Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

U.S. lawmakers, activists call for human rights accountability in Viet Nam

At a press conference earlier today on Capitol Hill, several members of Congress and leading Vietnamese-American human rights activists urged the U.S. to do more to hold the Vietnamese government accountable for persistent abuses. The conference, called on the eve of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s meeting with the Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem, sought to specifically address the recent arrests of prominent Vietnamese dissidents.

Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), who revealed that he would be introducing a resolution calling for the immediate release of three of the dissidents affected by the crackdown, said that Hanoi was reverting back to form after recently securing World Trade Organization (WTO) membership and Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status with the U.S. This sentiment was widely echoed by the other speakers. Smith noted that he had met previously with Father Nguyen Van Ly and Nguyen Van Dai, two of the pro-democracy activists detained in recent weeks on charges of carrying out propaganda against the government under what Smith called a “bogus, Soviet-era” law, and said that Rice must address the arrests in tomorrow’s meeting.

Representative Ed Royce (R-CA) demanded that Hanoi issue a response to what he called an “intolerable” crackdown that “runs counter to American values and universal values on human rights.” And Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA) said that the U.S. ambassador to Viet Nam should be fired if Ly isn’t released.

Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) issued a stern message to the Vietnamese government, saying, “You have exposed yourself as the tyrannical, gangster regime that you are.” He also called out both the current Bush administration and the previous administration under President Clinton for putting business interests above the welfare of the Vietnamese people. “It is about time that the people running our government quit doing the bidding of business interests that oppress people in Viet Nam,” he said.

Helen Ngo, of the Committee for Religious Freedom in Viet Nam, and several Vietnamese-American scholars similarly decried, what one speaker called, Viet Nam’s “worst wave of oppression in twenty years,” and called on the U.S. to address Hanoi’s pattern of loosening it’s political grip before important diplomatic negotiations, but tightening it once suitable outcomes are achieved – a pattern that Smith likened to the practices of the former Soviet Union. One scholar said of the Vietnamese government, “If they have the opportunity to make a dollar they forget about human rights.” It was also noted that President Bush’s failure to speak out forcefully against rights abuses in his most recent visit to the country has bolstered the resolve of Vietnamese authorities in the crackdown, as it has been reported that police have taunted dissidents with claims that they are “forgotten”.

Dr. Nguyen Dinh Thang of Boat People SOS, a U.S.-based group that assists Vietnamese refugees and immigrants, brought up the likely cause for Dai’s arrest. According to Thang, Dai had exposed hidden restrictions in a church registration law that authorizes the arrests of worshippers who fail to hold mass during officially-sanctioned times, and whose names are not on pre-approved government lists. Thang urged the U.S. to investigate both Hanoi’s “scheme of deception”, as evidenced by Dai’s discovery, and the recent crackdown – which speakers called a premeditated move planned months in advance in order to keep the country’s leading voices for democracy behind bars at least until late May, when the upcoming Vietnamese elections are slated to take place.


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