US introduces Bill to promote human rights in Vietnam (The Straits Times)

WASHINGTON – Lawmakers in the United States marked the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon on Thursday and introduced legislation that would require Vietnam to make tangible human rights improvements before it receives US assistance such as trade benefits.

Washington and Hanoi were bitter foes in a war that led to the deaths of millions of Vietnamese and 58,000 Americans, but ties have improved substantially since the 1990s, particularly on economic issues.

With a historic US-Pacific trade accord under negotiation, a bipartisan group of four House members introduced the Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2015 to ensure that progress is made on sensitive issues such as rights and that they do not get “bargained away” in the trade talks.

“It is important to pass the Bill quickly because this year the administration has promised Vietnam lucrative trade benefits, as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and new security cooperation, benefits not deserved because of the government’s atrocious human rights record,” said Republican Christopher Smith, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on human rights.

He said improving human rights is fundamental to better bilateral ties.

“The American people should not have to subsidise torture or underwrite the jailing of journalists, religious leaders, labour activists or advocates of democracy or Internet freedom.”

According to Reporters Without Borders, as of mid-February, Vietnam was holding at least 34 bloggers in prison.

Similar measures passed the House easily in recent years, but stalled in the Senate.

The Bill would not block funding for humanitarian assistance, including food aid, Agent Orange clean-up efforts or HIV/Aids prevention programmes.