Washington, D.C. – House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) discussed the importance of Vietnam human rights during the seventh Vietnam Advocacy Day.  The event – which started as the Vietnamese American Meetup, an initiative led by Royce in 2013 – has become an annual event that draws hundreds of Vietnamese American advocates from across the country to the nation’s capital.  Text of Chairman Royce’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follows:

“Thank you, Thang Nguyen, for inviting me to participate once again at Vietnam Advocacy Day.  I wish that there was no need to revisit the critical issues of human rights, but unfortunately, Vietnam’s one-party communist state continues to oppress its citizens and deny them fundamental human rights.

That is why we are here today.  The United States has a growing relationship with Vietnam, particularly in the security and trade arenas. However, human rights remain a core value to us and we cannot segregate them from our on-going engagement with the Vietnamese government.

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a hearing in my Committee that focused on  human rights in Vietnam.  Thang, I was pleased you were one of the witnesses.  As you noted on that day, ‘over the past twelve months we have observed a major backsliding in the overall human rights conditions in Vietnam.’  We need to look no further than the treatment of Pastor Nguyen Cong Ching, who has been subjected to beatings, denied medical treatment, and kept in solitary confinement.  Prison guards have even mixed broken glass and lead in with his food.

This is truly horrific treatment.  In addition to those crimes – and there is no other word for it than crimes – the state’s efforts to control every aspect of religious practice is a continuous violation of human rights, one with no end in sight.

It is imperative that the United States continue to call for the government of Vietnam to respect its people’s fundamental freedoms.  Among these, none can be more important and more personal, than the right to freedom of religion.  Yet in Vietnam, the state continues to intimidate and harass citizens for nothing more than attempting to practice their religion freely and openly.

Almost two decades ago, I met with the Venerable Thich Quang Do, now the Supreme Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam.  Sadly, over all of those years, he remains under house arrest, still persecuted by the communist government. And Thich Quang Do is not alone. Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh’s  horrific treatment continues; for the last five years, he has remained behind bars on the questionable charges of ‘undermining national security.’

What we call for today, and what I urged the administration to call for in its meeting with the Prime Minister, is respect for religious freedom and to release the remaining 200 political prisoners that remain in captivity for advocating for the basic freedoms they so deserve. Many of which, frankly, are provided in the Vietnamese Constitution.

One must ask, then, why officials can obstruct and interfere with this constitutionally guaranteed right to worship freely?  Which begs the question: If this constitutional right can be ignored, what weight can we give to any other constitutional or legal rights in Vietnam.

But the lack of freedom of religion is far from the only right that has been denied to the people of Vietnam.  As we all know, Vietnam’s penal code criminalizes criticism of the government and the ‘abuse of democratic freedoms,’ severely restricting the media.  Bloggers like Anh Ba Sam, Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, and Nguyen Ngoc Gia have been imprisoned for their advocacy of human rights, imprisoned for ‘abusing the rights to freedom of democracy.’

Not surprisingly, Vietnam ranks 175th out of 180 countries for press freedom, behind Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.  That’s truly awful company to hold.

I hope for a stronger and more productive relationship between our countries.  However, continued cooperation and improvements in our relationship must be predicated on a mutual respect for human rights and the rule of law.  It is who we are.  It is what I hope they are, but it is up to them to show it.

Thang Nguyen, thank you again for everything you do and for organizing this important event.”