Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, May 11, 2007

Greater U.S. response to crackdown in Viet Nam called for at Congressional briefing

Rights activists and U.S. officials gathered at a Congressional Human Rights Caucus briefing in Washington Thursday to urge the U.S. government to do more to promote reform in Viet Nam in light of an ongoing crackdown on dissent that has left a number of the country’s leading pro-democracy activists in jail or awaiting trial.

In the wake of securing several key economic and political benchmarks – notably accession to the World Trade Organization, Permanent Normal Trade Relations status with the U.S. and removal from the State Department’s list of countries of particular concern (CPC) for violations of religious freedom – Hanoi has in recent months stepped up efforts to silence voices for change. On Thursday, three members of a banned democratic party were given multi-year sentences for allegedly spreading anti-government propaganda. Religious leaders, human rights lawyers, union organizers, and academics have also been detained in the crackdown.

Those present at the briefing expressed their outrage and posited recommendations for further U.S. and international intervention. CPC reinstatement was a central demand, but other issues were also addressed. Dr. Richard Land of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom stressed the need for assistance in the country’s central highlands, where ethnic Montagnards face persecution for their Protestant beliefs. Land called for full implementation of a recently-created U.S. development program in the highlands, and suggested that Microsoft chairman Bill Gates extend his Viet Nam-based call center initiative to the region. “I would think that anyone on the ground in Viet Nam would be more concerned with the Montagnards than any other group,” Land said.

Humanitarian assistance and promotion of alternative media outlets were also key concerns. T. Kumar of Amnesty International called on the U.S. to spend millions of dollars to help clean up areas contaminated by Agent Orange left over from the Viet Nam War. Do Hoang Diem, the chairman of the reformist Viet Tan party, urged the U.S. to break up Hanoi’s tight grip on the media by implementing internet freedom legislation and demanding that Viet Nam stop jamming Radio Free Asia broadcasts. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) agreed with Do on the importance of RFA as a mechanism for laying the groundwork for nonviolent democratic change and echoed his call for the utilization of an intermediate wavelength as a way extending coverage. Additionally, both Do and human rights activist Jane Tien Dobui expressed hope that the internet, which can be accessed by one-fourth of Vietnamese citizens, will serve as a medium for social change among the younger generation.

Dr. Quan Nguyen, a leading political activist, was also present at the briefing and spoke about a letter that he sent to U.S. Ambassador to Viet Nam Michael Marine’s that was met with a prompt reply assuring Nguyen that Hanoi’s backsliding on human rights would not be tolerated. Still, Nguyen said that Washington must do more to punish the government for the crackdown, urging the U.S. not to support Viet Nam’s candidacy for a seat on the United Nations Security Council and calling for the postponement of non-humanitarian aid to the nation.


Post a Comment

<< Home