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Vietnam Committee on Human Rights protests Vietnam’s denial of visa to US Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez

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US Congresswoman Loretta SanchezThe Vietnam Committee on Human Rights strongly condemns Vietnam’s refusal to grant a visa to US Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez to visit Vietnam. Congresswoman Sanchez, a Democrat who represents “Little Saigon” in Santa Ana (California), the largest Vietnamese community in the United States, and who is currently in Thailand on a leg of a visit to South-East Asia, received a letter via the US Embassy in Hanoi from the External Relations Office of Vietnam’s National Assembly on 3rd December stating that her visa application was rejected because she “altogether lacks objectivity and goodwill toward Vietnam”.

“For Vietnam’s leaders, the only people with “objectivity and goodwill” are those who shower praise and US dollars on the regime”, said Vo Van Ai, President of the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights. “By turning down Rep. Sanchez’s visit, they are closing the door on a friend of Vietnam who comes simply to help those who suffer injustice and discrimination because of their peaceful religious or political convictions. Vietnam should stop dividing the world into friends and enemies, and take heed of the sincere appeals of its citizens and international friends who encourage the regime to take the path of political reform”.

Congresswoman Sanchez has made two previous visits to Vietnam, in 1999 and 2000, when she accompanied President Bill Clinton on the first ever visit by a US President to Vietnam since the end of the Vietnam war. During both trips, she met with dissidents, including Venerable Thich Quang Do, Deputy leader of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV). One of the most vocal critics of Vietnam’s human rights record in the US House of Representatives, she strongly supported the Vietnam Human Rights Act, which linked US-Vietnam bilateral trade relations to concrete improvements in human rights, and has introduced extensive legislation to promote democracy, human rights and religious freedom in Vietnam. In November 2003, she sponsored House Res. 427 condemning Vietnam’s crackdown on the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and calling for the release of UBCV leaders.

At the same time as Congressman Sanchez is prohibited from visiting Vietnam, Vietnam has sent its top diplomatic lobbyist, Ms Ton Nu Thi Ninh, Vice-Director of the Vietnamese National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee, on a visit to the US to “promote Vietnam-US relations”. Commenting on the refusal of Rep. Sanchez’s visit, Ms Ninh said : “Sanchez has never shown any constructive objectivity or any real interest in moving the bilateral relations forward in both of her two visits to Vietnam as well as in her subsequent deeds and statements. Regrettably, we can only conclude that thus far, such a visit will not serve any useful purpose for Vietnam or for Vietnam-US relations”.

Ms Ninh, who spoke in New York on Tuesday and will speak at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on Thursday, has actively lobbied against legislation such as the Vietnam Human Rights Act, and opposes all criticism of Vietnam’s human rights record. A staunch defender of the Communist Party’s political monopoly, she recently declared at the Asia-Europe Fifth People’s Forum in Hanoi in September 2004 – where the international press was banned from covering the event – that Vietnam’s aim was to “build democracy within a one-party system”. “We must defend the right of minorities”, she said, attempting to justify the “right” of the 2.6 million minority of Vietnamese Communist Party members to exercise authoritarian control over the majority of 81 million people in Vietnam.

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