Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by recognizing the many distinguished leaders who are joining us in conjunction with the Vietnamese-American Meetup. Many thanks to all of you for taking the time to come to Washington to meet with your representatives here in Congress, and for joining us for the hearing my subcommittee held which looked at some of the many human rights abuses being committed by the Vietnamese Government.
The hearing was the second held by my subcommittee this year on human rights in Vietnam. We had a greater, in-depth, examination of some of the fundamental human rights violations that we discussed at our first hearing in April, particularly land confiscations in the context of religious and ethnic persecution.
Although the relationship between the United States and Vietnam improved substantially in 1995 when relations were normalized, the human rights situation in Vietnam did not improve. As the U.S. has upgraded Vietnam's trade status, the Vietnamese Government has continued to violate a wide range of fundamental human rights.
To cite just one example, despite the State Department's decision in 2006 to remove Vietnam from the list of Countries of Particular Concern as designated pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act, Vietnam continues to be among the worst violators of religious freedom in the world. According to the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom's 2012 Annual Report, ``[t]he government of Vietnam continues to control all religious communities, restrict and penalize independent religious practice severely, and repress individuals and groups viewed as challenging its authority.'' USCIRF concludes that Vietnam should be designated a CPC country.
It appears the State Department decided to allow political considerations to trump the facts and the brutality of Vietnam's record of religious persecution. In the Department's latest International Religious Freedom Report that was released on May 20th, Vietnam once again was a glaring omission in the list of Countries of Particular Concern. Compared to the disturbing clarity of the USCIRF report, the State Department's description of the state of religious freedom in Vietnam is a whitewash, and an extreme disservice to the truth about the religious persecution that is prevalent in that country. I repeat my past appeals to the Administration to follow the letter as well as the spirit of the International Religious Freedom Act, and hold Vietnam to account as a Country of Particular Concern.
I met courageous religious leaders during my last trip to Vietnam who were struggling for fundamental human rights in their country. Unfortunately, many of them, including Father Ly and the Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, remain wrongly detained today. There are disturbing reports that Father Ly is suffering poor health. Leaders of religious organizations are not the only ones victimized by the Vietnamese government on account of their faith;
individuals and small communities are also targeted by the regime.
Witnesses and experts at our past hearings have recounted the brutality suffered in 2010 by Con Dau parishioners at the hands of police in the course of a funeral procession. This persecution continues to this day in response to the villagers' opposition to the illegal and unjust confiscation of their land.
Tuesday's hearing closely examined ethnic and religious persecution in Vietnam, particularly through the government's practice of confiscating land. The government has unlawfully taken property belonging to families that include many Vietnamese-Americans. Not only is land forcibly taken, but any compensation provided by the government is far below the fair market value. If the rightful owners do not accept what is offered or show resistance, security forces are dispatched to overwhelm any opposition and brutally suppress them. This arbitrary taking of real property not only violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but even Vietnam's own domestic laws.
To address this and the numerous other violations of human rights by the Vietnamese regime, I have re-introduced the Vietnam Human Rights Act, H.R. 1897. This legislation, co-sponsored by the Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Mr. Royce, and members of the bipartisan Congressional Vietnam Caucus, has been reported out of this subcommittee and is awaiting consideration, hopefully soon, by the Foreign Affairs Committee.
This legislation seeks to promote freedom and democracy in Vietnam by stipulating that the United States can increase its nonhumanitarian assistance to Vietnam above FY2012 levels only when the President certifies that the Government of Vietnam has made substantial progress in establishing democracy and promoting human rights, including: respecting freedom of religion and releasing all religious prisoners; respecting rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association, and releasing all political prisoners, independent journalists, and labor activists; repealing and revising laws that criminalize peaceful dissent, independent media, unsanctioned religious activity, and nonviolent demonstrations, in accordance with international human rights standards; respecting the human rights of members of all ethnic groups; and taking all appropriate steps, including prosecution of government officials, to end any government complicity in human trafficking.
It also calls on the Administration to re-designate Vietnam as a country of particular concern for religious freedom, to take measures to overcome the Vietnamese Government's jamming of Radio Free Asia, and to oppose Vietnam's membership on the U.N. Human Rights Council, which will be voted on this fall.
We were fortunate to have heard from a distinguished panel of witnesses to discuss these critical issues.