WASHINGTON (BP) — The U.S. House of Representatives has approved nearly unanimously a bill designed to advance religious freedom and other human rights in Vietnam.
In a 405-3 roll call Aug. 1, the House approved the Vietnam Human Rights Act, H.R. 1897, which will prohibit any increase in non-humanitarian U.S. aid to the Southeast Asian country if its government does not make significant progress in promoting human rights. The Senate has yet to act on the proposal.
Among its goals, the bill seeks to end religious abuses and return confiscated property to churches and religious communities.
The legislation also expresses the sense of Congress that the State Department should re-designate Vietnam as a “country of particular concern,” a classification reserved for the world’s worst violators of religious freedom.
The bill’s purpose is “to send a clear, strong, and compelling message to the increasingly repressive communist regime in power in Vietnam that says that the United States is serious about combating human rights abuse” in that country, said Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., in a written statement. Smith is the bill’s House sponsor.
Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists and adherents of other faiths face government abuse, Smith said. Government officials have jailed journalists and have been complicit in human trafficking, Smith said.
The House-approved bill says the Vietnamese government “continues to limit the freedom of religion, restrict the operations of independent religious organizations, and persecute believers whose religious activities the Government regards as a potential threat to its monopoly on power.”
According to the legislation, “unregistered ethnic minority Protestant congregations, particularly Montagnards in the Central and Northwest Highlands, suffer severe abuses because of actions by the Government of Vietnam, which have included forced renunciations of faith, arrest and harassment, the withholding of social programs provided for the general population, confiscation and destruction of property, subjection to severe beatings, and reported deaths.”
The only representatives to vote against the bill were Republicans Paul Broun of Georgia and Walter Jones of North Carolina, as well as Democrat Gregory Meeks of New York.
The House vote followed by a week a July 25 state visit to Washington by Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang. In a joint news conference, President Obama said they “had a very candid conversation about both the progress Vietnam has made and the challenges that remain.”
In a statement released later, the White House noted “narrow differences” between the two countries on the issue of human rights, but a statement in Nhan Dan, the official newspaper of Vietnam’s Communist Party, claimed the differences were “many and significant.”
Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).