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Public Statements

Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the distinguished gentlelady, our good chairwoman, for her leadership on this important issue and so many human rights issues around the globe. Thank you, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for again bringing to the floor a very important bill and series of bills, many of which are directed at human rights.

And to Mr. Berman, thank you for your kind comments and your strong support for this effort to try to bring freedom and hope to the people of Vietnam--who, while as you pointed out so rightly, have enjoyed some economic progress, regrettably, political rights, human rights, fundamental rights have gone in the opposite direction--and so thank you for that.

I want to thank the original cosponsors of the bill--Mr. Royce, Mr. Wolf, Ms. Zoe Lofgren, and Ms. Loretta Sanchez--for being original cosponsors of this legislation, and I hope the membership will roundly and soundly back its enactment or its passage today.

Mr. Speaker, many of us on both sides of the aisle have been trying for decades to help the Vietnamese people secure their fundamental human rights and their democratic institutions. From assisting the boat people in the 1970s and all of the human rights work that was done to help so many Vietnamese, individuals who were in reeducation camps and who were dealt with so severely by the dictatorship in Hanoi, Congress and the Presidents over the years have tried nobly to assist them, as have other human rights activists around the world.

As far back as 1996 I sponsored the Human Rights Restoration Act, PL 104-319, which included an important provision directing the U.S. Information Agency to take steps to provide opportunities for human rights and democracy leaders of Vietnam to come here for educational and cultural exchange programs. We found that so often it was the communist leaders and their families and friends who were benefiting from these trips to the United States, not the people who were the best and the bravest and the brightest of Vietnam.

I visited Vietnam on several occasions, met with dissidents throughout the country in Quay, Ho Chi Minh City, as well as Hanoi; met with pastors--Catholic, Protestant, Evangelicals--and have met with, as some of my other colleagues have as well, the venerable Thich Quang Do, who's done a magnificent job speaking up for the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, which has been outlawed by the dictatorship in Hanoi.

Regrettably, our efforts, and especially, those heroic efforts by the women and men in Vietnam itself, have not resulted in respect for fundamental human rights.

I would note, parenthetically, that Bloc 8406, a great group of individuals who signed on to this charter of human rights, one by one have been singled out after signing that charter, believing that an easing was taking place, signed on. It was just like Vaclav Havel's Charter 77 and many other great statements made by the East Bloc countries during the dictatorships of that era. Bloc 8406, that is to say, April 8, 2006, one by one those individuals have been hunted down, and many of them have found themselves in prison.

The Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights Subcommittee, which I chair, heard from witnesses at a hearing earlier this year that the Vietnamese Government remains an egregious violator of a broad array of human rights. Their testimony confirmed that religious, political, and ethnic persecution continue and in many cases is actually increasing, and that the Vietnamese officials are still laying out the welcome mat for forced labor and sex traffickers.

For example, we heard from Dr. Nguyen Dinh Thang, the executive director of Boat People SOS who had recently traveled to Thailand to investigate human rights trafficking violations and other violations in Vietnam. Dr. Thang testified that the Government of Vietnam has not investigated, let alone prosecuted, a single human trafficking violation by Vietnamese labor export companies, many of which are state owned. Instead, police have interrogated and threatened victims who have spoken out against this modern-day slavery.

Almost routinely, according to Dr. Thang--and his information comports with other information our subcommittee has received--the Vietnamese Government has sent its officials from Hanoi to trouble spots, including American Samoa, Jordan, and Malaysia, in order to silence the victims, take sides with the traffickers, or to impede justice.

The subcommittee also heard testimony of a Vietnamese woman who courageously fought for her own rights and those of her coworkers when they were trafficked to Jordan with the complicity of the Vietnamese Government officials. In addition, our witnesses provided deeply disturbing photographs, evidence of torture, and showed a video of the Vietnamese military destroying an entire village of Hmong Christians.

It is imperative that the U.S. Government send an unequivocal message to the Vietnamese regime that it must end its human rights abuses against its own citizens.

I would note, Mr. Speaker, that negotiators of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which includes Vietnam, are currently meeting in nearby Leesburg, Virginia. Within the next 2 years, or a year or 2, Congress will likely be asked to approve a free trade agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam as part of this initiative. I hope the administration is using those negotiations to strongly encourage the Vietnamese Government to finally, at long last, respect human rights.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. The time of the gentleman has expired.

Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. I yield the gentleman an additional minute.

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. I thank my colleague.

H.R. 1410 would institute effective measures toward improving human rights in Vietnam. As reported by our committee, the bill prohibits any increase in nonhumanitarian assistance to the Government of Vietnam above fiscal 2011 levels unless the government makes substantial progress in establishing freedom of religion, releasing political prisoners, respecting the rights of journalists, and the bill lays out a whole series of mutually reinforcing steps it must take and the people it must protect.

The bill does not prevent increased funding for the Vietnamese Government for certain humanitarian assistance--and I want to underscore that--such as food, medicine, agent orange remediation, and activities to combat human trafficking. The freeze on foreign assistance at 2010 levels can be waived if the President determines that increased nonhumanitarian aid to Vietnam would promote democracy and freedom or would otherwise be in the national interest.

Mr. Speaker, we've passed this bill twice in various forms before by huge majorities. It is time to pass it, and hopefully the Senate will take it up and get it to President Obama.

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