July 20th, 2009
It’s no secret that Congress has a lot on its plate. With comprehensive health care reform, clean energy legislation, and a complete overhaul of America’s financial systems on the table, it’s unsurprising that many Americans are unaware of the human rights abuses currently taking place in Vietnam. Some might wonder why Americans should care about civil and political rights in a country thousands of miles from our own. I hope this post will provide some good reasons.
I have been actively following the plight of Vietnam’s people since I was first elected to the House in 1996. After visiting Vietnam three times and having my visa denied at least six times, I have first-hand knowledge of the country’s deteriorating human rights situation. The Government of Vietnam continues to prevent churches, charity organizations, human rights groups, and other advocates from exercising their rights to free speech and expression. Anyone who attempts to exercise these rights is harassed or imprisoned by the Government of Vietnam.
In response to Vietnam’s ongoing disregard for the political, religious, and civil liberties of its people, in 2004 the State Department designated Vietnam as a country of particular concern (CPC) for severe violations of religious freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act. Although Vietnam did absolutely nothing to improve the human rights situation of its people, our government, under the Bush Administration, inexplicably took Vietnam off the CPC list in 2006 and granted the country Permanent Normal Trade Relations status the same year. Vietnam was later admitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO), granting their repressive government further legitimacy despite their refusal to protect the most basic human freedoms of the Vietnamese people.
It has been over two years since Vietnam was admitted to the WTO, an organization that takes pride in the “Western values” of its members. But we have yet to see any human rights improvements in Vietnam. Just two weeks ago, two young and prominent dissidents, Le Cong Dinh, an attorney, and Nguyen Tien Trung, an engineer, were arrested by the Government of Vietnam for speaking out against human rights violations in their country. Can you imagine life in America if our government imprisoned its citizens for merely speaking their mind, and expressing their desire for freedom and democracy? Can you imagine how angry Americans would be if our law enforcement agencies imprisoned constituents who expressed their opinions to elected officials? For the people of Vietnam, that nightmare is a reality.
Vietnamese authorities have not limited their oppressive actions to their citizens. In 2007 and 2008, the Government of Vietnam arrested, detained, and jailed four U.S. citizens in Vietnam, some of whom were charged for promoting peace and non-violence. Luckily, with Congressional and international pressure, they were all safely returned to the United States.
In 2008, the Government of Vietnam created the Administration Agency for Radio, Television and Electronics Information, a seemingly innocuous agency whose sole objective is to restrict internet freedom and censor private blogs. The people of Vietnam should have the right to express their views without censorship – on the streets, on the internet, wherever they may be. Next week, I will be introducing a resolution calling on the Government of Vietnam to release imprisoned bloggers and respect internet freedom. I hope my Congressional colleagues will join me in supporting this important legislation, and honor America’s promise to be a beacon of freedom and democracy for nations across the world.