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By Lawrence D. Jones

8/19/10 Vietnam (ChristianPost) – U.S. religious freedom advocates voiced their collective concern on Wednesday over the human rights abuses and religious freedom violations that reportedly take place in Vietnam.

They also urged the Obama administration to take action by re-designating Vietnam a “Country of Particular Concern” – a label that the U.S. government gives to countries for ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.

“When used in the past, the CPC designation produced tangible improvements on the ground and did not hinder progress on other bilateral issues,” testified Ted Van Der Meid, commissioner at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

“In fact, trade, investment, humanitarian programs, and military relations expanded during the period when Vietnam was a CPC,” he added. “The CPC designation can be used again to bring concrete change.”

During Wednesday’s “emergency session,” the commission heard from Van Der Meid, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), as well as witnesses of what has been currently taking place in Con Dau, a Catholic village in the Diocese of Da Nang, Central Vietnam.

Smith – who last month introduced a House resolution to condemn and deplore the violence, threats, fines and harassment in Con Dau – recalled the attack on the village a few months ago during a religious funeral procession.

“Vietnamese authorities and riot police disrupted that sad and solemn occasion, shooting tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd, beating mourners with batons and electric rods,” Smith reported. “More than 100 were injured, dozens were arrested, and several remain in custody and have reportedly been severely beaten and tortured. At least two innocent people have been murdered by the Vietnamese police.”

And, according to Smith, the Vietnamese government justifies the violence, torture and murder because the villagers of Con Dau had previously been ordered – some through coercion – to leave their village, property, church, century-old cemetery, their religious heritage, and to forgo equitable compensation in order to make way for a new “green? resort.

“Nothing, however, not even governmental orders, grant license for government sanctioned murder and other human rights abuses,” he insisted.

In Van Der Meid’s testimony, the USCIRF commissioner reported on how Vietnam continues to backslide on human rights and noted that there remain “too many religious freedom violations, too many individuals detained for independent religious activity or peaceful religious freedom advocacy, too many cases of discrimination and forced renunciations of faith targeting new converts to Protestantism, and too many stories of government approved violence targeting Buddhists and Catholics.”

“The U.S. should clearly articulate our interest in human rights improvements and use all available diplomatic tools to advance that interest,” he added, after noting how the U.S.-Vietnamese relationship has been rapidly growing in many different areas. “U.S. policy should clearly signal support for those in Vietnam peacefully seeking to advance both prosperity and universal rights.”

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