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Senate vote on Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2004
INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 29,2004) – The top official of the world’s largest veterans service organization is calling on members of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee to bring to a vote a bill that aims to improve Vietnam’s worsening record on human rights and religious freedom.
“Severe religious persecution is standard practice in Vietnam, and it is worsening,” said Thomas P. Cadmus of Michigan, national commander of the 2.7-million member American Legion. “Hundreds of Christians, Buddhists and followers of other faiths are in jail today, or under house arrest without charges, for peacefully following beliefs that are not authorized by the government.”
The Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2004, sponsored by Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., passed by a 323-45 vote in the House on July 19. The Senate version was introduced by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., on Sept. 9. It was referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee where it has yet to be considered.
A similar measure passed by a 410-1 landslide in the House in 2001 but stalled in committee after it was referred to the Senate. “The number of killings, beatings and arrests of innocent worshipers in Vietnam since the death of that bill is anyone’s guess,” Cadmus writes in an editorial released to nationwide today. “It is unconscionable to fail these prayerful people – so many of whom are allies we left behind in Vietnam – because some members of the Senate won’t so much as give this bill its day in court. By failing to act, the committee also sends a message to Hanoi, which covets U.S. aid and trade but, as yet, has been given no good reason to change its draconian human-rights policies.”
On Sept. 15, Vietnam was designated by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act. The designation is shared with North Korea, Iran, Burma, China, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
Among the primary targets of Vietnam’s religious persecution and human-rights abuses are the Montagnard people of the central highlands who fought alongside U.S. soldiers in the Vietnam War. Christian Montagnards were reportedly attacked and beaten by Vietnam government authorities during a prayer vigil last Easter weekend. Numerous other abuses, including violence and church destruction, have been widely reported since 2000. New laws in Vietnam are set to take effect Nov. 15 that would give the government greater freedom to restrict worship.
In the editorial, the commander calls upon all veterans and all Americans who value freedom and human rights to demand immediate Senate action on the bill, which will die at the end of the 108th Congress if not acted on. “To neglect our former allies again is, at best, to subject them to Communist thought control,” Cadmus states. “At worst, our lack of action delivers their death sentence … America must do better.”
Thomas P. Cadmus, a U.S. Army veteran from Ypsilanti, Mich., is national commander of the 2.7 million-member American Legion, the nation's largest veterans organization.
Media contact: h, orRamona Joyce, (202) 263-2982
Thousands of Christians from the remote central highlands of Vietnam gathered in their provincial capitals for a prayer vigil last Easter weekend. As they knelt, according to well-documented reports, communist authorities and soldiers in civilian clothes bludgeoned them with clubs, shovels and nail-affixed boards. The exact number killed and injured is unknown, withheld by a government that keeps its human-rights abuses well-veiled to the rest of the world. After the massacre, access to the highlands by foreign observers was blocked for a two-week period and, following that, was tightly controlled to only certain villages. Hundreds were reportedly arrested, tortured and jailed.
This was no isolated incident.
Severe religious persecution is standard practice in Vietnam, and it is escalating. Hundreds of Christians, Buddhists and followers of other faiths are in jail today, or under house arrest without charges, for peacefully following beliefs not authorized by the government. Vietnam requires government registration of churches and maintains control over their activities – from charity work to ministerial advancement to the content and publication of religious literature.
Religious freedom abuses have intensified in Vietnam despite the 2001 passage of a bilateral trade agreement with the United States and multiple warnings from the U.S. State Department. On Sept. 15, Secretary of State Colin Powell presented a report designating Vietnam as a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act, joining such reviled human-rights performers as North Korea, Iran, Burma, China, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. The report thoroughly chronicled dozens of government-sanctioned abuses, often violent, against many faiths, primarily those followed by ethnic minorities in the central and northwest highlands.
An estimated 400 churches have been destroyed by the government in Vietnam since 2000. One Catholic priest, Father Nguyen Van Ly, was arrested in May 2001 and sentenced to 15 years in prison for “damaging the government’s unity policy” by writing a letter critical of the Vietnamese government to a U.S. human-rights commission. He remains behind bars, as do at least a confirmed 44 other religious leaders.
The Vietnam government routinely attempts to force believers of unauthorized religions to recant their faiths. Some reportedly have been coerced to drink animal blood mixed with alcohol in staged ceremonies to promote the revival of ancient tribal rituals that won’t compete with atheistic communist doctrine. A new law, set to take effect Nov. 15, will allow Vietnamese authorities greater freedom to arrest anyone whose religious practices differ with government wishes, even in their own homes.
In the crosshairs of these abuses are some of the most loyal wartime allies America has ever known: the indigenous Montagnard people. Approximately half of the adult male Montagnard population was killed in action, fighting alongside U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War. After Saigon fell in 1975, most of the Montagnards were landlocked and unable to escape, left to face a vengeful new regime on their own. Only a handful made it out. Since then, while the rest of Vietnam has tripled in population, the number of Montagnards has been culled nearly in half through a process some watchdog groups call “cultural leveling.” Others call it genocide. Accusations of government-coerced sterilization, property seizure and harassment are widespread.
Meanwhile, the Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2004 languishes in the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The bill would simply freeze non-humanitarian U.S. aid to Vietnam at 2004 levels, meaning no new increases in funding until the communist regime proves substantial progress on human rights and religious freedom. The measure, H.R. 1587, was introduced by Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., and passed overwhelmingly in the House on July 19. The Senate version was introduced Sept. 9 by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and was referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. But without further action, the measure will die with the end of 108th Congress.
A similar Vietnam human-rights bill introduced in 2001 passed by a 410-1 landslide in the House, only to die later in committee. At the time, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and opposed the bill. In a widely publicized 2002 letter, Kerry wrote that he and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., alike feared “it may hinder rather than advance the cause of human rights in Vietnam. We are concerned that denying aid to Vietnam would actually slow human-rights improvements.”
Smith’s bill does not deny aid. It merely caps non-humanitarian U.S. aid at 2004 levels until Vietnam proves its human-rights and religious freedom policies are improving.
Since the 2001 version was denied a vote in the Senate, the number of killings, beatings and arrests of innocent worshipers in Vietnam is anyone’s guess. Reports of abuses, meanwhile, keep piling up.
It is unconscionable to fail these prayerful people – so many of whom are allies we left behind in Vietnam – because some members of the Senate won’t so much as give this bill its day in court. By failing to act, the committee also sends a message to Hanoi, which covets U.S. aid and trade but, as yet, has been given no good reason to change its draconian human-rights policies.
All these former allies – to whom thousands of U.S. veterans owe their lives – want is the freedom to pray for something better. Their faith rests in us.
Every American who values freedom of religion, basic human rights and support for former allies in their time of need must contact their U.S. senators immediately and demand a vote on the Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2004. To neglect our former allies once again is, at best, to subject them to communist thought control. At worst, our lack of action delivers their death sentence. As the world’s leading voice of freedom, democracy and human dignity, America simply must do better. All it takes is a vote.
Thomas P. Cadmus of Michigan is the National Commander of The American Legion, the world’s largest veterans service organization.
n The Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2004 (H.R. 1587), sponsored by Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., passed by a 323-45 margin in the House on July 19. The measure calls for capping non-humanitarian U.S. aid to Vietnam at 2004 levels until Hanoi makes significant progress on improving human rights and religious freedom. The bill also authorizes funding to overcome Vietnam’s jamming of Radio Free Asia and to expand outreach to humanitarian organizations. The Senate version was introduced by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., on Sept. 9. If the measure is not passed, it will die with the 108th Congress.
n In 2001, similar legislation passed 410-1 in the House but stalled in committee in the Senate.
n The U.S. State Department issued the “Vietnam-International Religious Freedom Report 2004” on Sept. 15, which designated Vietnam a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act. The report detailed numerous cases of religious persecution by the Vietnam government, primarily against ethnic minorities of Christian and Buddhist faiths.
n Since 2000, the Vietnam government has ordered the closure of hundreds of unrecognized churches in the central highlands. Reports also accuse the government of land seizures, fines, beatings, torture, imprisonment and coercion to recant religious beliefs.
n Churches in Vietnam are required to register with the government, which maintains control over their activities.
n On Nov. 15, a far-reaching new law takes effect in Vietnam gives the government greater ability to restrict the freedom to worship. The Ordinance on Beliefs and Religions forbids religious activities that “undermine peace, independence and national unity” and forbids religious leaders from disseminating “information against the State’s prevailing laws and policies.”
n At least 44 religious leaders are known to be jailed in Vietnam for their beliefs.
n The United States provides approximately $40 million in annual aid to Vietnam.
n Montagnard people, who fought alongside U.S. troops in the Vietnam War, are among the primary targets of Vietnam’s crackdown on religious freedom. The Montagnard population has fallen from about 1.5 million to approximately 750,000 since the late 1960s. About 6,000 have been granted refugee status and now live in the United States. Approximately 50 percent are Christian.
n At its 86th National Convention Aug. 31 and Sept. 1-2, 2004, The American Legion passed Resolution No. 193 to support legislation highlighting human rights in Vietnam and to compel improved “treatment of ethnic and religious minorities, especially in the Central Highlands, in order that they can enjoy the basic freedoms that all humans deserve.”