Contact: Patrick Creamer (202) 225-3765
July 31, 2007

Foreign Affairs Committee Approves Smith Bill Promoting Human Rights Reform in Vietnam

Bill gives authority for sanctions if abuses continue

WASHINGTON-The House Foreign Affairs Committee today approved legislation authored by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) to promote human rights reform in Vietnam and hold the Vietnamese Government accountable for further human rights abuses.

“After the Vietnamese Government was feted as moving in a new direction, they immediately searched out some of the best, brightest and bravest of Vietnam-men and women who have spoken out on behalf of human rights-and threw them into prison. This brutal crackdown is unconscionable. This legislation puts the Vietnamese Government on notice that the path of human rights abuses at least carries some penalties,” Smith said during debate in the Committee.

Smith’s bill, the “Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2007” (H.R. 3096), prohibits increased U.S. non-humanitarian assistance to the Government of Vietnam unless there is verifiable evidence that the Vietnamese Government has made substantial progress towards the release of its political and religious prisoners, towards respecting the right to freedom of religion, returning properties, allowing free and open access to refugee programs, respecting the human rights of members of all ethnic minority groups, and taking appropriate steps to end trafficking in persons.

“Last year, a human rights declaration was signed by many of the leading human rights advocates in Vietnam. It is filled with humanitarian and human rights hopes and aspirations for that country-all pegged to non-violent methods stating clearly that reform has to be achieved through democratic means. That list has become the roster used by the Vietnamese Government to track down and incarcerate one political prisoner after another,” Smith told his Committee colleagues.

Earlier this year, the parish house of Father Ly-a former prisoner of conscience who spent over 13 years in prison-was raided. Father Ly was moved to a remote location and placed under house arrest. Father Ly is an advisor to “Block 8406”-a democracy movement which started on April 8, 2006, hence the name 8406-and a new political party, the Vietnam Progression Party.

On March 30th, Father Ly was sentenced to 8 years in prison for distributing “anti-government” materials. Father Ly was among a number of dissidents swept up in a recent crackdown in Vietnam. Vietnamese police arrested another member of “Block 8406,” principal spokesperson for the Vietnam Progression Party and the founder of the Vietnamese Labor Movement, Le Thi Cong Nhan. On the same day-March 6, 2007-Vietnamese police arrested one of Vietnam’s few practicing human rights lawyers, Nguyen Van Dai.

“The Vietnamese Government’s recent crackdown-which truly is a snapback to their previous patterns-is an absolute outrage and should not be met with indifference by the international community,” said Smith, who authored a resolution, which passed the House earlier this year, that insists the Vietnamese Government immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience who have been arrested in a recent wave of government oppression.

Additionally, Smith’s bill authorizes $4 million over two years for organizations and individuals that promote human rights in Vietnam and will authorize over $10 million to help stop the Vietnamese Government’s jamming of Radio Free Asia.

“The jamming of Radio Free Asia is a very inhospitable and deleterious act on the part of the Vietnamese Government which clearly intends to stifle democracy progress and free thought,” said Smith.

Smith’s bill also requires the State Department to issue an annual report on the progress of human rights reform in Vietnam.

Similar bills introduced by Smith in the 107th Congress (H.R. 2833) and 108th Congress (H.R. 1587) passed the House, but were never taken up in Senate.

Patrick J. Creamer
Communications Director
Office of Congressman Christopher Smith (NJ-04)
2373 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Phone: (202) 225-3765
Fax: (202) 225-7768
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