A US human rights panel yesterday heard new evidence of ongoing human rights abuses in Vietnam.
The House Committee on Foreign Affairs in Washington heard testimony from human rights activists and victims about abuse by the Vietnamese government.
“The Vietnamese government continues to be an egregious violator of a broad array of human rights,” said chairman US Representative Chris Smith. He said Vietnam continued to violate human rights despite its removal in 2006 from a US government list of Countries of Particular Concern.
He added: “Vietnam continues to control religious communities, severely restrict and penalize independent religious practices, and brutally repress individuals and groups viewed as challenging its authority.”
Former House member Joseph Cao told the panel that Vietnam had a long history of religious intolerance and abuse.
He noted the seizure of lands in Thai Ha parish in Hanoi over several decades, which culminated last year with a plan to build a waste-water plant on the land – effectively making the seizures permanent.
Cao said during a 2008 protest to call for the return of the land, “contract thugs harassed and dispersed protesters, and destroyed Church properties.”
Smith said that “there are severe labor abuses occurring as well – with the government’s complicity.”
In her testimony before the panel, Vũ Phương-Anh described how her family’s poverty led her to sign up for a government labor export program.
Fluent in Chinese, she expected to be sent to work in Taiwan. She ended up in Jordan, where a Taiwanese contractor seized her travel documents and refused to honor the employment contract she had signed.
She and 270 other Vietnamese nationals were forced to work as many as 16 hours each day, earning a fraction of the $300 per month they had been promised. When they staged a hunger strike to demand their full pay, they were beaten.
“The guards used their batons on us without mercy,” she said, adding that after their repatriation to Vietnam some of the injured later died or suffered permanent injuries.
John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, told the panel that the rights group’s recent annual report showed that Vietnam has also stepped up its campaign against all forms of dissent.
“In the last year, the Vietnamese government has intensified its repression of activists and dissidents and cracked down harshly on freedom of expression, association and assembly,” he said.
“This environment of oppression ensures that millions of Vietnamese – even those who wish simply to keep their head down, work for a living, support their family – must keep quiet in the face of unfair or incompetent governance or corruption.”
Smith said the Vietnam Human Rights Act introduced last year sought to curb Vietnam’s human rights violations by linking non-humanitarian assistance by the US to the amount of assistance allowed for human rights and democracy promotion in the country.