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Capitol Hill Conference Spotlights


By Jackie Bong-Wright

The trafficking of Vietnamese women, children, and men was the subject of a conference on Capitol Hill co-hosted by Cong. Tom Davis (R-VA) and Cong. Jim Moran (D-VA) and organized by the Vietnamese American Voters Association (VAVA), Inc. The conference, held on May 12, 2006, featured prominent speakers including Amb. John Miller, the United States’ chief anti-trafficking official, Father Peter Hung Nguyen from Taiwan, and Mr. Aaron Cohen, a consultant turned activist.
The “export” and abusive treatment of Vietnamese “brides,” children, and guest workers occurs in such countries as Taiwan, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. Often this occurs with the collaboration of the Vietnamese government. The conference speakers sought to address examples of the exploitation of Vietnamese caught in human trafficking rings. Fr. Peter Hung, a Vietnamese Catholic priest, recounted his efforts in Taiwan to assist trafficking victims, including young women who were sold to men, re-sold, only to be arrested for being in the country illegally. Fr. Hung stated the three shelters he founded in Taiwan have helped some 2,000 victims over the past three years, and continue daily to aid new victims as they are identified. Mr. Cohen discussed the thousands of Vietnamese girls being sold as prostitutes in Cambodia, many as young as 5 years old, serving the demand of foreign tourists looking for sex.
Amb. Miller of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons said the U.S. government was spending $95million a year to fight human trafficking, which he called “modern-day slavery.” Of the total, a mere $17 million was allotted directly to his department to aid in the funding of programs to combat the problem worldwide. Even so, he stated the U.S. currently spends about ten times as much as any other country in the world to combat human trafficking.
After the presentations, the conference presented an open forum where panelists, including Amb. Miller, were peppered with queries from an audience of 100 assembled in the Gold Room of the Rayburn House Office Building. Some disapproved of Vietnam’s having been taken off the “watch list” (a designation related to the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report). Vietnam was moved up one step in the 2005 report that assesses national anti-trafficking efforts. The lower score, which Vietnam had previously held, calls for sanctions on nations that are not doing enough to combat human trafficking within their country and/or of their citizens.
Amb. Miller acknowledged there was room for disagreement on Vietnam’s status, but also stated that Vietnam had passed a national anti-trafficking plan and did cooperate in some international efforts. He stated that effort had to be rewarded in order to encourage compliance, although there remained significant room for improvement. Amb. Miller expressed gratitude to those attending for their efforts on behalf of Vietnamese victims, and asked that those present provide his office with information on specific cases of trafficking of Vietnamese victims as well as on the Vietnamese government’s compliance with newly passed policies.
About twenty NGOs and community leaders from around the country, mostly Vietnamese-Americans, sponsored the conference. These included: the Alliance for Democracy in Vietnam from Boston, MA; the API Women & Family Safety Center from Seattle, WA; the Arizona Vietnamese Community from Phoenix; the Asian American Women Alliance from San jose, CA; Griffin Decker, a consultant in Arlington, VA; the Bamboo Pen Magazine from Chandler, AZ; the Cao Trao Nhan Ban from Virginia; the Gia Long Alumnae from Virginia; the International Committee for a Free Vietnam from Montreal, Canada; the International Service Center from Harriburg, PA; the National Congress of Vietnamese Americans from Washington, DC; the Overseas Vietnamese Poetry Society from San Jose, CA; the Overseas Vietnamese Women Association from San Jose, CA; the Trung Vuong Alumnae from Virginia; the Union of North American Vietnamese Students Association from Chicago, IL; the VietACT from Westminster, CA; the Vietnam Helsinki Human Rights Committee from Virginia, and last but not least, the Vietnam Human Rights Network from Westminster, CA.
The conference delegates produced recommendations for the government of Vietnam, the U.S. government, and the international community. These recommendations included a request for Vietnam to increase the enforcement of its laws against trafficking beginning with government officials involved in the human trade, increase and improve the treatment of victims of human trafficking, and provide better education for women and children in rural areas to reduce the risk of their succumbing to the traffickers’ deceitful propositions. The latter of these was of particular concern as trafficking “brokers” routinely promise good jobs abroad to young women, who then find themselves trapped as sex slaves, without rights or a way to return home.
Underlying a number of the recommendations was the strongly-expressed view that trafficking victims should not be treated as lawbreakers but should instead be assisted to return to their normal lives.
Conference delegates, while generally pleased with U.S. efforts to combat trafficking, also recommended higher funding for the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. They also urged the U.S. to take a tough line against Vietnam and other governments that could be doing more to enforce their laws against trafficking, and called for continued U.S. support for NGO’s involved in anti-trafficking activities.
Following the conference on Capitol Hill, the delegates and additional local supporters attended a fund-raising dinner for Fr. Hung’s shelters held at the Fortune Restaurant in Falls Church. The dinner was attended by some 450 guests. Both the conference and dinner were widely covered by both broadcast and print media outlets including Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, Vietnamese American Television, Vietnamese Public Television, Vietnamese Public Radio, the Saigon Broadcasting Television Network, and other local and national Vietnamese press.
It is the hope of VAVA, Inc. and the conference delegates that the conference could be repeated next year on a nationally recognized Vietnamese Victims of Human Trafficking Day. It is also hoped that, on that day, the delegates will return with reports of significant progress made to save the lives and dignity of some of the most cruelly abused human beings the world knows today.