freedom - especially in repressive countries like Vietnam. Under Ambassador Shear's leadership it didn't appear that the U.S. embassy in Hanoi was embracing this important task. But even more troubling is the fact that Dr. Quan is an American citizen, and yet there appeared to be little urgency to securing his release.

In speaking by phone with Ambassador Shear following the hearing I expressed my concerns and urged him to host a July 4th celebration at the embassy, where the guest list was comprised of religious freedom and democracy activists in Vietnam. I stressed that he should fling open the doors of the embassy and invite Buddhist monks and nuns, Catholic priests and Protestant pastors, Internet bloggers and democracy activists. Such was the custom during the Reagan Administration, especially in the Soviet Union. This practice sent a strong message that America stood with those who stand for basic human rights. In many cases it afforded these individuals protection from future harassment and even imprisonment.

Ambassador Shear said that he intended to honor this request. Following my conversation with him I received the enclosed letter from the department indicating that, "Ambassador Shear continues to engage with civil society advocates, promoters of rule-of-law, and democracy activists and will welcome them to the Embassy's July 4th celebration." I took Ambassador Shear at his word and in fact shared this correspondence with members of the Vietnamese Diaspora community in the U.S., several of whom were greatly encouraged by this development.

Late last week it was brought to my attention that many of the most prominent democracy and human rights activists in Vietnam were not invited to the event. These reports seemed starkly at odds with the assurances I had personally received from Ambassador Shear. I called him directly this morning to find out if the embassy had invited the dissidents as had been agreed upon. His response was appalling. He said that he had invited a few civil society activists but then said that he needed to maintain a "balance." I then asked him for a list of the invitees. He initially refused saying he was unable to provide this information, even though presumably the embassy, which he leads, created the guest list. Then he said he would have to address this through State Department. I asked him when we might expect to receive a copy of the guest list and, after initially declining to be specific; he eventually conceded that it would be "in a few weeks."

Ambassador Shear's entire handling of this issue has been unacceptable. He showed little to no initiative in the case of Dr. Quan. Then, after appearing to recognize the short-sightedness of this approach, he agreed to host an Independence Day event at the embassy attended by human rights and democracy activists - only to go back on his word and mislead me about his intentions. Finally, when posed with a simple congressional request for additional information about the guest list at a U.S. embassy event, he was uncooperative at best and obstructionist at worst.

In light of these realities, I write today to call for the firing of Ambassador Shear.

Sadly, his sidelining of serious human rights issues in Vietnam is symptomatic of this administration's overall approach to human rights and religious freedom. Time and again these issues are put on the back-burner - to the detriment of freedom-loving people the world over. In a Constitution Day speech, President Ronald Reagan described the United States Constitution as "a covenant we have made not only with ourselves, but with all of mankind." We have an obligation to keep that covenant. If you were to take this action, it would send a critical message to U.S. ambassadors globally, and just as importantly, to repressive governments which fear the words of the Constitution and the promise they hold as much as they fear the aspirations of their own people.

I have repeatedly said that it would be fitting for a Vietnamese-American to serve as U.S. ambassador Vietnam - someone who understands the country, the language, and the oppressive nature of the government having experienced it themselves before coming to the U.S. Such an individual would not be tempted to maintain smooth bilateral relations at all costs. Such an individual would embrace the cause of freedom. The Vietnamese people, and frankly millions of Vietnamese-Americans, deserve better than what Ambassador Shear and this administration are giving them.

America must be a voice for the voiceless. The U.S. Embassy in Vietnam must be an island of freedom, headed by a bold American ambassador. Ambassador Shear is not that man.

Best wishes.

Frank Wolf
Member of Congress


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