Fort Smith Vietnamese support Boozman on human rights bill

WASHINGTON – The Vietnamese Community of Greater Fort Smith is supporting legislation introduced Tuesday by Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., to combat human rights abuses by the Vietnamese government.

“The Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2013 is a much needed step in the right direction, to express to the Vietnamese government the United States’ resolve to champion human rights, not only in Vietnam, but in all corners of the world,” wrote Vinh Pham, president of the Fort Smith group.

Boozman introduced the bill with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, to prohibit any U.S. increase in non-humanitarian assistance to Vietnam unless it demonstrates substantial progress toward democracy and away from religious persecution.

“The heavy hands of this regime are to blame for some gross violations that include unlawful incarceration, human trafficking and torture,” Boozman said Tuesday. “We have a moral obligation to stand up to this oppression and lead the charge for change.”

The Senate bill mirrors legislation that was introduced in the House in May and approved in August by a vote of 405-3. Arkansas’s four-member House delegation voted for the bill.

Boozman reached out to the Fort Smith group when the bill was introduced in the House to see what they thought.

The bill would specifically prohibit any increase in non-humanitarian assistance beyond levels established in the fiscal 2012 budget unless the president certifies that Vietnam has made substantial progress “respecting political, media, and religious freedoms, minority rights, access to U.S. refugee programs.”

Vietnam would also have had to show progress in returning confiscated religious estates and property, in ending human trafficking and in releasing political prisoners.

Pham noted, in a letter to Boozman, that the United States issued a statement in August decrying major setbacks in human rights progress in Vietnam.

“Vietnamese people continue to be repressed by the Communist regime, most notably in their freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the freedom to assemble and to protest,” he wrote.

More than 30 Vietnamese men and women are serving jail sentences between two and 16 years long for peacefully expressing dissenting opinions through blogs and the Internet, Vinh Pham said.

During House debate on its bill, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., said many religious groups are facing persecution in Vietnam including the Hoa Hao Buddhists, Cao Dai Buddhists and Montagnard Christians.

“Let’s send a message to that regime that the status quo is unacceptable. This bill does that,” Royce said.