The Vietnamese government's human rights abuses were the focus of Vietnam Human Rights Day at the U.S. Capitol. U.S. State Department country officer for Vietnam, Charles Jess, read a statement from U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Raymond Burghardt: "I discussed human rights with Vietnamese officials on many occasions over the past year and urged both specific and general actions to improve human rights and religious freedom. We also met, as we are able, with reform activists and religious leaders, regardless of whether the Vietnamese government recognizes them."
Vietnamese who talk about the government's human rights abuses run grave risks. On March 17th, Dr. Nguyen Dan Que was jailed again. Thirteen years earlier, on May 11th, 1990, Dr. Que published a manifesto calling for an end to repression in Vietnam. For this, he was sentenced to twenty years in prison. Dr. Que was released in 1998 on condition that he leave Vietnam. He refused. He continues to speak out. And he is being heard. Dr. Torsten Wiesel, a Nobel laureate in medicine and a human rights advocate, explains why: "His stature, to me, is very much like that of [the late] Dr. [Andrei] Sakharov, the famous Russian dissident, because of his insistence on human rights -- his courage."
Professor Doan Viet Hoat, a prominent dissident, expresses the admiration of many Vietnamese: "I have been in jail with Dr. Que twice and I know his ideals. He has no other ideals than that Vietnam should have human rights and democracy. Without human rights, democracy in Vietnam cannot develop. Even a market economy cannot develop without human rights. And that is what he is trying for -- and peacefully."
By imprisoning Dr. Nguyen Dan Que and other critics, the government of Vietnam tells the world that it is afraid -- afraid to let the people of Vietnam speak freely. But they will not be silenced.