Lawmakers called on the State Department to designate Vietnam as an egregious human-rights violator on Wednesday ahead of talks in Hanoi on Friday.
The chairman of the House human rights panel said the State Department should designate the communist nation as a “country of particular concern” under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act because of its continued religious persecution and political repression. The call comes days before the annual human-rights dialogue is expected to take place in Hanoi after being cancelled last year.
The State Department lifted the designation, which opens up countries to criticism and possibly sanctions, in 2006 amid reports of progress on human rights. Since then, said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), religious persecution has gotten worse.
“We do call on the Obama administration to designate Vietnam as a country of particular concern,” Smith said at a press conference with religious leaders. “The Vietnamese government has cracked down on religious believers, evangelicals, Montagnards, Catholics and others.”
Smith also said he would re-introduce his Vietnam Human Rights Act within the next day or two. The bill would create benchmarks that Vietnam would have to meet to get U.S. assistance; it cleared the House last September but died in the Senate.
Religious activity is controlled by the state in Vietnam. However, the government says it respects freedom of belief.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), the author of the 1998 act, called on the administration to strike a tough stance during the meeting in Hanoi. He also reiterated his call for President Obama to nominate a Vietnamese-American to be the next ambassador.
“The U.S. government in the upcoming Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue has an obligation – a moral and legal obligation – to advocate forcefully … for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience,” Wolf said. “That should be the bottom line – the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience.”
The two lawmakers were joined at their press conference by former Rep. Anh Cao (R-La.), the only Vietnamese-American ever elected to Congress, as well as by representatives of Vietnamese Catholic, Buddhist and other religious groups. Cao and other advocates will testify Thursday before Smith’s House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on human rights.
“This hearing will examine the ongoing human rights abuses the Government of Vietnam perpetrates upon its own citizens, particularly the deeply troubling violations of religious and ethnic rights as well as ongoing government complicity in human trafficking,” Smith said. “The testimony of our distinguished witnesses will provide compelling evidence that the State Department should assertively raise during the U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue scheduled to take place the following day. The Subcommittee also will critically examine Vietnam’s announcement of its candidacy for the United Nations Human Rights Council for the 2014-2016 term.”