Vietnam Campaigners Hope for Senate Action
“By supporting human rights as well as enhanced trade, you will positively impact the lives of 84 million people in Vietnam ,”
By Patrick Goodenough
March 14, 2008 Vietnam (CNSNews.com) – Campaigners for democracy in Vietnam are hopeful that long-delayed legislation to promote human rights improvements in communist-ruled Vietnam may move forward on Capitol Hill, following a Senate hearing this week.
The legislation provides funding to promote human rights and democratic change in Vietnam and links future increases in non-humanitarian aid to verifiable improvements in its human rights record.
Critics of the one-party government in Hanoi say the political situation in the country has deteriorated, even as its bilateral relations with the U.S. have improved.
The State Department’s annual report on human rights around the world, released this week, cited a “crackdown on dissent” in Vietnam , including the arrest of activists and disruption of nascent opposition organizations.
Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee subcommittee hearing Wednesday that although “social freedoms” had increased in Vietnam , “serious deficiencies remain in political and civil liberties.”
The best known of these, Catholic priest and democracy campaigner Nguyen Van Ly, was sentenced a year ago to eight years’ imprisonment for distributing anti-government material and communicating with pro-democracy activists abroad.
The 26-year-old Viet Tan (or Vietnam Reform Party) says it promotes change through “grassroots, peaceful means,” including an underground newspaper, the Internet and radio broadcasts to spread its message. It says Nguyen Quoc Quan was merely preparing to distribute pro-democracy flyers in Ho Chi Minh City when arrested.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who chaired the hearing, said the arrest of pro-democracy campaigners was “not the type of news that we want to hear out of a country that is one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid in East Asia .”
Later in the year, the State Department removed Vietnam from a blacklist of religious freedom violators, despite protestations from some experts that the step was premature in the light of ongoing restrictions affecting Christians and Buddhists who want to organize free from government control.
The choice for the U.S. is not whether to isolate or engage Vietnam , but how to pursue the relationship in the most constructive way, Do said. He urged the Senate to pass the Vietnam Human Rights Act, speak out on abuses and support democracy.
In a letter to Boxer on Thursday, Vo Van Ai, the Paris-based international spokesman for the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, whose leaders are under house arrest, urged the Senate to pass the Vietnam Human Rights Act, saying that economic development alone would not bring democracy to Vietnam.
“By supporting human rights as well as enhanced trade, you will positively impact the lives of 84 million people in Vietnam ,” he said.