WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Annual Commemoration of Vietnam Human Rights Day, an esteemed event held in the nation’s capital on May 11 each year, was established under former President Bill Clinton’s presidency. The observance was designated by a Joint Resolution of the U.S. Congress, and was formally enacted into law by Clinton in 1994.
33 years ago, Dr. Nguyen Dan Que — an influential figure representing the Non-Violent Movement for Human Rights — courageously released a manifesto despite facing the possibility of arrest, persecution, or worse. The powerful document called upon Hanoi to uphold the fundamental principles of human rights, embrace a multi-party system, and reinstate the Vietnamese people’s “right to self-determination” through free and fair elections.
This year’s event, the 29th, featured many renowned activists and politicians who addressed various facets of human rights impacting Vietnam, and other parts of the world.
Holding China accountable
In an exclusive interview with Vision Times, Congresswoman Katie Porter (D-CA 47th District), Porter said the U.S. government needs to step up and do a better job at holding China accountable for its human rights record.
“The United States needs to stand up for human rights around the world,” said Porter, adding, “If countries want to be our allies, our economic partners, and our national security partners, then they also need to be our partners in democracy and protecting human rights.”
Porter also conveyed her personal understanding of the profound impact that human rights abuses can have on individuals, including one that hit close to home.
“One of my own constituents, Michael Nguyen, was imprisoned in Vietnam for two years — and we are happy we were able to bring him home, but that experience showed me how much work there is to do.”
Porter: ‘We have eyes [on China]’
When asked about what she thought of the ongoing persecution against Falun Gong adherents in China, Porter said, “We need to continue to exercise our force and moral authority to continue making sure that China understands that we have eyes on them.”
Falun Dafa, also known as Falun Gong, is a spiritual discipline harmonizing meditation exercises with a profound moral philosophy rooted in the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance (真善忍). During the 1990s, this practice gained immense popularity throughout China — attracting millions of individuals, including influential government officials — who embraced its teachings and took up the practice.
In July 1999, the communist authorities launched a harrowing and merciless persecution against the practice — targeting an estimated 100 million of its adherents. This brutal assault aimed to quell the practice and suppress its principles within the country.
Since then, thousands of Falun Gong adherents have perished at the hands of Chinese police — with the real number of deaths speculated to be in the hundreds of thousands, or even millions. According to Minghui, A U.S.-based website that documents the persecution of Falun Gong, at least 4,365 practitioners have been persecuted to death, with the number continuing to rise.
READ MORE: Falun Gong Parade Held in Manhattan to Celebrate the Spiritual Practice’s Founding
“We have expectations for how [China] is going to treat people, including the respect for freedom of religion and freedom of worship,” said Porter, adding “People need to be free of persecution around the world, and the US needs to be willing to press China on those issues.”
‘We have to keep up the pressure’
Former Congresswoman Leslie Byrne (D-VA) told Vision Times reporter, Xiao Min, that the U.S. government needs to “keep up the pressure” to uphold the rights of people not just in America, but in other parts of the world as well.
“We have to keep up the pressure in order for citizens to be treated fairly with either fascist or communist governments,” said Byrne.
“[These governments] are two sides of the same coin, and they want a few people to control a lot of people — and that’s not healthy for the world,” she said, adding, “That’s how Hitler got started, that’s how all of these people take advantage of their strength and deny human rights to their citizens. So we must always put a spotlight on those who wish to take away human rights.”
When asked about what she thought about the ongoing persecution of Falun Gong that has lasted 24 years now, Byrne said her heart went out to all of those who are experiencing persecution for their religious beliefs.
“I’ve been aware of the breach of rights against Falun Gong in both China, Vietnam, and other areas, and I think our hearts have to go with people that want to express their own religious beliefs, and to protect them in doing so.”
Byrne also shared the importance of continuing to spread awareness and check in with the ones that are experiencing persecution to amplify their voices. “Keep the message going. We’re all in this together — they’re the ones that are in the forefront and know what’s going on, so we need to hear from them.”
Other key members in attendance included: Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ); Congresswoman Michelle Steel (R-CA); Congresswoman Young Kim (R-CA); Congressman Lou Correa (D-CA); Congresswoman Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL); Congressman Troy Carter (D-LA); and Ms. Sarah Yager (Human Rights Watch at RFA), etc.
Vision Times reporter Xiao Min contributed to this report.