Smith introduces bipartisan ‘Vietnam Human Rights Act’

Office of US Representative Chris Smith

Press release, May 6, 2021

WASHINGTON, DC – In advance of Vietnam Human Rights Day on May 11th, a bipartisan group of House members introduced the Vietnam Human Rights Act (H.R. 3001) to hold Vietnamese officials accountable for gross human rights abuses and help prioritize the protection of freedoms and the development of the rule of law in the country.

Authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), co-chair of the Congressional Vietnam Caucus, and cosponsored by fellow co-chairs, Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), the legislation would allow the United States to sanction Vietnamese officials and others who are complicit in systematic violations of internationally recognized human rights, including particularly severe violations of religious freedom. Smith’s legislation is also cosponsored by Reps. Young Kim (R-CA), Michelle Steel (R-CA) and Lou Correa (D-CA).

“The freedom of religion, freedom of the press, internet freedom, independent labor unions, the protection of women and girls from trafficking, and advances in the rule of law must be essential components of any U.S.-led effort to ensure that Vietnam and the Indo-Pacific region are both free and open,” said Smith, who has chaired 11 hearings on human rights in Vietnam.

“My district is home to one of the largest Vietnamese-American communities in the country,” said Rep. Lofgren. “I know from firsthand accounts that Vietnam’s horrible record on human rights must not be allowed to stand. Our bipartisan Vietnam Human Rights Act will help give the Vietnamese people the tools and information they need to fight for change from within, and it will hold Vietnam’s government accountable for atrocities. It’s a bill that is both in the best interest of the United States and the Indo-Pacific region. I thank my Co-Chairs of the Vietnam Caucus, Reps. Smith and Lowenthal, for their continued commitment to this issue.”

“Sadly, the communist government of Vietnam continues to remain one of the worst human rights offenders and blatantly refuses to respect the rights that Vietnamese citizens are entitled to under their own laws,” said Rep. Lowenthal. “This legislation puts the Vietnamese government on notice that we are not just watching, but we will continue to fight for the human rights of the Vietnamese people.”

“My district is home to a large Vietnamese population, including many who fled Vietnam to escape communism,” said Rep. Steel. “It is critical the U.S. hold Vietnamese officials accountable for their human rights violations and show we stand with the Vietnamese people fighting for freedom and democracy. I’m proud to work with my colleagues on this bill to support the rights of the Vietnamese people.”

“This bill sends a strong, bipartisan message that a freer Vietnam—which has the potential to be the strategic anchor of its region and a close U.S. ally—is a critical national interest for the United States,” said Smith, who also co-chairs the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. “U.S. policies must press for the freedoms and rights desired by the overwhelming majority of the Vietnamese people, not support the privileged elite of the Communist Party who too often get a free pass on human rights.”

Among other provisions, Smith’s bill:

Authorizes new programs to monitor and halt bride and sex trafficking of women and girls;

Prohibits any direct or indirect funding for Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, which engages in cyber-espionage activity and hacking;

Requires enhanced reporting on Vietnamese human rights abuses, sanctioning of Vietnamese officials and U.S. efforts to promote internet freedom and the flow of information in Vietnam;

Urges implementation of key sanctions already provided under the Global Magnitsky Act and the International Religious Freedom Act, including visa denials and financial sanctions; and

Calls for restrictions on non-humanitarian assistance to Vietnam’s government until certain human rights milestones are met.

Previous versions of Smith’s legislation have passed the House on three occasions with overwhelming bipartisan support, but have stalled in the Senate.