Leadership Council for Human Rights

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Monday, November 20, 2006

LCHR President calls for bolstering human rights, as well as business relations, in Vietnam

For Immediate Release Please Contact:
Thursday, November 20, 2006 Nadine Hoffman 202 638 0066

LCHR President calls for bolstering human rights, as well as business relations, in Vietnam

(Washington, DC) The following editorial piece by Kathryn Cameron Porter, president of Leadership Council for Human Rights, was published in the Washington Post on Saturday, November 18.

Bringing Business, and Rights, to Vietnam
Washington Post
By Kathryn Cameron Porter
Saturday, November 18, 2006
The American president who has spoken more forcefully and persistently about the world's need for democracy than perhaps any other elected leader in U.S. history finds himself this weekend in one of the few remaining communist capitals: Hanoi. With the weight of last week's election outcome and a string of security concerns glowing like lights on a Christmas tree, his main preoccupation at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum is likely to be boosting U.S.-led consensus on North Korea's and Iran's nuclear adventures and terrorism, and assuring friends and foes alike that nothing will change.
But this is also a state visit, the second to unified Vietnam by a sitting U.S. president (Bill Clinton was the first, in 2000), and the full menu of concerns is presumably on the table. Accompanying President Bush are more than 200 leaders of American corporations, many of them Fortune 500 companies -- and zero representatives of American organizations working to raise the bottom line on human rights and religious freedom in Vietnam.
After several months' anticipation, and against the recommendations of congressional human rights leaders and the nonpartisan U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the administration announced Monday that it was ending Vietnam's designation as a "country of particular concern" for its lack of religious freedom. In a textbook case of bad timing, the announcement was made just four hours before the House of Representatives' scheduled vote to grant Vietnam permanent normal trade relations, the top-tier trade status given to foreign countries.
The trade measure failed spectacularly, falling more than 60 votes short and putting Bush in the embarrassing position of arriving in Hanoi without the desired trade status intended as the final glaze on a 20-year rapprochement. Vietnam recently completed technical procedures to enter the World Trade Organization, and the U.S. failure to grant it permanent normal trade relations could deny American companies doing business with Vietnam the full benefits of that membership.
Two days later, perhaps hoping to cool tempers inflamed by the administration's claim that religious freedom is enjoying a renaissance in Vietnam, senior officials met at the State Department with representatives of Vietnamese American human rights and political groups, who have pressed hard for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to meet with homegrown dissidents during her stay in Vietnam. Whether such a meeting will be held or would even be useful is questionable, and as regards the president's profile on such issues, advocates will apparently have to be satisfied with a joint Protestant-Catholic prayer meeting that the president's staff has announced he will attend in Hanoi.
Similar high-profile outreach by U.S. officials to opposition leaders in Cuba has made for great headlines but has failed thus far to produce any real change. As good as it might make activists here at home feel, the United States needs something more substantive in Vietnam. For the long term, it should make firm commitments of material resources and political support in a cooperative effort to harmonize relevant Vietnamese laws and standards, including the criminal code, with that country's obligations under international law.
More immediately, and again in a context of cooperation, the United States should use all means available to encourage Vietnam to provide access for international and humanitarian relief and development organizations to the vulnerable native peoples of the Central Highlands, who by the Vietnamese government's own statistics on poverty and mortality have not shared in the Vietnamese economic miracle.
Last week Intel committed $1 billion to build a major computer chip manufacturing and testing facility in Ho Chi Minh City. What will this American administration (or the next one) commit to ensure that Vietnam's remarkable economic progress is matched by equal progress in establishing the rule of law and human development in other aspects of the country's life?
In the words of a famous Vietnamese proverb, "One seeing is worth a thousand hearings."


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