Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:  Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Date: Sept. 11, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of H.R. 1410, the Vietnam Human Rights Act. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam remains a gross human rights violator even as its trade with the U.S. grows. The people of Vietnam continue to be oppressed by their Communist jailers, unable to change their government or enjoy any semblance of the rule of law. Indeed, the most recent elections of May 2011 were neither free nor fair. Much like those living under the ruthless Castro regime in my native Cuba, Vietnamese citizens are subject to brutal treatment from police, inhumane prison conditions, and denial of the right to a fair and speedy trial.

The judicial system is plagued by endemic corruption and inefficiency, and the Communist government has increasingly limited privacy rights and freedoms of the press, speech, assembly, movement, and association. Freedom of religion is subject to interpretation by Communist authorities, with significant problems occurring at provincial and village levels.

Violence and discrimination against women, as well as trafficking in persons, continue to torment the population. The sexual exploitation of children, as well as hate crimes and discrimination based on ethnicity, sexual orientation, and HIV/AIDS status, all persist. As is the case with all Communist regimes, police often act with impunity. Cowardly hiding this egregious brutality from the civilized world, the Communist government prohibits independent human rights organizations from operating within its borders. All of this occurs while the U.S. continues to broaden trade with the Vietnamese dictators, completing a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, or TIFA, in 2007.

We have increased our trade with Vietnam every year and have held a trade deficit with Vietnam every year since 1997. Mr. Speaker, that is not the message that we should send to these thugs. We should not reward this Communist dictatorship until the Government of Vietnam has made substantial progress respecting political freedoms, media freedoms, and religion freedoms.

Vietnam must also protect its minorities, give access to U.S. refugee programs, act to end trafficking in persons, and release its approximately 4,000 political prisoners.

I urge my colleagues to join me in showing our solidarity and support for the people of Vietnam by passing this important bill today.

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

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Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Speaker, in closing, our Nation has always served as a beacon of hope for all who are oppressed and suffer under regimes such as the one in Vietnam, which has shown a blatant disregard for fundamental human rights and universal freedoms. We must continue to serve as such a beacon. We must not waver in our commitment to standing with the oppressed and not with their oppressors. This bill serves as an important guidepost in doing that.

The Vietnam regime continues its oppression. On August 5, they arrested about 30 peaceful demonstrators who were protesting China's activities in the South China Sea. It included the arrest of an 81-year-old activist. Also, the threatened trial of three well-known human rights bloggers has been further postponed, thus extending their unjust legal limbo.

This human rights legislation is long overdue. It contains a provision prohibiting an increase in nonhumanitarian assistance to the Government of Vietnam unless certain human rights benchmarks are met. Of course, it has a Presidential waiver, but it authorizes the President to provide assistance through appropriate nongovernmental organizations and the Human Rights Defenders Fund for the support of individuals and organizations that are promoting internationally recognized human rights in Vietnam. This is an American principle. This should be a universal principle of human rights and respect for minority rights.

I hope that our colleagues will join us in passing Mr. Smith's bill. The time for it is long overdue. With that, Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

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