Reps. Alan Lowenthal, Zoe Lofgren, and Susan Davis: Obama Committed to Addressing Human Rights Concerns during Vietnam President’s Visit
Following a meeting today at the White House, Reps. Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), and Susan Davis (CA-53) said they had received a commitment from President Obama to address human rights concerns with Vietnam President Truong Tan Sang during an upcoming meeting of the two leaders. The lawmakers welcomed the President's assurances, and said he told them that the human rights issues they raised were a priority for his upcoming meeting with Sang.
"I was gratified to hear the President today express his concern over human rights violations in Vietnam and his understanding that now is the time to bring up these issues with President Sang," Rep. Lowenthal said. "I feel that anyone who supports ending human rights violations in Vietnam has an important ally in the White House. We must continue to remind President Sang and the government of Vietnam that all people are entitled to their basic human rights, and that we will continue fighting to make sure these rights are not infringed upon."
"I welcome President Obama's commitment to include human rights as a priority topic in his upcoming talks with Vietnam's President Sang," Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Vietnam, said. "According to independent groups and advocates, Vietnam's deplorable human rights record has only gotten worse in the past few years. The United States can play an important role by making it clear that the future of good relations with our country goes hand in hand with Vietnam affording its citizens their basic rights."
The lawmakers noted that increased bilateral engagement in trade and cultural exchanges have not led to improvements for basic rights in Vietnam. In fact, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has noted that the Vietnamese government has increasingly targeted peaceful advocates, religious minorities, journalists and citizens for arrest and imprisonment as political prisoners. According to HRW, by June of this year, more people had been sentenced for peaceful dissent than in all of 2012.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's 2013 report named Vietnam as a "Tier 1 country of particular concern," placing it in the same category as oppressive regimes including Burma, Iran, North Korea and Sudan. Similarly, Reporters Without Borders ranks Vietnam as 172nd of 179 countries in its Press Freedom Index, and the independent watchdog organization Freedom House listed the country as "not free" along with Iran, Syria and Burma in its 2012 Freedom on the Net report.
Congressman Lowenthal was a co-sponsor of legislation authored by Rep. Lofgren, H.R. 1682, the Fostering Rights through Economic Engagement in Vietnam ("FREE Vietnam") Act. The bipartisan bill would bar Vietnam from enjoying special U.S. trade preferences until the country's communist government takes serious measures to curb human rights abuses.