Washington, Mar 7 - The widespread and ongoing human rights abuses by the Vietnamese Government are the focus of “The Vietnam Human Rights Act,” a bill passed today by the full House Foreign Affairs Committee, said U.S. Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), author of the bill.

“It is imperative that the United States Government send an unequivocal message to the Vietnamese regime that it must end its human rights abuses against its own citizens,” said Smith, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who chairs its human rights subcommittee. “Despite assertions by some that increased trade with Vietnam would lead to greater freedom and democracy, the Vietnamese people instead are suffering from more repression and denial of their fundamental human rights. We know that religious, political and ethnic persecution continue and in many cases is increasing, and that Vietnamese officials are still laying out the welcome mat for forced labor and sex traffickers.” Click here to read Smith’s opening remarks.

The legislation was approved unanimously in a voice vote on an amendment in the nature of a substitute. The bill prohibits any increase in non-humanitarian assistance to the Government of Vietnam above Fiscal Year 2011 levels unless the government makes substantial progress in establishing a democracy and promoting human rights, including:

Respecting the freedom of religion and releasing all religious prisoners;

Respecting rights to the freedom of expression, assembly and association, and releasing all political prisoners, independent journalists, and labor activists;

Repealing and revising laws that criminalize peaceful dissent, independent media, unsanctioned religious activity, and nonviolent demonstrations, in accordance with international human rights standards;

Respecting the human rights of members of all ethnic groups; and

Taking all appropriate steps, including prosecution of government officials, to end any government complicity in human trafficking.

Smith noted that “the bill would not prevent increased funding to the Vietnamese Government for certain humanitarian assistance, such as food, medicine, Agent Orange remediation, and activities to combat human trafficking. This prohibition of increased assistance could be waived for any year in which the President determines that increased non-humanitarian assistance to the Vietnamese Government would promote freedom and democracy in Vietnam or would otherwise be in the national interest of the United States.” To watch the webcast of the hearing, clicker here. (Advance the counter to the start of the hearing.)

Smith, a longtime human rights advocate in Congress, introduced H.R. 1410 in April 2011. He chaired a related hearing of the House Africa, Global Health and Human Rights Subcommittee in January 2012 that featured leaders in human rights in Vietnam, including Anh “Joseph” Cao, former Member of the U.S. Congress and the first Vietnamese-born American ever elected to Congress. Also testifying were Boat People SOS, the Montagnard Human Rights Organization; a victim of human trafficking, and Human Rights Watch.

(Source: http://chrissmith.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=283652)