Statement of Representative Ed Royce

Thank you Mr. Chairman for highlighting the abysmal human rights situation in Vietnam. Those Vietnamese taking a stand for freedom –political or religious– are harshly struck down. We’ll hear about that today. So how should Congress respond?

The House of Representatives has several times passed the Vietnam Human Rights Act, authored by Representative Smith, which I have worked on. The Act restricts aid and authorizes funding to promote human rights in Vietnam. Despite enjoying strong House support, a few Senators have sat on this bill in the past two Congresses. Hopefully, this Congress will be different.

I have long backed Radio Free Asia –a “surrogate” broadcasting service that acts as uncensored media in Vietnam– having legislation signed into law in 1998. These broadcasts help Vietnamese understand developments in their own country, in the voice of their fellow citizens. This objective news and information undercuts the government’s repression.

We should be protesting Vietnam’s human rights abuses in our loudest voice. I have spoken with many Vietnamese dissidents. I met the Most Venerable Thich Quang Do of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, and Le Quang Liem too, as they were under house arrest. I know that American protests lend badly needed morale support. The congressional resolutions we’ve passed helped, and President Bush’s meeting with four Vietnamese-Americans working on human rights in Vietnam this past spring sent a strong message. Among the four was Diem Do of Orange County, California.

The U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam has a unique role championing human rights, which frankly, ambassadors aren’t always so good at. For one, he should be protesting loudly Vietnam’s efforts to jam Radio Free Asia, a challenge the Vietnam Human Rights Act helps. Last month, Representatives Rohrabacher and Sanchez and I met with our new Ambassador to Vietnam at a forum in Orange County. Ambassador Michalak promised to make human rights a top priority of his tenure. If he’s doing his job, human rights will be an irritant in this relationship. At that forum, I reminded the Ambassador of one of his predecessor’s views. Ambassador Pete Peterson said:

I don’t hear anyone reporting problems here. Vietnam by any standard has to be rated a success.

That was way off, obviously. Since then, we’ve become more realistic, though I don’t understand Vietnam’s removal from the “Country of Particular Concern” list. Needless to say, we expect our Ambassador to be speaking out boldly for human rights in Vietnam.

Cholera reported in Vietnam’s diarrhea outbreak

HANOI (Reuters) – Some cases of cholera have been confirmed among nearly 800 people suffering severe diarrhea in northern Vietnam, health officials said on Tuesday.

The state-run newspaper Hanoi Moi (New Hanoi) quoted Health Minister Nguyen Quoc Trieu as saying “cholera bacterium is emerging in eight out of 11 infected localities.”

No deaths have been reported but, in the past week, people suffering from diarrhea have been taken to hospital in 11 provinces and cities, including Hanoi. The capital of about 4 million people has the highest number of patients, media reports said.

The Health Ministry said 15 percent of the nearly 800 cases reported so far were positive for the cholera bacterium.

Health authorities were urgently isolating infected areas and putting patients in quarantine, officials said.

The ministry said contaminated locally made shrimp paste or a raw fish and vegetable combination and fermented pork roll were the likely cause of the diarrhea.

The U.S. embassy in Hanoi said in a message sent by e-mail to U.S. citizens in the developing Southeast Asian country that “the Government of Vietnam has confirmed a growing outbreak of acute diarrhea … some of the cases have been confirmed as cholera.”

The message came with guidelines from the U.S. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention to reduce the risks of exposure.

Vietnam has been fighting various diseases this year, including dengue fever that has infected nearly 60,000 people, killing 50. Bird flu has killed four people and authorities have also reported “blue ear” disease in pigs.

At its most acute, cholera causes sudden watery diarrhea that can lead to death by severe dehydration and kidney failure.

The World Health Organization in Vietnam said the U.N. agency had offered technical support to investigate.

“We have been informed about severe acute diarrhea,” spokeswoman Dida Connor said. “We haven’t had any confirmation of cholera.”

WHO describes cholera is an acute diarrhoeal infection caused by ingesting the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. Transmission occurs through direct faecal-oral contamination or through eating or drinking contaminated water and food.

US official says Vietnam must improve human rights if it wants to deepen ties with US

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

WASHINGTON: A senior U.S. official said Tuesday that Vietnam must treat its citizens better if the communist-led country wants to deepen ties with the United States. U.S. lawmakers, meanwhile, pushed for passage of legislation that would link U.S. aid to the fast-growing Asian country to rights improvements.

Scot Marciel, a deputy assistant secretary of state, told lawmakers at a House of Representatives hearing that Vietnam has released high-profile prisoners over the last two years and allowed outsiders greater access.

But, he testified, “serious deficiencies remain in political and civil liberties.” People cannot change their government, he said, and can be detained for expressing their political views. Media are restricted, and Internet use and freedoms of speech and assembly are curbed.

Vietnam tolerates no challenges to communist one-party rule and recently has arrested or sentenced pro-democracy activists, including a dissident Roman Catholic priest sentenced to eight years in prison; it insists, however, that only lawbreakers are jailed.

Several U.S. lawmakers urged their colleagues in the Senate on Tuesday to act on legislation overwhelmingly approved by the House in September that prohibits any increase in aid except for humanitarian assistance to Vietnam over levels of the budget year that ended Sept. 30 unless President George W. Bush certifies that Vietnam has made significant progress in its rights record.

“We should be protesting Vietnam’s human rights abuses in our loudest voice,” Republican Rep. Ed Royce said.

Royce urged the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, Michael Michalak, who assumed his post in August, to act as a champion of human rights. “If he’s doing his job, human rights will be an irritant in this relationship,” Royce said.

The Congressional Research Service has estimated that the United States this year is providing Vietnam with about $8 million to $12 million (€5.5 million to €8.25 million) in nonhumanitarian aid.

Marciel, in his testimony, detailed Vietnam’s “dramatic and striking” transformation from a Marxist country damaged by war to a growing economic power.

Vietnam is eager to keep the focus on its vibrant trade ties with the United States, a message Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet conveyed during his June visit to Washington. The countries began a bilateral trade agreement in 2001, and trade reached nearly $10 billion (€6.9 billion) last year. Triet was the first president from Vietnam to visit the White House since the Vietnam War.

Marciel said that despite “only halting progress in advancing political freedoms, on religious freedom the country has made real, significant improvements” — echoing praise made in the U.S. State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom report in September.

The United States handed Hanoi a major concession last year when it removed Vietnam from a list of countries the United States considers guilty of severe violations of religious freedoms.

Democratic Rep. Bill Delahunt questioned the State Department’s view of Vietnam’s religious toleration, citing what he called “a trend going in the other direction.”

Marciel responded that while Vietnam’s recent crackdown on dissenters was “appalling,” it was a political crackdown, not an assault on religious freedom.