CALLING ON VIETNAM TO IMMEDIATELY AND UNCONDITIONALLY RELEASE POLITICAL PRISONERS AND PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE(H. Res. 243)

May 1, 2007

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey:  Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

   Vietnam has long been known as a major violator of human rights. The U.S. House of Representatives went on record in the 109th Congress condemning and deploring the violations of human rights in Vietnam and strongly urging the Vietnamese Government to consider the implications of its human rights abuses for the broader relationship between the United States and Vietnam. I point out parenthetically that the House almost a year ago to the day passed a resolution that I sponsored similar to this one, H. Con. Res. 320, on April 6, 2006. There was some initial improvement. Regrettably, there has been a snapback to its original and even worsened situation when it comes to human rights observance. That is why I have sponsored H. Res. 243–calling on Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release Fr. Ly, Mr. Dai, Mrs. Whan and other political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.

   Mr. Speaker, the U.S. Department of State in its “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” notes that the human rights record in Vietnam remains “unsatisfactory,” and that government officials continued “to commit serious abuses.” The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom stated in its 2006 annual report that Vietnam “continues to commit systematic and egregious violations of freedom of religion and belief.”

   However, in November 2006, pursuant to a boatload of assurances and solemn promises that the human rights situation would improve dramatically, Vietnam became the first country to be removed from the list of Countries of Particular Concern, so designated pursuant to the International Religious Freedom Act. Late last year, the U.S. Congress agreed to Vietnam becoming an official member of the World Trade Organization, and a group of Asian countries at the United Nations has nominated Vietnam as the sole regional candidate for a nonpermanent seat on the U.S. Security Council.

   Despite this flurry of international recognition and tangible economic benefit, despite the hopes of many, including and especially the Vietnamese people, Vietnam has reverted to its repressive practices and has arrested, imprisoned, and imposed lengthy prison sentences on numerous individuals whose only crime has been to seek democratic reform and respect for fundamental human rights in their country.

   The crackdown in Vietnam, Mr. Speaker, on religious and human rights activists is unconscionable and of course it is unnecessary. I have been to Vietnam, Mr. Speaker, on many human rights trips, and chaired several hearings on it as well. But on one of the most recent trips, I actually met with Father Nguyen Van Ly who recently got 8 years in prison; I also met with Nguyen Van Dai and about 60 other human rights activists and religious leaders and people who are pressing for reform in that country.

   I was struck by how smart, talented, and kindhearted these people were. I believe they are Vietnam’s best and brightest and bravest. I was amazed how they harbor no malice, no hate towards the government; nor do they hate the government leaders. They only want a better future for their country, and each and every one of the people I met with was committed, and is committed, to peaceful nonviolent reform.

   But just one month ago, on March 30, the government sentenced Father Ly to 8 years imprisonment after subjecting him to a sham trial for distributing “antigovernment materials.”

   When I met with Father Ly he was under house arrest, he sounded just like the activists I had met and spoke to during the dark years of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union. During those years of domination by communism, men like Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, and Anatoly Shcharansky–people who, like the folks in Charter 77 in the Czech Republic–only wanted freedom, democracy, and human rights. None of them wanted violence, and yet we see that men like Father Ly now get 8 years imprisonment on top of the 13 years he has previously served in the Gulag on trumped-up charges. Jailing dissidents is a window into the malice and evil of the government of Vietnam.


   As I mentioned, attorney, Nguyen Van Dai, a tenacious campaigner for human rights who uses the law, international and domestic, to press his cause, nonviolently–he’s totally nonviolent, hates violence, abhors it, stands up and tries to use the law to try to get remedies for his clients. He, too, is now awaiting a trial which will be another kangaroo court and a sham deal at that.   

   Another human rights lawyer, Le Thi Cong Nhan, is a labor activist. And according to reports, she too now will undergo another one of these bogus trials.

   We know that Vietnam, due to our robust trade and recently enacted PNTR and their ascension into the WTO, we know that trade will increase between the United States and Vietnam. So when this lawyer seeks to be an activist for what the ILO and all of us in this room believe to be fundamental freedoms like collective bargaining, the secret police raids her office and drags her away. She is now awaiting another one of these kangaroo trials.

   Another victim of the crackdown is Le Quoc Quan. Here’s a person who just returned to Vietnam in early March after completing a fellowship right here in Washington at the National Endowment for Democracy. He was arrested on March 8, apparently for the crime of engaging in research on civil society development at NED. And all of us who know NED know what a great, completely transparent and human rights rule of law oriented organization NED is, a group funded, by this Congress and by the executive branch. It’s a great organization. Quam goes back to victim and is basically arrested soon after his arrival and now he is awaiting a trial as well.

   Mr. Speaker, a little over a year ago, a group called Block 8406 devised a statement of human rights principles. It reminds me of Charter 77. Brave men and women banded together united by a statement of principles, human rights concerns. We’ve seen such expressions in Cuba, we’ve seen it all over the world in despotic countries. These brave men and women sign on the dotted line, in a way not unlike our own forefathers who signed the Declaration of Independence. In Vietnam’s case, they are pertaning for reforms. And openness. And I have read it. It is very, very simple and eloquent and to the point. It’s all about human rights and democratization. And for being part of 8406, other activists are now being caught in this dragnet.

   I would note parenthetically, Father Ly was also a signer of this Block 8406 a manifesto on Freedom and Democracy for Vietnam. The 8406 stands for April 8, 2006. That’s when they founded this courageous organization.

   H. Res. 243, the resolution before us, Mr. Speaker, is intended to send a critical and timely message to the Vietnamese government that these serious violations of basic human rights are absolutely unacceptable and bring profound dishonor on the government of Vietnam.

   These human rights violations cannot be overlooked. They cannot be trivialized. These human rights violations which are ongoing, and they occur as we meet here today, cannot continue without equally serious consequences. It also urges our Government to make human rights a top priority in our bilateral relations with Vietnam. I do believe this recent snap back to human rights abuse underscores the unwitting naivete on the part of some who think if we just trade, if we just open our pocket books, dictatorships will automatically matriculate into democracies and freedom loving human rights respecting countries. It hasn’t happened anywhere. Not in the PRC, it has not happened in Vietnam and it is not happening anywhere where that naive view is embraced.

   So we’ve got to send some clear messages. Human rights do matter. And we will stand up for those who are mistreated. We will stand with the oppressed and not with the oppressor.

   Finally, I’ve heard it from informed and very reliable sources that some of the recent jailees, the human rights activists that are now behind bars suffering torture and mistreatment, that they are being told that the United States really doesn’t care about them; that we’ve walked away. I have heard this on a couple of occasions from people who have very good inside information. They are actually being taunted with that kind of mantra.

   I want to tell the presecuted–you are not forgotten. It’s a bipartisan expression today, you are no forgotten. We care deeply about these human rights activists and we will not forget you. And we will do all that is humanly possible, God willing, to effectuate your release and hopefully, some day, see a free and democratic Vietnam.

At this point in the Record, I would like to include 8406–manifesto on Freedom and Democracy for Human Rights.

   Manifesto 2006 on Freedom and Democracy for Vietnam by 118 Democracy Activists Inside Vietnam–April 8, 2006

  DEAR COMPATRIOTS INSIDE AND OUTSIDE OF VIETNAM: We, the undersigned, representing hundreds of Vietnamese democracy activists inside Vietnam and all those Vietnamese citizens yearning for True Democracy for Vietnam, hereby unanimously proclaim the following:

   I. THE CURRENT REALITIES OF VIETNAM

   1. In the August 1945 Revolution, the entire Vietnamese nation made a choice for national independence and not socialism. Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence on September 2, 1945 did not contain a single word about socialism or communism. The two mainsprings behind the success of that Revolution were the Vietnamese people’s aspiration for national independence and also the desire to fill the power vacuum that existed after the Japanese surrender on August 15, 1945, following their overthrow of the French colonial administration on March 9, 1945.

   It is thus clear that the Vietnamese communists had abandoned the main objective of the August Revolution. As a result, the Vietnamese peoples’ aspiration for self-determination was disregarded. There have been two occasions, one in 1954 in North Vietnam and the other in 1975 in all of Vietnam, when there were good opportunities for the Vietnamese nation to set a new course towards a true democracy. Sadly, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), failed to take advantage of those opportunities. This failure is due to the well-known fact, as propounded by Lenin, that once a dictatorship of the proletariat has been installed, its very first function is to foster violence and repressive terror!

2. On September 2, 1945 in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, President of the Interim Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, solemnly declared to the [Vietnamese] nation and the world that: “All men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, among them the Right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” undying words taken from the U.S. Declaration of Independence of 1776. Interpreted broadly, this sentence can mean that all nations are created equal and that they are entitled to Life, Freedom and Happiness. The 1791 French Declaration on Human and Civil Rights also proclaims: “All people are born free and have equal rights, and they must remain free and equal in all rights.” These are undeniable truths …..” (This quote is taken directly from the September 2, 1945 Vietnamese Declaration of Independence).

   Nevertheless, the communist government of Vietnam began to trample upon these sacred rights the moment they came to power.

   3. By February 1951, the Vietnam Workers Party (VWP, now rechristened the CPV) proclaimed in a Manifesto at its Second Party Congress that: “The ideology of the VWP is Marxism-Leninism.” This was something that was even more clearly expressed in the Party Bylaws, under the rubric of “Goal and Leading Principles”: “The Vietnam Workers Party takes the ideology of Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin and the thought of Mao Zedong in combination with the revolutionary realities of Vietnam to be its ideological foundation and compass for all Party activities.

   Since then, especially in the North after 1954, and in the entire country after April 30, 1975, the specter of Communism has been imposed on the Vietnamese nation. For all practical purposes, this specter has been used to deprive the Vietnamese people of all their human rights. And even today, its overwhelming influence is evident in the spiritual as well as the material spheres of the Vietnamese nation.

   II. UNIVERSAL LAWS AFFECTING ALL SOCIETIES

   1. History has demonstrated that under every totalitarian regime, whether communist or non-communist, all democratic rights and freedoms are mercilessly repressed, the difference being only in the degree of repression. Unfortunately, to this day the Vietnamese nation is still one of the few that is under the rule of a totalitarian communist regime. This fact is unabashedly declared in Article 4 of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV) Constitution, which says: “The CPV….. follows Marxism-Leninism and the thought of Ho Chi Minh, and it is the leading force of the state and society.” It is on the basis of this article that democratic rights and freedoms of the Vietnamese people have been extremely curtailed.

   2. The power structure in Vietnam rejects competition and totally minimizes the possibility of its replacement by something else. This record has helped accelerate the degeneration of government, and its transformation from what it started out to be. Because there are no rules and principles regarding fair competition in the current political culture of the country, election after election, people have not been allowed to choose the most deserving individuals and political parties to represent them. For that reason the leadership, management and operational set-ups become ever more corrupt, and can now be compared to a creaky piece of equipment from the center down to the localities. As a result, Vietnam is now a nation that has fallen way behind other nations in the region and in the world. In the prevailing environment, this shameful national performance and other nation-wide problems are beyond correction. The problem of all problems, the source of all evils, resides in the fact that the CPV is now the one and only political force leading Vietnam! The realities of history have shown that any country, once it has fallen into the orbit of Communism, ends up in ruin and misery. The Soviet Union itself, the very cradle of world communism, has, together with other former Eastern European countries valiantly overcome its own weaknesses to rediscover the correct path leading them forward.

   3. We all understand that no one can remake history, but it is possible to redirect its course. What is even more important is that through history’s lessons, one can find the correct orientation for the nation’s future. The path chosen by the CPV for the Vietnamese nation was designed in haste, and thoughtlessly imposed. That is why today, it is necessary to choose once again a new path for our nation. And a path chosen by the entire nation must necessarily be better than the one chosen by just one person or one group of persons. Given that the CPV is, after all, only one component of the nation, it should not claim to speak on behalf of the entire nation! Considering that for almost half a century, from 1954 to 2006, the ruling party in Vietnam has usurped the voice of the nation, it is by no means a legitimate government! Why? Because there had simply not been a single free election during all that time in Vietnam.

   On the basis of the above realities and the stated universal laws, being fully conscious of our responsibilities as citizens, and faced with the nation’s fate, we would like to declare the following to our compatriots both inside and outside of Vietnam:

   III. OBJECTIVE, METHODS AND SIGNIFICANCE OF OUR STRUGGLE

   1. The highest objective in the struggle to fight for freedom and democracy for the Vietnamese nation today is to make sure that the present political regime in Vietnam is changed in a fundamental way, not through incremental “renovation” steps or, even worse, through insignificant touch-ups here and there. Concretely speaking, it must be a change from the monolithic, one-party, non-competitive regime that we have at the present time to a pluralistic and multiparty system; one in which there is healthy competition, in accordance with the legitimate requirements of the nation, including at least a clear separation of powers among the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches of government. This would be in tune with international criteria and the experiences and lessons Mankind has learned from highly respected and successful democracies.

   The concrete objective is to re-establish the following fundamental rights of the people:

   The Freedom of Information and Opinion as defined in the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified on December 16, 1966, and endorsed by Vietnam on September 24, 1982, Article 19.2: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of opinion; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.” This means that political parties, organizations and individuals all have the freedom to express their opinions through the printed media, radio, television and any other mass media without having to wait for prior approval by the government.

   The Freedom to Assemble, form Associations, Political Parties, Vote and Stand for Elected Offices as defined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 25: “Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity (a) to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; (b) to vote and to be elected in genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors.” This means that political parties of every orientation are allowed to fairly compete in a genuine pluralistic and multiparty democracy.

   The Freedom to participate in Independent Labor Unions and the Right to Legitimate Strikes in accordance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ratified by the United Nations on December 16, 1966, Articles 7 and 8: “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favorable conditions of work ….., the right of everyone to form trade unions and join the trade union of his choice, subject only to the rules of the organization concerned, for the promotion and protection of his economic and social interests ….. [including] the right to strike …..” These Labor Unions must be independent of, and in practice, not subservient to the state.

   The Freedom of Religion as defined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 18: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include the freedom to have or adopt a Religion or Belief of his choice, and the freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.” These religions must also operate independently; they cannot be made the instruments of the state.

   2. The method of this struggle must be peaceful and non-violent. The Vietnamese nation must itself be actively engaged in it. Of course, we are extremely thankful for the warm and ever more effective support of all our friends in the world. Using modern information media and through ever larger international exchanges, we will seek in every way to help our compatriot to fully understand the issues involved. Once this has been achieved, they surely will know how to act appropriately and effectively.

   3. This struggle is meant to make the Right
Cause triumph over the Bad Cause, and, Progress over Backwardness. There are popular movements that are currently trying to use the laws of life and the tendencies of our time in order to defeat those evil forces that are trying to go against these tendencies and laws. Whether the CPV marches hand-in-hand with the Nation or not will depend on whether it is objective, fair, enlightened and modest enough to accept the principle of equality in a fair competition. The one-party political regime must be once and for all buried in the dustbin of history. From such a departing point, the Vietnamese nation will be able to find its best citizens and the most capable political organizations after each election to lead it. The “total triumph of the right cause” principle will be established, and one’s individual life will become better, our society more humane, and our Compatriots will live together on more friendly terms.

   We hope that this Manifesto would foster the positive contributions of our compatriots living outside of Vietnam and the support of our international friends. We are sincerely grateful and call on the United Nations, national parliaments, governments, international organizations and our friends all over the world to continue supporting enthusiastically and effectively this fully legitimate struggle. This will soon help bring our Fatherland, Vietnam, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with civilized, moral, prosperous and free countries in today’s community of Mankind–Unanimously declared in Vietnam on 8 April 2006.

   Dr. Nguyen Xuan An, Hue; Teacher Dang Van Anh, Hue; Prof. Nguyen Kim Anh, Hue; Writer Trinh Canh, Vung Tau; Teacher Le Can, Hue; Teacher Tran Thi Minh Cam, Hue; Teacher Nguyen Thi Linh Chi, Can Tho; Teacher Nguyen Viet Cu, Quang Ngai; Writer Nguyen Dac Cuong, Phan Thiet; Teacher Tran Doan, Quang Ngai; Teacher Ho Anh Dung, Hue; Dr. Ha Xuan Duong, Hue; Attorney Nguyen Van Dai, Hanoi; Dr. Ho Dong, Vinh Long; Businessman Tran Van Ha, Da Nang; Dr. Le Thi Ngan Ha, Hue; (Mrs.) Vu Thuy Ha, Hanoi; Teacher Tran Thach Hai, Haiphong; Teacher Dang Hoai Anh, Hue; Dr. Le Hoai Anh, Nha Trang.

   Prof. Nguyen Ngoc Anh, Da Namg; Rev. F.X. Le Van Cao, Hue; Rev. Giuse Hoang Can, Hue; Rev. Giuse Nguyen Van Chanh, Hue; Prof. Hoang Minh Chinh, Hanoi; Dang Quoc Cuong, MA, Hue; Businessman Ho Ngoc Diep, Da Nang; Ms. Le Thi Phu Dung, Saigon; Prof. Truong Quang Dung, Hue; Ex-Col. Pham Que Duong, Hanoi; Kt (Architect?) Tran Van Don, Phan Thiet; Rev. Phero Nguyen Huu Giai, Hue; Teacher Le Thi Bich Ha, Can Tho; Teacher Le Nguyen Xuan Ha, Hue; Eng. Do Nam Hai, Saigon; Kt (Architect?) Tran Viet Hai, Vung Tau; Eng. Doan Thi Dieu Hanh, Vung Tau; Teacher Phan Thi Minh Hanh, Hue; Writer Tran Hao, Vung Tau; Teacher Le Le Hang, Hue.

   Nurse Che Minh Hoang, Nha Trang; Teacher Le Thu Minh Hung, Saigon; Rev. Gk Nguyen Van Hung, Hue; Teacher Le Thi Thanh Huyenh, Hue; Mai Thu Huong, MA, Haiphong; Candidate Nguyen Ngoc Ke, Hue; Nguyen Quoc Khanh, MA, Hue; Prof. Tran Khue, Saigon; Writer Bui Lang, Phan Thiet; Mr. Le Quang Liem, Head, Traditional Hoa Hao Buddhist” Church, Saigon; Rev. G.B. Nguyen Cao Loc, Hue; Teacher Ma Van Luu, Haiphong; Rev. Tadeo Nguyen Van Ly, Hue; Teacher Cao Thi Xuan Mai, Hue; Writer Ha Van Mau, Can Tho; Writer Le Thi Thu Minh, Can Tho; Teacher Nguyen Anh Minh, Saigon; (Mrs.) Bui Kim Ngan, Hanoi; Rev. G.B. Le Van Nghiem, Hue; Rev. Dominic Phan Phuoc, Hue.

   Rev. Giuse Cai Hong Phuong, Hue; Eng. Ta Minh Quan, Can Tho; Rev. Giuse Tran Van Quy, Hue; Dr. Tran Thi Sen, Nha Trang; Eng. Hoang Son, Haiphong; Prof. Nguyen Anh Tai, Da Nang; Dr. Ta Minh Tam, Can Tho; Pastor Pham Ngoc Thach, Saigon; Teacher Van Ba Thanh, Hue; Tran Manh Thu, MA, Haiphong; Writer Hoang Tien, Hanoi; Rev. Tephano Chan Tin, Saigon; Writer Ton Nu Minh Trang, Phan Thiet; Dr. Nguyen Anh Tu, Da Nang; Teacher Le Tri Tue, Haiphong; Businesswoman Nguyen Thi Hanh, DaNang; Prof. Dang Minh Hao, Hue; Writer Tran Manh Hao, Saigon; Rev. Giuse Nguyen Duc Hieu, Bac Ninh; Teacher Van Dinh Hoang, Hue.

   Prof. Nguyen Minh Hung, Hue; Teacher Phan Ngoc Huy, Hue; Teacher Do Thi Minh Huong, Hue; Nurse Tran Thu Huong, Da Nang; Prof. Nguyen Chinh Ket, Saigon; Teacher Nguyen Dang Khoa, Hue; Ex-Major Vu Kinh, Hanoi; Teacher Ton That Hoang Lan, Saigon; Dr. Vu Thi Hoa Linh, Saigon; Rev. Phero Phan Van Loi, Hue; Teacher Nguyen Van Ly, Haiphong; Teacher Cai Thi Mai, Haiphong; Teacher Nguyen Van Mai, Saigon; Teacher Phan Van Mau, Hue; Teacher Ma Van Minh, Hue; Dr. Huyen Ton Nu Phuong Nhien, Da Nang; Dang Hoai Ngan, MA, Hue; Teacher Le Hong Phuc, Haiphong; Eng. Vo Lam Phuoc, Saigon; Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang, Saigon.

   Rev. Augustino Ho Van Quy, Hue; Dr. Vo Van Quyen, Vinh Long; Hoa Hao Lay preacher Le Van Soc, Vinh Long; Rev. Phao Lo Ngo Thanh Son, Hue; Eng. Do Hong Tam, Haiphong; Prof. Nguyen Thanh Tam, Hue; Teacher Nguyen binh Thanh, Hue; Hoa Hao Lay preacher Nguyen Van Tho, Dong Thap; Prof. Dr. Tran Hong Thu, Saigon; Ex-Officer Tran Dung Tien, Hanoi; Teacher Nguyen Khac Toan, Hanoi; Teacher Che Thi Hong Trinh, Hue; Dr. Doan Minh Tuan, Saigon; Nurse Tran Thi Hoai Van, Nha,Trang; Teacher Ngo Thi Tuong Vi, Quang Ngai; Ho Ngoc Vinh, MA, Da Nang; Teacher Nguyen Le Xuan Vinh, Can Tho; Eng. Lam Dinh Vinh, Saigon.

For Immediate Release: May 1, 2007
Contact:  Patrick Creamer (202) 225-3765

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