Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

House Foreign Affairs subcommittee holds hearing on human rights concerns in Viet Nam

The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight held a hearing Tuesday regarding human rights concerns in Vietnam. The hearing was chaired by Rep. William Delahunt (D-MA). The subcommittee heard from three panels of witnesses.

Delahunt began the hearing by outlining the current situation in Viet Nam. He said that the economic relationship between the United States and Viet Nam is growing. When it comes to human rights, however, he said that the U.S. “should not be influenced by economic gains or other enticements to lose [our] values.”

Viet Nam’s lack of religious freedom was discussed often, with many of the witnesses and committee members saying that Viet Nam should be put back on the U.S. State Department’s Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) for religious freedom list. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said that “no real progress has been made” in the area of religious freedom despite claims from the Vietnamese government.

Scot Marciel, Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, defended the State Department’s decision to remove Viet Nam from the CPC list, saying that the removal did not mean all religious freedom problems have been solved. He explained that “the promotion of human rights continues to be one of our highest priorities.”

Sophie Richardson, Deputy Director for Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, said that Viet Nam was experiencing the harshest crackdown on dissent in 20 years, with the government moving to suppress all opposition. This statement was in agreement with the testimony of Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA), who said that since Viet Nam became a member of the World Trade Organization, there aren’t any Vietnamese dissidents who are actually residing outside of prison. Cong Thanh Do, spokesman for The People’s Democratic Party, highlighted the United States’ role, saying funding provided by the U.S. for counterterrorism training was being used to suppress the Vietnamese people.

Many recommendations were made on what procedures the United States should take in dealing with Viet Nam. LCHR President Kathryn Cameron Porter emphasized the need for expanded dialogue between American and Vietnamese leaders. Mentioning a recent LCHR-hosted NGO roundtable with a delegation from Vietnam’s newly-elected National Assembly, Porter urged Members of Congress to hold similar exchanges to help promote reform. “I believe you all hold a key to this,” Porter told Subcommittee Chairman William Delahunt and his colleagues, adding, “out of dialogue comes discourse.”

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