“Human Rights Concerns in Vietnam”
November 6, 2007
Thank you Mr. Chairman for highlighting the abysmal human rights situation in Vietnam. Those Vietnamese taking a stand for freedom —political or religious— are harshly struck down. We’ll hear about that today. So how should Congress respond?
The House of Representatives has several times passed the Vietnam Human Rights Act, authored by Representative Smith, which I have worked on. The Act restricts aid and authorizes funding to promote human rights in Vietnam. Despite enjoying strong House support, a few Senators have sat on this bill in the past two Congresses. Hopefully, this Congress will be different.
I have long backed Radio Free Asia —a “surrogate” broadcasting service that acts as uncensored media in Vietnam— having legislation signed into law in 1998. These broadcasts help Vietnamese understand developments in their own country, in the voice of their fellow citizens. This objective news and information undercuts the government’s repression.
We should be protesting Vietnam’s human rights abuses in our loudest voice. I have spoken with many Vietnamese dissidents. I met the Most Venerable Thich Quang Do of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, and Le Quang Liem too, as they were under house arrest. I know that American protests lend badly needed morale support. The congressional resolutions we’ve passed helped, and President Bush’s meeting with four Vietnamese-Americans working on human rights in Vietnam this past spring sent a strong message. Among the four was Diem Do of Orange County, California.
The U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam has a unique role championing human rights, which frankly, ambassadors aren’t always so good at. For one, he should be protesting loudly Vietnam’s efforts to jam Radio Free Asia, a challenge the Vietnam Human Rights Act helps. Last month, Representatives Rohrabacher and Sanchez and I met with our new Ambassador to Vietnam at a forum in Orange County. Ambassador Michalak promised to make human rights a top priority of his tenure. If he’s doing his job, human rights will be an irritant in this relationship. At that forum, I reminded the Ambassador of one of his predecessor’s views. Ambassador Pete Peterson said:
I don’t hear anyone reporting problems here. Vietnam by any standard has to be rated a success.
That was way off, obviously. Since then, we’ve become more realistic, though I don’t understand Vietnam’s removal from the “Country of Particular Concern” list. Needless to say, we expect our Ambassador to be speaking out boldly for human rights in Vietnam.