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US Congressional Committee Moves Human Rights, Democracy Legislation

Legislation aimed at promoting human rights and democracy in Africa, as well as in East and Central Asia, has moved ahead in the U.S. Congress. A number of measures were considered by a subcommittee of the House of Representatives.

Action to advance the measures toward full House consideration reflects congressional concern about democracy and stability in Central Asia, human rights in Vietnam, and unhappiness about continuing suffering in Sudan's Darfur region.

Addressing concerns about setbacks to democracy and human rights in Central Asia, the House committee approved the Central Asia Democracy and Human Rights Act, authorizing assistance to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgystan, and Kazakhstan.

It proposes to link U.S. aid, other than humanitarian, to democratization, and respect for civil and religious liberties and human rights, and provides for further money for Voice of America and other U.S.-government funded broadcasts to the region.

[Republican] Congressman Chris Smith, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Human Rights, says Central Asian countries are moving in the wrong direction. "The bill provides for democracy and human rights programming and would require an annual presidential determination for assistance to each government that would examine five categories: democratization, free speech, freedom of religion, torture and the rule of law," he said.

Also Tuesday, the House subcommittee approved a non-binding resolution on Arab League decision to hold its 2006 summit in Khartoum in March.

Lawmakers say holding the summit there would encourage the Sudanese government to continue allowing acts of genocide in Darfur.

Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee is among a group of House lawmakers who just visited Darfur and other African nations.

She says urgent action is needed to prevent more killing there, support African Union peacekeepers and expand their numbers, and put further pressure on the Sudanese government:

"We have got to move quickly, we have to move quickly to secure, make sure that people become secure," he said.

The subcommittee put off consideration of another Africa-related bill called the Ethiopia Consolidation Act.

Aimed at encouraging respect for human rights and democracy in Ethiopia, that measure would suspend joint security activities with Ethiopia until President Bush certifies the government in Addis Ababa is respecting human rights, investigating killings of civilian protesters, and releasing detainees.

House International Relations Committee spokesman Sam Stratman told VOA the legislation was temporarily withdrawn at the last moment because Democratic Congressman Donald Payne felt it requires more discussion.

The House committee approved another non-binding resolution calling for the immediate release of a Vietnamese dissident, Dr. Pham Hong Son.

He was arrested in a 2002 crackdown on dissidents by the government in Hanoi. Another dissident, Nguyen Khac Toan, was released in January under a prisoner amnesty, but others - including journalist and writer Nguyen Vu Binh, remain in jail.

Still another resolution approved Tuesday criticizes the Romanian government's virtual ban on inter-country adoptions of children.