2:52 PM EDT

Eni Faleomavaega, D-AS

Mr. FALEOMAVAEGA. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I rise in strong support of this resolution. I would be remiss if I do not first recognize my good friend, the gentleman from New Jersey. Not only do I have the highest respect for him but certainly as a champion of human rights issues all over the world, and for this I want to commend him for his authorship of this proposed bill. And I would like to also thank Chairman Lantos and senior Ranking Member Ros-Lehtinen, the leadership of our Foreign Affairs Committee, for their

support and efforts in bringing this proposed legislation for consideration by our colleagues.

Mr. Speaker, Vietnam stands at a crossroads, and the world is watching carefully to see the choices that it will make.

Like many other countries of the world, Vietnam has a responsibility to protect human and religious rights and provide political freedoms to its people. The Vietnamese people and their leaders should have a deep appreciation of the need to protect and foster the human rights of its people especially after being subjected to many years of abuse and dictatorial and colonial rule of the French Government.

I commend Vietnam's efforts to improve its economy, which grew by over 8 percent last year. In November also of last year, Vietnam played host to the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, and in January it joined the World Trade Organization. So we must recognize the extraordinary economic achievements Vietnam has made in a short time. This economic growth has bettered the lives of millions of the people of Vietnam.

But recent reports have given serious indications on how the Vietnamese Government has arrested and placed several religious and political leaders in prison without due process and in violation of their human rights.

Mr. Speaker, Congress played an important role in seeing that Vietnam became a member of the World Trade Organization. And yet since its accession, Vietnam has arrested numerous individuals simply for peacefully advocating for democracy.

Vietnam continues to limit freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of information. It remains as a one-party political system in which the Communist Party is the final arbiter of all decisions.

Mr. Speaker, U.S. engagement with Vietnam has helped spur economic growth and improvements in the lives of the Vietnamese people. But engagement must not be limited to foreign direct investment. We must also seize the opportunity to work with Vietnam to promote political openness and improve human rights.

This bill promotes just this kind of engagement. It prohibits increased assistance to Vietnam above fiscal year 2007 levels other than for humanitarian efforts. This bill makes it clear to Vietnam that the only factor limiting increased aid is positive action by the Vietnamese Government on political, human, and religious rights.

The bill also supports civil society groups in Vietnam that promote human rights. It supports educational exchanges that would enhance freedom and democracy in that country. And it makes it the policy of the United States to offer safe resettlement here to those who are forced to flee Vietnam and become refugees. [Page: H10388]

Mr. Speaker, Vietnam is increasingly integrated into the global economy; but to be considered a friend of our Nation, it must protect human rights and provide its people political and religious freedom. We all wish this future for Vietnam, and we hope there will be more positive results of our continued efforts to dialogue with the leaders of the people of Vietnam.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to support this proposed bill.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

2:55 PM EDT

Chris Smith, R-NJ 4th

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Let me begin by thanking my good friend and colleague, Mr. Faleomavaega, for his leadership on human rights. We have worked together on those issues around the world. We have served on the Human Rights Committee for years, and he has been one of those champions with whom I am just so glad to associate myself. And I want to thank Mr. Lantos, the chairman of our committee, for bringing this bill to the floor and express my strong gratitude to him and to Ranking Member Ileana

Ros-Lehtinen and to the leadership for posting this bill for consideration today.

Mr. Speaker, Vietnam has long been known as a major violator of human rights. Sadly, in recent months the human rights situation in Vietnam has deteriorated and become substantially worse, and a new ugly wave of brutal repression has been launched by Hanoi. Over the last couple of months, some of the bravest champions of democracy have been dragged into court and sent to the gulag for simply promoting human rights and justice and free trade unions.

I would note to my colleagues that the House of Representatives has gone on record time and time again condemning and deploring these violations, but this is a new wave that comes on the heels of PNTR, as well as the WTO accession by the Vietnamese Government.

I would note that on May 2 of this year, this House unanimously adopted a resolution that I sponsored which called on the Government of Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release Father Nguyen Van Ly, Nguyen Van Dai, Le Thi Cong Nhan, and other political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. During consideration of that resolution, Mr. Speaker, I noted that I had been to Vietnam on many human rights trips. I have chaired several hearings on the issue of human rights in Vietnam and have

been joined by my friend Mr. Faleomavaega, Mr. Royce and others in those hearings. But on one of the most recent trips, I actually met with Father Ly, who was just sentenced to 8 years in prison. Just sentenced. I also met with Nguyen Van Dai and about 60 other human rights activists and religious leaders and people who are pressing for reform in that country. And one by one those individuals are being caught in this dragnet.

I was struck when I met with these individuals, Mr. Speaker, by how extraordinarily generous, compassionate, talented, and kind hearted these people are. They are extraordinary. They are Vietnam's best and brightest and certainly their bravest. I was amazed at how they harbored no malice, no hate towards the government that hates them, nor do they hate the government leaders. They only want a better future for their country. Each and every one of the people I met with is committed to peaceful,

nonviolent reform.

I met with Father Ly when he was under house arrest, and he sounded just like the activists that I had met and spoken to during the dark years of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union. My first human rights trip, I would note parenthetically, was in 1982 on behalf of Soviet refuzniks. It was like being right back there, deja vu, talking to these individuals just like back then, the Shcharanskys of this world or Vaclav Havel or Lech Walesa, people like the folks in Charter 77 in the Czech Republic

who only wanted freedom, democracy, and human rights.

[Time: 15:00]

And none of them wanted violence. And these reformers of Vietnam want nothing whatsoever to do with violence. And yet, they are accused of slandering the state. To criticize an unjust policy is construed by the state to be slander. Father Ly has now been sentenced to 8 years, and that's in addition to the 14 years he had previously served in the Gulag on trumped-up charges.

Just days after the House adopted the Resolution 243 calling for a reversal of human rights violations, Nguyen Van Dai was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment and 4 years of house arrest. Attorney Van Dai is a tenacious campaigner for human rights who uses the rule of law in a nonviolent manner to press his case.

On the same day that Mr. Van Dai was sentenced, another human rights lawyer, a labor activist, Le Thi Cong Nhan, received 4 years imprisonment and 3 years of house arrest from the same ruthless regime. She, too, punished for engaging in activities recognized internationally as protected human rights.

I've read the 2007 trial proceedings and the government sentencing record, which I intend to put into the Record. And I ask every Member to read that and to read it very carefully. It reads like a chilling chapter out of George Orwell's book, ``1984.''

At the trial, the presiding judge, Nguyen Huu Chinh, accused and condemned Dai of being a member of an Independent Trade Union. A member of the Communist party in Poland, Jaruzelski, accused Lech Walesa of that same thing, an independent trade union. That accusation carries with it a time in the Gulag in Vietnam today.

In Vietnam today, men and women are going to jail for very long periods of time for what the government calls ``disseminating propaganda against the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.''

I point out to my colleagues that the day after the House passed the resolution on May 2, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom indicated in its annual report that the removal of Vietnam from the State Department's List of Countries of Particular Concern was premature based on the evidence that the current situation in the country has not allowed religious freedom. Again, it was part of an effort, I think, of suggesting that if they just got into the World Trade Organization,

somehow they would matriculate from dictatorship to democracy. Regrettably, that has not happened. And we've seen a snapback to repression that is very, very severe, cruel, and very, very ugly.

The legislation before us, Mr. Speaker, would prohibit an increase in U.S. nonhumanitarian assistance to Vietnam unless the government makes substantial progress in the following areas: the release of political and religious prisoners; respect for religious freedom; allowing open access to the United States for our refugee program, because very often those who would like to become a part of that have to pay bribes to communist officials or they are simply detained and not allowed to apply; and

respect for the rights of ethnic minority groups, including the Montagnard.

Beginning in fiscal year 2009, there would also be a need to show that neither any official of the government nor any government agency was complicit in the trafficking of human persons. The president may waive this restriction on assistance if he determines that the assistance would promote human rights or would otherwise be in the national interests of the U.S.

Other important provisions would authorize $2 million of assistance in both 2008 and 2009 to support democracy in Vietnam, and approximately $10 million over 2 years to overcome the jamming of Radio Free Asia by Vietnam. Let me tell my colleagues, they're jamming Radio Free Asia, jamming it, so the message that we think is so important simply cannot get through. And again, the only thing that any dictatorship needs anywhere to survive and prosper is a secret police, got that in Vietnam, and a

control of the message, the propaganda. And by jamming Radio Free Asia, they preclude other voices, other opinions from reaching the people.

The bill would also extend U.S. refugee programs to Vietnamese who were previously eligible but were unable to apply for reasons beyond their control, like I said, like not wanting to pay bribes to Vietnamese officials.

Mr. Speaker, in November of 2006, pursuant to a boatload of assurances and solemn promises that the human [Page: H10389]

rights situation would improve, Vietnam became the first country to be removed from the Countries of Particular Concern. It was also part of an effort to try to get into the World Trade Organization.

Despite this flurry of international recognition, tangible economic benefit, despite the hopes of many, including and especially the Vietnamese people, Vietnam has reverted with a vengeance to its repressive practices and has arrested, imprisoned and imposed lengthy prison sentences on numerous individuals who only want freedom.

Mr. Speaker, these massive human rights violations perpetrated by the Government of Vietnam cannot be overlooked, they cannot be trivialized. These human rights violations occur as we meet here today, and they cannot continue without equally serious consequences.

I do believe that this snapback to human rights abuse underscores perhaps the unwitting naivete on the part of some who think if we just trade, things will get better. It has not.

And finally, I would ask my colleagues to take a look at pages H 4248 and H4249 from the May 1, 2007 Congressional Record, a manifesto that was written and signed on April 8, 2006, called the 8406 Block. It is a call for freedom and democracy and nonviolence.

One by one, those who have signed this very important human rights document in Vietnam have been hunted down, arrested and incarcerated by the government. That's like the people who signed the Declaration of Independence, or again, during the Soviet years, those who would sign manifestos calling for human rights, like Charter 77, who because they espoused freedom, found themselves in a Gulag or being mistreated by the government.

I urge Members on both sides of the aisle to support this. This is a bipartisan bill, and I appreciate that. This is the kind of expression that I think this body is known for, speaking with one voice, truth to power, on behalf of human rights.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

3:06 PM EDT

Eni Faleomavaega, D-AS

Mr. FALEOMAVAEGA. Mr. Speaker, I want to associate myself with the distinguished and most eloquent statement made by my good friend from New Jersey.

I have not had the privilege of visiting Vietnam since the days of the war in 1967, 1968, but I do intend to visit that country since it comes under the jurisdiction of my subcommittee.

But again, I want to thank my good friend for the facts and the data that he just presented. I hope my colleagues will take him up on reading some of these important documents that he had shared with us in his presentation.

At this time, I would like to yield 5 minutes to the distinguished lady from California, my good friend, Ms. Sanchez.

3:07 PM EDT

Loretta Sanchez, D-CA 47th

Ms. LORETTA SANCHEZ of California. I thank the chairman for allowing me to speak today on this issue of the Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2007.

As you know, I represent the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam in the world, and so I've had the chance to visit Vietnam now three times. Actually, I just finished visiting in April of this year. Before that, I had been denied a visa to visit Vietnam for three times in the past 2 1/2 years.

Now, I rise today in support of my colleague's House Resolution 3096, because this is a very critical time in our relationship with Vietnam.

Before being accepted in the World Trade Organization in January, the Government of Vietnam assured the world that they would make significant progress in the area of human rights, things that we, as Americans, really sometimes take for granted; freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of collective bargaining, freedom to assemble as we wish, and most importantly, really one of the reasons our country was founded, freedom of religion.

As my colleague from New Jersey stated, we had put Vietnam on the List of Particular Concern with respect to the infringement on religious beliefs of the people of Vietnam, and even they were taken off in anticipation of this issue of going into the WTO. Many, many promises in the 11 years that I have served in the Congress, many, many promises by the communist Government of Vietnam, yet nothing ever holds up. And in this particular case, every person who has stood up to speak inside of Vietnam

for democracy, for democracy, for something other than the communist party, for free elections, for return of land confiscated by that government, for their ability to practice the religion that they want, for their ability to assemble three or four or five on a street corner with a simple sign, asking, wanting, searching for democracy. And each and every one of

these people are under house arrest, have been put in prison. One of them, Father Ly, for example, was given a trial, a trial that lasted one day, no attorney available to him, in a very famous photograph sent across the world of the communist government with their hand over his mouth at his very own trial because they didn't want him to be heard by the world.

The venerable Thich Quang Do, a Buddhist, through peaceful means saying we need religious freedom, recognize the church where most of the Buddhists in Vietnam want to belong. But nothing. Instead, he is under house arrest. All of these dissidents, and yet they continue to speak up and try to tell the world that there is no human right in Vietnam. And they continue to fight.

Many of my colleagues on the other side and on our side of the aisle have been working to get this message out. So then they got WTO, and they imprisoned everybody. I was there in April. There were no dissidents to meet. I asked to go to the prisons. I asked to go see those who had been put behind bars. They laughed. They would not let me. They said, How dare you ask. You know better than to ask to see these people. And our ambassador, at his residence there, put together a tea of the wives and

the mothers of the dissidents, not people who had spoken up, simply because they were married and these women were worried about their husbands. And they came to talk to us. They were stopped at their homes. They were barricaded in their homes. The streets were barricaded to their homes so they couldn't get out. And the two who made it, now in a very famous video playing on the Internet,

as I came to the home, so did those women, the two who got through. And about 25 communist government soldiers descended upon us, pulling us apart and dragging away one of the women. The ambassador came out. He said these women are simply here to come and have tea with us. But they would have none of it. This is democracy? These are the human rights that this government promised?

So I say today, let us not be conspirators with this government in the backslide of progress. Please, I ask my colleagues, join us in voting for this resolution today.

3:12 PM EDT

Chris Smith, R-NJ 4th

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield such time as he may consume to the distinguished gentleman from California (Mr. Royce), who has spoken out on behalf of human rights in Vietnam with great faithfulness, is also a cosponsor of this legislation, and also promoted legislation that was successful in expanding Radio Free Asia.

3:13 PM EDT

Ed Royce, R-CA 40th

Mr. ROYCE. Mr. Speaker, I also rise in support of the Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2007.

I join Congressman Smith, and the efforts made by others here that have been tireless, the strategy of trying to shine some light on Vietnam, trying to get the international community to look at what is happening there.

I've worked with Congressman Smith on this legislation since 2001, and I know the importance of having it passed, but also, I know the trouble that it has been met with in the other body. And if we can overcome the objections of a few in the other body, this bill will be an important tool in pressing Hanoi to end its wanton disregard for human rights.

I think the necessity of this legislation is because since early this year the crackdown has intensified in Hanoi, in Vietnam to such an extent that especially students, especially spokesmen for religious organizations there are receiving these one-hour show trials where afterwards they're being sent to a penitentiary, 8 years in the case of Father Ly. It was 14-some years ago when he was sent away the first time. And Mr. Speaker, I've had the opportunity there, in Vietnam, to meet with the venerable

Thich Quang Do, when he was under house arrest, and Le Quang Liem and see the incredible repression that they face, and to [Page: H10390]

see what is really a slow strangulation of the culture and of the traditional religion as the state attempts to rewrite religion without the support of the religious leaders, and thus come down hard on those religious leaders and try to remove them from society and try to imprison them certainly when they speak out.

[Time: 15:15]

As Human Rights Watch said, this is the worst crackdown that we have seen in Vietnam in 20 years. In the past year, Vietnamese officials brought this harassment to religious leaders and political dissidents and student activists to these new draconian levels that, unfortunately, force us to act here.

This bill's focus on Vietnam suppression of the democratic movement and its tight control over the media will be an important component in bringing change. Why? Because with this legislation, Radio Free Asia will now better be able to bring objective news and to be a surrogate voice for opinions and news outside of the state-sponsored propaganda, so the Vietnamese people will hear of the spread of democratic values in Asia.

Frankly, the spread of democratic values in Asia is critical to U.S. security interests. It is important to note that Vietnam has recently ratcheted up its efforts to block radio broadcasts from Radio Free Asia. This tells me that not only are these broadcasts having a positive effect in combating state propaganda, but Hanoi is feeling increased political pressure. This bill provides the means to overcome radio jamming and the funds for continued broadcasts.

So, Mr. Speaker, I urge passage of the bill. I think it sends a firm message to Hanoi that abuse of this kind to nonviolent citizens in the country will not be met with silence, but, frankly, that we will take action not only in terms of the broadcasting, but this also authorizes our administration to provide U.S. assistance through appropriate nongovernmental organizations and the Human Rights Defenders Fund for the support of the individuals and organizations to promote human rights and to

promote nonviolent democratic change inside the country.

So besides capping U.S. nonhumanitarian assistance, this other leverage will be very helpful in terms of trying to protect the human rights and dignity of the students and of the religious leaders right now that are facing such persecution inside Vietnam.

3:18 PM EDT

Eni Faleomavaega, D-AS

Mr. FALEOMAVAEGA. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleagues from California, Mr. Royce and Ms. Sanchez, for their most outstanding statements and their support of this proposed legislation offered by my good friend, the gentleman from New Jersey.

It saddens me because of the times and the periods that I have had the opportunity of meeting with several delegations that have represented Vietnam for the past couple of years. As my good friend from New Jersey has stated earlier, they have made a lot of promises. We have taken their promises in good faith, and now we find ourselves in a situation where their promises have been severely questioned. I kind of like to think that when a country makes a promise, they like to keep it. If this is

the way Vietnam is doing business, then certainly we ought to do something about it.

Again, I want to thank my good friend from New Jersey for his authorship of this bill.

Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

3:18 PM EDT

Eni Faleomavaega, D-AS

Mr. FALEOMAVAEGA. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleagues from California, Mr. Royce and Ms. Sanchez, for their most outstanding statements and their support of this proposed legislation offered by my good friend, the gentleman from New Jersey.

It saddens me because of the times and the periods that I have had the opportunity of meeting with several delegations that have represented Vietnam for the past couple of years. As my good friend from New Jersey has stated earlier, they have made a lot of promises. We have taken their promises in good faith, and now we find ourselves in a situation where their promises have been severely questioned. I kind of like to think that when a country makes a promise, they like to keep it. If this is

the way Vietnam is doing business, then certainly we ought to do something about it.

Again, I want to thank my good friend from New Jersey for his authorship of this bill.

Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.