On Thursday, both chambers of the U.S. Congress introduced identical legislation to impose sanctions on individuals who are complicit in human rights abuses committed against nationals of Vietnam or their family members and for other purposes.
The Vietnam Human Rights Sanctions Act was introduced in the House by the first and only Vietnamese-American ever elected to Congress, Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao (LA-02), and five original co-sponsors: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-18), Rep. Christopher Smith (NJ-04), Rep. Frank Wolf (VA-10), Rep. Ed Royce (CA-40) and Rep. Loretta Sanchez (CA-47). The same bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Sam Brownback (KS), Sen. John Cornyn (TX) and Sen. Richard Burr (NC).
The legislation cites numerous human rights violations committed against Vietnamese nationals by the Vietnamese government and seeks to impose sanctions on complicit individuals. The sanctions would, among other things, disqualify them from applying for a U.S. visa or taking part in financial or property transactions in the U.S.
Since the U.S. State Department removed Vietnam from its "Countries of Particular Concern" list for violations of religious freedom in 2006, government leaders have observed that Vietnam's human rights record has grown steadily worse. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell noted that Vietnam is "backsliding" on human rights and religious freedom issues. The U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam has said publicly that he is "troubled by the overall human rights problems in Vietnam," and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on a recent visit to Vietnam that "the United States remains concerned about the arrest and conviction of people for peaceful dissent, the attacks on religious groups, the curbs on Internet freedom, including of bloggers"
In introducing the Vietnam Human Rights Sanctions Act, the co-sponsors observed that anyone in Vietnam who expresses criticism of the government is harassed and in some cases arrested. Those suffering such harassment include lawyers, journalists, bloggers, democracy and human rights activists, independent trade union leaders, non-state-sanctioned publishers, members of ethnic minorities, and unsanctioned religious groups. The co-sponsors pointed out that Vietnam is also a source country for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor and is a destination country for child trafficking.
In a prepared statement, the co-sponsors said: "It is important that the United States government publically condemn the arrests, detentions, and acts of violence that contradict Vietnam's stated commitment to internationally accepted standards of human rights and the rule of law. Unfortunately, Vietnam's oppression of its citizens, particularly over the last year, demonstrates the need for more targeted U.S. action. The Vietnamese government must reverse course on its human rights record in order to strengthen U.S.-Vietnam relations."
Cao, who leaves office January 2nd, said he will "push hard" to win passage of the Vietnam Human Rights Sanctions Act before the 111th Congress adjourns in December.