Congressman Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), co-chair of the Congressional Vietnam Caucus, led a letter today with six of his House colleagues to new U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Marc Knapper to congratulate him on his appointment to the role. The Members also highlight the ongoing human rights issues in Vietnam and urge Ambassador Knapper to raise these issues with all levels of the Vietnamese government, demand an end to crackdowns against activists, dissidents, and independent religious institutions, as well as press for the release of all prisoners of conscience in Vietnam.
A more than 20-year veteran of the State Department, Ambassador Knapper was nominated to the position by President Biden in April 2021, confirmed by the Senate in Dec. 2021, and sworn in on January 3, 2022.
After congratulating the Ambassador on his appointment, the lawmakers raise concerns regarding human rights issues in Vietnam, pointing out that four decades after the end of the Vietnam War and more than twenty-five years after the establishment of bilateral relations with the United States, Vietnam remains a deeply repressive regime.
The Members wrote, “The Vietnamese Communist government continues to deny fundamental freedoms and basic human rights to its citizens, contrary to the values enshrined in the Vietnamese Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Socialist Republic of Vietnam has promised to uphold. Citizens, dissidents, and independent journalists who exercise basic civil and political rights such as freedom of speech, association, religion, and peaceful assembly face harassment, violence, arrest, and imprisonment by the authoritarian regime.”
The letter goes on to detail some of the most repressive actions taken by the Vietnamese government, especially in the two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This included the arrest and harsh prison sentences imposed on scores of dissidents within the country. The Members point out that in 2021 alone, the Vietnamese authorities have imprisoned at least 63 people for simply expressing their opinions or affiliating themselves with groups deemed hostile to the government, according to Human Rights Watch.
The letter names nearly two dozen prisoners of conscience who due to their actions as writers, activists, and dissidents, have been persecuted by the Vietnamese government. While this is only a partial list of those being held, the Members urged Ambassador Knapper to raise their cases with the highest levels of the Vietnamese government and press for their immediate release.
The Members concluded with, “We understand Vietnam and the United States are seeking to build a closer strategic relationship, amidst China’s growing aggressions in Vietnam’s East Sea (South China Sea). Such a relationship, however, cannot come at the expense of human rights and values that the international community upholds. We believe Vietnam can be a stronger and more reliable partner to the United States when it respects democratic values and the fundamental freedoms of its citizens.”
In addition to Congressman Lowenthal, the letter is signed by Lou Correa (CA-46) , Anna Eshoo (CA-18), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Scott Peters (CA-52), and Michelle Steel (CA-48).
Congress Members Lowenthal and Lofgren serve as co-chairs of the Congressional Vietnam Caucus. Congress Members Correa, Khanna, Peters and Steel are also members of the caucus.