WASHINGTON — As the leaders of the United States and Vietnam prepare to meet, one federal lawmaker is calling for stronger efforts to encourage respect for human rights in the Southeast Asian country.
In a statement submitted to the Congressional Record, U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., criticized the Obama administration for the “deteriorating human-rights situation in Vietnam — a situation which merits bold U.S. leadership, not mere lip-service.”
On the morning of July 11, the White House announced that it had extended an invitation to Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang, with the aim of “discussing human rights, emerging challenges such as climate change, and the importance of completing a high-standard Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.”
Obama will meet with Sang in Washington on July 25.
The announcement followed Wolf’s July 10 remarks, which argued that the administration’s policy towards the Southeast Asian country “has failed every citizen of Vietnam and every Vietnamese-American who cares about human rights and religious freedom.”
In 2004 and 2005, Vietnam was listed by the State Department as a “Country of Particular Concern,” or CPC, in part for the communist government’s persecution of Catholic and Buddhist individuals and communities. The classification allowed trade and funding sanctions, such as increased human-rights protection requirements for all non-humanitarian aid to the country.
In 2006, that designation was lifted, following the Bush administration’s assertion that the country had made significant steps in improving its religious-freedom violations and other human-rights concerns.
In recent years, the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, along with other human-rights groups, has asked the State Department to reinstate Vietnam’s “Country of Particular Concern” status, claiming “that abuses continue and that lifting the CPC label removes an incentive for Vietnam to make further improvements.”
Wolf acknowledged that the Obama administration’s policies have not differed greatly from those of the Bush administration, but he claimed that human-rights abuses have increased during the current president’s tenure, quoting an ABC News story ,which stated that “more than 50 people have been convicted and jailed in political trials” in 2013 alone.
The congressman described several examples of persecution and repression in the country, pointing in particular to a 2012 situation in which a Vietnamese-American activist and U.S. citizen, Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan, was “arbitrarily detained and imprisoned” in Vietnam during a visit to the country.
Wolf explained that updates to the doctor’s family began only at Wolf’s urging to the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, David Shear, and that the ambassador failed to follow through with promises for the embassy to show stronger support for prisoners of religious and political persecution within the country.
“This is but one of many examples of the U.S. Embassy, under the leadership of Ambassador Shear, failing to serve as an island of freedom in a sea of repression. This was all the more troubling given that Dr. Quan is an American citizen. The lack of urgency in securing Dr. Quan’s release was stunning,” the congressman said.
In addition to its failure in addressing human-rights abuses in Vietnam, he said, the U.S. government has greeted “the face of growing popular dissent” against the political and human-rights abuses of the government “with virtual silence.”
“Pressing authoritarian regimes and repressive governments to respect basic human rights can yield positive results,” Wolf said, “but inexplicably that is almost never the instinct of the State Department or this administration.”