Government Releases 2 Dissidents In Advance Of Leahy’s Arrival In Vietnam

(WEDNESDAY, April 16, 2014) – Government leaders in Vietnam this week released two prominent imprisoned dissidents in advance of the arrival Wednesday of U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). 

Leahy, accompanied by Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.), is heading a bicameral, bipartisan congressional delegation to China and Vietnam, while Congress is not in session.  In Vietnam over the next five days, the lawmakers will meet with key government leaders, representatives of civil society, Vietnamese law students and participants in U.S.–Vietnam exchange programs, and U.S. business representatives.  In Hanoi they will also see U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy.

Leahy, long a leader on human rights issues, Wednesday said he welcomed the release of the dissidents.  He did not comment on the ongoing private discussions he has been having with Vietnamese officials on these and other issues.  Vietnamese leaders at the highest level have encouraged Leahy’s visit as that nation continues its efforts to improve relations with the United States.

Leahy has championed two ongoing breakthrough initiatives by the U.S. Government to the Vietnamese people.  For two decades he has been the leading U.S. official in the international movement to ban anti-personnel landmines.  Leahy also has led in shaping and funding U.S. efforts to remove landmines and other unexploded bombs left from long-ago conflicts that continue to threaten innocent civilians.  In the early 1990s, President George H. W. Bush used the Leahy War Victims Fund to provide the first U.S. assistance to the people of Vietnam since the war, to provide artificial limbs and rehabilitation to survivors of landmine explosions.  This program has been implemented by the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, Vietnam Assistance for the Handicapped, and other organizations.  Leahy last month launched a new series of Senate Floor speeches about the scourge of landmines and urging President Obama to join the international treaty banning them.  He will continue his series of speeches when Congress reconvenes.  Like the United States, Vietnam also has not yet signed the landmines treaty.

And in Danang, Leahy’s delegation will visit a dioxin (Agent Orange) remediation site, in which USAID is a partner, and a hospital and wheelchair distribution center which also receives help from USAID.  Leahy chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee panel that writes and oversees USAID’s budget, and Leahy sponsored funding for both projects in the annual appropriations bill that his committee produces.

In addition to chairing the State Department’s budget committee, Leahy also chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and now also is President Pro Tempore of the Senate. 

Welch serves on the House Oversight Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations.

[BELOW: The State Department’s translation of a Vietnamese-language news report by the BBC’s Vietnam Service.]

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BBC Vietnam Service

(translation to English by the U.S. State Department)

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy visits Vietnam

Updated: 04:23 GMT

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

United States Senate Permanent Chairman Patrick Leahy is to visit China, Vietnam, and Hong Kong in a 'policymaking' trip.

Mr. Leahy's office said in a statement that the Senator will be accompanied by Congressman Peter Welch and a bipartisan delegation of congressional officials.

Among other topics, the visit from April 12-23, will focus on law relating to intellectual property rights and human rights; and, especially in Vietnam, it will focus on humanitarian efforts such as overcoming the consequences of Agent Orange and landmines from the Vietnam war.

Mr. Patrick Leahy will visit Vietnam from Tuesday, April 16, to Sunday, April 20.

Just prior to his visit, the Vietnamese authorities freed ahead of schedule two prominent dissidents, Vi Duc Hoi and Nguyen Tien Trung .

The release is said to be "unconditional" and "surprising" even for these two prisoners of conscience.

The visit of Mr. Leahy is said to be very important for defining bilateral cooperation, which Vietnam hopes to raise to a new level.

As reported by Vietnam News Agency: "The visit to Vietnam of the President pro tempore of the U.S. Senate, Patrick Joseph Leahy, is expected to open a new phase of cooperation between the legislative bodies of the two countries."

'A new phase of cooperation'

Mr. Patrick Leahy, born in 1940, is a Democratic Senator representing the state of Vermont.

He is the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The statement from his office said that in Vietnam, the U.S. delegation will have meetings with government leaders, civil society representatives, Vietnamese law students who had participated in U.S.-Vietnam exchange programs, and U.S. business representatives.

In Hanoi, the Leahy delegation will also have a meeting with the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, who is also making a working visit to Vietnam.

The U.S. lawmakers will also visit a location where the U.S. aid agency USAID is supporting a dioxin detoxification program in Da Nang, a hospital, and a wheelchair distribution center. Mr. Patrick Leahy chaired the committee to evaluate and review USAID's budget.

Human rights is one of the topics of interest to the U.S. Senate President pro tempore.

Mr. Leahy stated that "as the richest, most powerful country in the world, the United States also has multiple interests and responsibilities across the globe, from expanding commercial investment to counter-terrorism, environmental protection, and human rights advocacy."

He is also one of the supporters of establishing relations with Vietnam, voted in favor of lifting the embargo to Vietnam in 1994, and approved the status of normalization of trade with Vietnam.

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