Legislation on parental abduction of U.S. children overseas, human rights issues in Vietnam and the crisis in the Congo was passed at the first bill mark-up of the 113th Congress by the House panel that oversees human rights chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04).
Three bills were approved in voice votes of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations:
H.R. 1951, the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2013; H.R. 1897, the Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2013, and; H. Res. 131, Concerning the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the need for international efforts toward long-term peace, stability, and observance of human rights.
"The damage to the child and the left behind parent is incalculable and too often life-long," said Smith of H.R. 1951. "The children especially are at risk of serious emotional and psychological problems and may experience anxiety, eating problems, nightmares, mood swings, sleep disturbances, aggressive behavior, resentment, guilt and fearfulness. Parental child abduction is child abuse. These victims are American citizens who need the help of their government when normal legal processes are unavailable or fail. Too many families have been waiting too long."
International parental child abduction occurs when one parent unlawfully moves a child from his or her country of residence, often for the purpose of permanently denying the other parent access to the child. (click here to read testimonies or watch a video of Smith's May 9 hearing on child abduction).
The subcommittee also approved Smith's Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2013, and Ranking Democrats Rep. Karen Bass's resolution on Congo.
Smith's Vietnam bill, H.R. 1897, would institute measures to improve human rights in Vietnam by prohibiting any increase in non-humanitarian assistance to the Government of Vietnam above Fiscal Year 2012 levels unless the government makes substantial progress in establishing a democracy and promoting human rights. The bill aims for improvement in freedom of religion (and releasing all religious prisoners), rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, the release of all political prisoners, independent journalists, and labor activists, and to an end any government complicity in human trafficking.
"The Vietnamese Government continues to violate a broad array of fundamental human rights," Smith said, noting an April 11 congressional hearing that detailed widespread abuses, as well as government officials' involvement in trafficking women to Russia, Jordon and other locations. "The testimony we heard confirms religious, political and ethnic persecution continues and that Vietnamese Government officials are complicit in human trafficking."
Smith, a co-sponsor of the Congo resolution, said the international community is alarmed about the widespread rape of women and girls and forced recruitment and abuse of child soldiers in the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Great Lakes region. The resolution highlights the need for international efforts to work toward long-term peace, stability, and observance of human rights, he said.
"This measure brings attention to the continuing, deplorable situation in the DRC," said Smith. "While its neighbors share the blame for the crisis that exists in the Great Lakes, H.Res. 131 also calls on the government of the DRC to investigate and prosecute its own military forces and citizens responsible for human rights abuses, and proceed with democratic and security sector reforms which it has previously agreed to."