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Public Statements

Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2007

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

VIETNAM HUMAN RIGHTS ACT OF 2007 -- (House of Representatives - September 17, 2007)


Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Let me begin by thanking my good friend and colleague, Mr. Faleomavaega, for his leadership on human rights. We have worked together on those issues around the world. We have served on the Human Rights Committee for years, and he has been one of those champions with whom I am just so glad to associate myself. And I want to thank Mr. Lantos, the chairman of our committee, for bringing this bill to the floor and express my strong gratitude to him and to Ranking Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and to the leadership for posting this bill for consideration today.

Mr. Speaker, Vietnam has long been known as a major violator of human rights. Sadly, in recent months the human rights situation in Vietnam has deteriorated and become substantially worse, and a new ugly wave of brutal repression has been launched by Hanoi. Over the last couple of months, some of the bravest champions of democracy have been dragged into court and sent to the gulag for simply promoting human rights and justice and free trade unions.

I would note to my colleagues that the House of Representatives has gone on record time and time again condemning and deploring these violations, but this is a new wave that comes on the heels of PNTR, as well as the WTO accession by the Vietnamese Government.

I would note that on May 2 of this year, this House unanimously adopted a resolution that I sponsored which called on the Government of Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release Father Nguyen Van Ly, Nguyen Van Dai, Le Thi Cong Nhan, and other political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. During consideration of that resolution, Mr. Speaker, I noted that I had been to Vietnam on many human rights trips. I have chaired several hearings on the issue of human rights in Vietnam and have been joined by my friend Mr. Faleomavaega, Mr. Royce and others in those hearings. But on one of the most recent trips, I actually met with Father Ly, who was just sentenced to 8 years in prison. Just sentenced. I also met with Nguyen Van Dai and about 60 other human rights activists and religious leaders and people who are pressing for reform in that country. And one by one those individuals are being caught in this dragnet.

I was struck when I met with these individuals, Mr. Speaker, by how extraordinarily generous, compassionate, talented, and kind hearted these people are. They are extraordinary. They are Vietnam's best and brightest and certainly their bravest. I was amazed at how they harbored no malice, no hate towards the government that hates them, nor do they hate the government leaders. They only want a better future for their country. Each and every one of the people I met with is committed to peaceful, nonviolent reform.

I met with Father Ly when he was under house arrest, and he sounded just like the activists that I had met and spoken to during the dark years of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union. My first human rights trip, I would note parenthetically, was in 1982 on behalf of Soviet refuzniks. It was like being right back there, deja vu, talking to these individuals just like back then, the Shcharanskys of this world or Vaclav Havel or Lech Walesa, people like the folks in Charter 77 in the Czech Republic who only wanted freedom, democracy, and human rights.

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And none of them wanted violence. And these reformers of Vietnam want nothing whatsoever to do with violence. And yet, they are accused of slandering the state. To criticize an unjust policy is construed by the state to be slander. Father Ly has now been sentenced to 8 years, and that's in addition to the 14 years he had previously served in the Gulag on trumped-up charges.

Just days after the House adopted the Resolution 243 calling for a reversal of human rights violations, Nguyen Van Dai was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment and 4 years of house arrest. Attorney Van Dai is a tenacious campaigner for human rights who uses the rule of law in a nonviolent manner to press his case.

On the same day that Mr. Van Dai was sentenced, another human rights lawyer, a labor activist, Le Thi Cong Nhan, received 4 years imprisonment and 3 years of house arrest from the same ruthless regime. She, too, punished for engaging in activities recognized internationally as protected human rights.

I've read the 2007 trial proceedings and the government sentencing record, which I intend to put into the Record. And I ask every Member to read that and to read it very carefully. It reads like a chilling chapter out of George Orwell's book, ``1984.''

At the trial, the presiding judge, Nguyen Huu Chinh, accused and condemned Dai of being a member of an Independent Trade Union. A member of the Communist party in Poland, Jaruzelski, accused Lech Walesa of that same thing, an independent trade union. That accusation carries with it a time in the Gulag in Vietnam today.

In Vietnam today, men and women are going to jail for very long periods of time for what the government calls ``disseminating propaganda against the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.''

I point out to my colleagues that the day after the House passed the resolution on May 2, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom indicated in its annual report that the removal of Vietnam from the State Department's List of Countries of Particular Concern was premature based on the evidence that the current situation in the country has not allowed religious freedom. Again, it was part of an effort, I think, of suggesting that if they just got into the World Trade Organization, somehow they would matriculate from dictatorship to democracy. Regrettably, that has not happened. And we've seen a snapback to repression that is very, very severe, cruel, and very, very ugly.

The legislation before us, Mr. Speaker, would prohibit an increase in U.S. nonhumanitarian assistance to Vietnam unless the government makes substantial progress in the following areas: the release of political and religious prisoners; respect for religious freedom; allowing open access to the United States for our refugee program, because very often those who would like to become a part of that have to pay bribes to communist officials or they are simply detained and not allowed to apply; and respect for the rights of ethnic minority groups, including the Montagnard.

Beginning in fiscal year 2009, there would also be a need to show that neither any official of the government nor any government agency was complicit in the trafficking of human persons. The president may waive this restriction on assistance if he determines that the assistance would promote human rights or would otherwise be in the national interests of the U.S.

Other important provisions would authorize $2 million of assistance in both 2008 and 2009 to support democracy in Vietnam, and approximately $10 million over 2 years to overcome the jamming of Radio Free Asia by Vietnam. Let me tell my colleagues, they're jamming Radio Free Asia, jamming it, so the message that we think is so important simply cannot get through. And again, the only thing that any dictatorship needs anywhere to survive and prosper is a secret police, got that in Vietnam, and a control of the message, the propaganda. And by jamming Radio Free Asia, they preclude other voices, other opinions from reaching the people.

The bill would also extend U.S. refugee programs to Vietnamese who were previously eligible but were unable to apply for reasons beyond their control, like I said, like not wanting to pay bribes to Vietnamese officials.

Mr. Speaker, in November of 2006, pursuant to a boatload of assurances and solemn promises that the human

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rights situation would improve, Vietnam became the first country to be removed from the Countries of Particular Concern. It was also part of an effort to try to get into the World Trade Organization.

Despite this flurry of international recognition, tangible economic benefit, despite the hopes of many, including and especially the Vietnamese people, Vietnam has reverted with a vengeance to its repressive practices and has arrested, imprisoned and imposed lengthy prison sentences on numerous individuals who only want freedom.

Mr. Speaker, these massive human rights violations perpetrated by the Government of Vietnam cannot be overlooked, they cannot be trivialized. These human rights violations occur as we meet here today, and they cannot continue without equally serious consequences.

I do believe that this snapback to human rights abuse underscores perhaps the unwitting naivete on the part of some who think if we just trade, things will get better. It has not.

And finally, I would ask my colleagues to take a look at pages H 4248 and H4249 from the May 1, 2007 Congressional Record, a manifesto that was written and signed on April 8, 2006, called the 8406 Block. It is a call for freedom and democracy and nonviolence.

One by one, those who have signed this very important human rights document in Vietnam have been hunted down, arrested and incarcerated by the government. That's like the people who signed the Declaration of Independence, or again, during the Soviet years, those who would sign manifestos calling for human rights, like Charter 77, who because they espoused freedom, found themselves in a Gulag or being mistreated by the government.

I urge Members on both sides of the aisle to support this. This is a bipartisan bill, and I appreciate that. This is the kind of expression that I think this body is known for, speaking with one voice, truth to power, on behalf of human rights.

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


Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, before yielding back the balance of our time, again, I want to thank Mr. Faleomavaega and just remind my colleagues that this is the third time this legislation, both under the Republican leadership, and now, thankfully, the Speaker has seen fit to bring this to the floor, as well, the third time I have brought this bill to the floor. Twice it passed the House. Hopefully, it will pass it again.

I think there is a greater sense of urgency now because there is this new, and I would call it an ugly and pervasive, crackdown. They got all their economic benefits. They got their World Trade Organization accession, and, as I said before, PNTR was passed by this House and the bilateral agreement before that. So they got all of that. Now, they just have gone right back to the ugliest commissions of crimes against their own people.

Mr. Speaker, let me just also say to my colleagues that we have heard from some very reliable sources that those who have been incarcerated, those who are being intimidated are being told that the United States really doesn't care about human rights; that all that we care about is the almighty buck, the dollar, and making profits. I want to remind them that we have not walked away. This is a bipartisan expression of concern for their well-being.

Of course, we know why they do this. I will never forget Wei Jingsheng, the great human rights Democracy Wall leader, who spent years in the Chinese laogai, or gulag, coming and testifying at a hearing that I convened on human rights abuses in China. He said that one of the ways that they break people in prison is to say that nobody cares and that everybody has forgotten. It says in the Bible that without hope, the people perish. And that is I think doubly, triply true when you are an incarcerated political prisoner and you are told that you have been abandoned.

I want those individuals to know we have not abandoned them. We care deeply for them. We pray for them; and we are trying to do what we can do, using legislation to try to effectuate their release and hopefully, some day, welcome a Vietnam that is democratic, free, and a protector of human rights, not a violator.

Mr. Speaker, let me also finally say that right after we passed this legislation out of committee in the International Relations Committee in a totally bipartisan effort, the Communist Party of Vietnam's online newspaper berated me and my colleagues very, very, I think, viciously. They did what all human rights abusers always do. They said, Don't interfere with our internal affairs.

Well, we have heard that before, Mr. Speaker. We have heard it from the Soviet Union. We have heard it from Cuba. We have heard it from countries where gulags are filled with human rights activists and freedom-loving individuals. We heard it from South Africa in the 1980s when many of us spoke out passionately against apartheid. They said, Don't intervene in our internal affairs.

I hope the Senate takes note. I hope my colleagues will read what is truly going on in Vietnam today. I have put this in the Record, the 8406 Manifesto, a great statement of human rights call, and will include as the judge's findings in the sentencing of the two people, including Dai that I mentioned earlier. You read this and you realize why we get so concerned, those of us like Mr. Faleomavaega and others who follow this day in and day out. This is an indictment on the system, not on the individuals who have been sent to prison.

Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to read this. I urge passage of this bill.


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