Theodore's World: Vietnam Campaigners Hope for Senate Action

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March 15, 2008

Vietnam Campaigners Hope for Senate Action

Vietnam Campaigners Hope for Senate Action

CNS News

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 House of Representatives passed the Vietnam Human Rights Act by an overwhelming vote last September, and the legislation is now before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Previous versions, passed by the House, made no headway in the Senate.

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."

Hill, who visited Vietnam earlier this month, said he had urged officials to release dissidents, and would continue to do so.

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.

Another imprisoned campaigner, Nguyen Quoc Quan, is an American citizen who was arrested in Vietnam last November. Hanoi said the American, who is a member of an unauthorized group called Viet Tan -- which Vietnam considers a terrorist organization -- was trying to overthrow the government.

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."

The two arrests -- and others -- came during a year which began with Vietnam being granted permanent normal trade relations with the U.S. and entry into the World Trade Organization.

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.

Viet Tan chairman Do Hoang Diem told the senators the country's democracy movement was growing rapidly since 2006, comparing it to similar groups in communist Poland and Czechoslovakia during the Cold War.

"After more than 50 years in power, for the first time, the Vietnamese Communist Party is facing numerous and unprecedented challenges to its rule," he said. "The desire for real changes in Vietnam is stronger now than ever before. In response, the regime is using terror tactics to silence opposition."

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.

On Thursday, Do said he thought the hearing had gone "very well," and noted that Boxer had expressed support for the Vietnam Human Rights Act.

"That is very encouraging," he said. "We are confident that we will continue to enjoy more and more support as we move forward."

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.

The House passed the Vietnam Human Rights Act last September by a 414-3 vote. It was introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), whose earlier attempts to get similar bills through the legislative process died in the Senate.

Opponents have included Arizona Sen. John McCain, now the Republican presidential nominee, and Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

The two senators, both Vietnam War veterans, were instrumental in the normalization of bilateral relations in 1995.

Do said Thursday his organization has not yet had any clear indication of the three presidential candidates' positions on the latest legislation.

Wild Thing's comment..........

Interesting that both McCain and Kerry once again in agreement about Vietnam.

.....Thank you Jack for sending this to me. Jack's blog is Conservative Insurgent.

Posted by Wild Thing at March 15, 2008 02:47 AM


Thank you and thank you for posting this WT.
Both war heroes want the normalization but what do they fear most about granting the people their human rights?
How about the possibility of a full public disclosure in Hanoi about the behavior and treatment of the POW's and the malfeasance of Kerry.

Posted by: Jack at March 15, 2008 12:09 PM

Hey, it's economics. Globalization. Again, cheap labor. Regardless of the "human rights" rhetoric ecnomics takes priority. Notice that our last two presidents made trips to Vietnam to establish political and economic ties. Yet neither of these two men managed to make it to Vietnam in the 60's to battle communism.

Also, I did not know that Vietnam was "one of the largest receipients of US aid in East Asia".

McCain's and Kerry's votes do not surprise me. Both of those guys are hiding past descretions of some type.

Posted by: TomR at March 15, 2008 12:12 PM

Jack it sure is telling when the same two are saying no to this. Like you said the same thing their no to the POW's too.

They both did horrible things to make sure we do not go in and get our POW.s grrrrrrrrrrrr

Posted by: Wild Thing at March 15, 2008 07:06 PM

Tom, same here, I never knew this about Vietnam either. Very interesting and yes of all those saying no it is always the best friends Kerry and McCain.

Posted by: Wild Thing at March 15, 2008 07:08 PM

Gunny dad Vader is 80-years young and a (Brooklyn NY) WW II / Korean War Leatherneck (1st, 2nd and 6th MAR DIV)... The Forgotten War and Vietnam heroes have our love, admiration and respects.
The DC aristocrat bastards tied the Vietnam Vets hands and wouldn't let them FIGHT an ALL OUT WAR!
Sound familiar Iraqi vets? DC aristocrat yellow coats ARE traitors... big time!

Posted by: darthcrUSAderworldtour07 at March 17, 2008 12:47 AM

Darth, that is so neat. Congratulations to him and Happy Birthday to Gunny Dad Vader.

Posted by: Wild Thing at March 17, 2008 01:28 AM