At ceremonies held on May 11th at the U.S. Capitol, members of Congress, labor leaders, representatives of the Vietnamese community, and activists reaffirmed their support for the non-violent movement for human rights in Vietnam.
On May 11, 1990, a Vietnamese physician, Dr. Nguyen Dan Que published a call for peaceful opposition to Vietnam's Communist government. For this, Dr. Que was sentenced to twenty years in prison. He was released in September 1998 on the condition that he leave Vietnam. This he refused to do.
In March 2003, Dr. Que was detained again after criticizing the Vietnamese government's human rights abuses. He has been held incommunicado for more than a year-and-a-half and his case has yet to come to trial. U.S. Senator George Allen of Virginia says Dr. Que has made a courageous choice:
"Dr. Que has chosen continued imprisonment for his efforts to bring attention to the trampling of human rights in Vietnam, instead of exile because he believes exile is not freedom."
Dr. Que is not the only Vietnamese in prison for attempting to exercise basic human rights. Father Thaddeus Ngyuen Van Ly was sentenced to fifteen years in prison and five years of house arrest for submitting testimony to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. U.S. Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of California says his arrest underscores Vietnam’s failure to respect the fundamental rights of its citizens, including free speech: "In particular it troubles me to know that Father Ly has been imprisoned simply because he gave testimony to this Congress about the abuses going on within Vietnam."
Vietnam’s poor human rights record has been documented by independent human rights monitors. But it remains to be seen whether the Vietnamese government will move to bring its human rights practices into compliance with international standards. As U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Raymond Burghardt said, only by better protecting human rights, genuinely increasing transparency and accountability, and more fully empowering its own citizens, can Vietnam achieve its goal of becoming a prosperous, stable and successful society.