Monday, October 02, 2006

The Congressional Human Rights Caucus: Human Rights in Vietnam Today

Event Title: Human Rights in Vietnam Today
Sponsors: Congressional Human Rights Caucus
Location: 2237 Rayburn HOB
Date: September 14, 2006
Time: 1:30 PM - 2:30 PM
Approximate number of Attendees: 100
Intern Attending: Ahreum Jung

Featured Speaker: Co chaired by Representative Loretta Sanchez, Representative Edward Royce and Representative Zoe Lofgren

Panel: Ms. Kathryn Porter, Leadership Council For Human Rights; Mr. T. Kumar, Amnesty International; Ms. Helen Ngo, Committee for Religious Freedom in Vietnam; Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Bic, National Congress of Vietnamese Americans; Mr. Kok Ksor, Montagnard Foundation; Dr. Chan Dang-V, Viet Tan.

For the past several years, the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) appears to have followed a strategy of permitting various forms of personal and religious expression while selectively repressing individuals and organizations that it deems a threat to the party's monopoly on power. The VCP has reportedly cracked down harshly on anti-government protests by various ethnic minority groups, particularly the Montagnards of the country's Central Highlands. These clashes between protestors and government security forces have flared periodically since 2001. Furthermore, in its effort to control the Internet, the central government has stepped up repression of so-called "cyber dissidents".

The State Department's 2005 report on human rights in Vietnam, released in March 2006, states that in 2005 the Vietnamese government "took steps to improve respect for human rights," granting amnesty to an unusually large number of prisoners, including several high-profile dissidents. However, there are continuous reports from human rights groups operating in Vietnam of religious persecution and physical abuse carried out by government police.

Also, the following major events are taking place in 2006 in Vietnam: the WTO negotiations, Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) approval by the US, the APEC Summit in Ha Noi in November and US president George W Bush’s first ever visit to the country.

Ms. Kathryn Porter, of the Leadership Council for Human Rights, stressed that the US government should create an action plan with tangible benchmarks for the future. This should address the need to fully implement human rights policies and the obligations of Vietnam’s national government at the province and district level. She mentioned the case of Montagnard asylum seekers who have fled to Cambodia and continue to face the threat of detention by Cambodian authorities as well as forcible return to Vietnam. These asylum seekers are being denied access to UNHCR status determination procedures, and asylum protection that the Cambodian government is obligated to provide. Ms. Porter also emphasized that the Vietnam government should allow UNHCR to reestablish an expatriate-staffed office in Ha noi as it has requested. Finally, she urged that the Bush Administration support Congressional initiatives related to Vietnam, suggesting that Foreign Operations funding should include the continued provision of funds for humanitarian assistance in the Central Highlands, equaling or exceeding the $2 million provided in Fiscal Year 2006.

Mr. T. Kumar, of Amnesty International, expressed his concerns about restrictions on freedom of expression, continuing imprisonment of political prisoners, the application of the death penalty, the lack of independence in the judiciary, and the use of national security legislation and the criminal code to suppress criticism of the government. He made the following recommendations: (1) Immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience, (2) Ensure that all provisions in Internet laws and decrees comply with the Vietnamese Constitution, the ICCPR and Vietnam’s other international legal obligations, (3) Allow unfettered access to independent and impartial agencies, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, on Freedom of Religion or Belief , and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, so that they can monitor and investigate allegations of human rights violations in the Central Highlands.

Ms. Helen Ngo, of the Committee for Religious Freedom in Vietnam, testified about violation of the religious freedom of Vietnamese government officials. For example, on August 18, 2003, the police broke into the house of Pastor Bui Van Ba at 161D/51 Lac Logn Quan, Ward 3, District 11, Ho Chi Minh City, disbanded a prayer service and apprehended 25 pastors, evangelists, and practitioners.

Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Bic, the Executive Director of Boat People SOS, was not present, but sent a representative to speak on his behalf. The representative discussed cases in which numerous Vietnamese had been subject to arrest, harassment, confiscation, and persecution.

Mr. Kok Ksor, of the Montagnard Foundation, called on concerned embassies in Vietnam and the international community to do the following: (1) urgently pressure Vietnam to release all of the estimated 350 Degar Prisoners from Vietnam prisons, (2) pursue a permanent humanitarian presence in the Central Highlands to monitor the human rights situation by the UN, international agencies and international NGOs.

Dr. Chan Dang-V, of Viet Tan, said that Vietnam today is like Poland and Czechoslovakia in the late 1970s when the Solidarity and Charter 77 movements came forth. Most importantly, on April 8, 2006, 118 citizens signed a Manifesto for Freedom and Democracy. Through the internet, citizens are finding new ways to spread ideas and coordinate their actions. Yet this is also the time when human rights are most vulnerable, as a ruling party determined to maintain its monopoly on power confronts citizens demanding political change. Dr. Chan Dang-V recommended that Congress take the following steps to support Vietnamese fighting for change: (1) Call on President Bush to publicly support the Vietnamese people’s aspiration for freedom and democracy at the APEC summit in Hanoi; (2) Ask the Sate Department to maintain CPC designation due to the continued religious violations.

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