Cablegate: Scenesetter for U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue

DE RUEHHI #0614/01 1441011
R 231011Z MAY 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

HANOI 00000614 001.2 OF 004

Summary and Introduction

1. (SBU) Assistant Secretary Kramer: Mission Vietnam looks forward
to welcoming you to Hanoi. Your visit is well timed to focus
Vietnamese leaders on the importance we attach to human rights in
strengthening and deepening our bilateral relationship in the year
ahead. Overall, the U.S.-Vietnam relationship continues to broaden
and mature, and the transformation of the economic, social and
technological landscape continues to create new spaces for Vietnam's
people to communicate their views, including the public's growing
intolerance for government inertia and corruption. However, despite
a general loosening of control over many aspects of life for most
Vietnamese, especially when compared to past decades, the government
still limits citizens' freedom of speech, assembly, movement, and
association. While the government still maintains control of the
organized activities of religious groups, Vietnamese citizens are
generally allowed to practice their religion, and the government
continues to legalize many religious congregations. The United
States is viewed by the majority of Vietnamese as a key partner in
Vietnam's current and future success, and our Human Rights Dialogue
(HRD) is an opportunity to address our differences constructively
and reinforce our view that improvement in Vietnam's human rights
and governance record is in the country's own interest. End

Background: Bilateral Relations Continue to Improve
--------------------------------------------- ------

2. (SBU) Vietnam's economic successes have translated into greater
international clout, especially in the region. Vietnam's role as a
non-permanent member of the UN Security Council has raised its
international profile. Hanoi is not fully sure how to handle all
the attention, but understand that the United States has - and is -
playing a direct role in creating the conditions for their nation's
success. Leaders here are thankful, in particular, for the key
technical assistance we've given over the past seven years in
reforming the system of economic governance.

3. (SBU) Challenges of course remain. GVN leaders argue that
maintaining the Party's preeminent political role is critical to
preserving stability. Conservatives still seek to use issues like
Agent Orange, as well as other war legacy issues, to put the United
States in a bad light. China remains Vietnam's critical strategic
preoccupation, and this can complicate our efforts to engage in some
key areas. At the same time, Vietnam's leaders also realize that
the United States is an important force in maintaining a stable
geopolitical environment in which even "small" countries like
Vietnam are assured their independence and freedom of action. As
Vietnam continues its rapid economic and social transition, many
Vietnamese view the strength of its relations with the United States
as a key indicator of how much progress has been made in leaving the
dark days of the 1970's and 1980's behind. For these reasons,
Vietnam's leaders are committed to continued progress in bilateral
relations and your interlocutors will likely speak positively and
optimistically about the future of U.S.-Vietnam ties.

Engagement on Human Rights: Results

4. (SBU) In February 2006, we resumed our annual Human Rights
Dialogue (HRD) with Vietnam in recognition of progress achieved in
the area of religious and political freedom since the suspension of
the Dialogue in 2002. After the 2006 Dialogue, the GVN released
three high-profile political prisoners, allowed Mission political
officers to visit certain prisons, and repealed catch-all
administrative detention Decree 31. After the April 2007 HRD, there
were additional prisoner releases, increased legalizations of
religious organizations, and a more cooperative response to USG
entreaties in areas of judicial reform and governance.

5. (SBU) In addition, in the 2006 and 2007 bilateral labor
dialogues, the USG and GVN signed Letters of Understanding to renew
and continue labor cooperation in areas including improving labor
inspection and enforcement, and preventing and eliminating
exploitative child labor and TIP in Vietnam. Moreover, Vietnam's
May 13 application to the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP)
should give us additional leverage to promote long-lasting reforms
in Vietnam's treatment of the rights of collective bargaining and
freedom of association. Ongoing USG labor and TIP advocacy helped
result in the GVN's 2007 ratification of ILO Convention No. 29
outlawing forced labor and the 2007 establishment of a new
anti-trafficking unit within Vietnam's Police Department Human
resource development, industrial relations, expanded labor rights,
and occupational health and safety are other important areas of our
ongoing labor dialogues.

HANOI 00000614 002.2 OF 004

6. (SBU) In my calls on leading Government of Vietnam officials and
in my statements to the local and international media, I have
explained that the promotion of human rights is among my top
priorities for my tenure. I reiterate President Bush's message to
Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet in June 2007 that, in order
for the United States - Vietnam relationship to progress, Vietnam
will need to do more to respect human rights. We also coordinate
our efforts with other like-minded countries through an
Ambassadorial group that meets monthly to share views and
information on human rights issues.

Challenges on Human Rights

7.(SBU) While we share common views with the GVN in many areas,
differences over human rights remain, and lingering fears that the
United States supports the overthrow of the current regime continue
to complicate the relationship. The existence of groups, many led
by overseas Vietnamese, in the United States and elsewhere that
continue to explicitly advocate regime change helps generate
negative charges by conservatives here which stoke a lingering
paranoia that we are indeed still "the enemy." Reassuring the GVN
that the USG does not support separatist groups but that it does
support freedom of expression can assist in building a better human
rights dialogue based on mutual trust.

8. (SBU) Serious deficiencies related to human rights in Vietnam
include lack of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom
of the press. One of our key objectives is to end the use of
catch-all "national security" provisions such as Article 88 of the
GVN criminal code, which prohibits "conducting propaganda against
the State." Several prisoners on our persons of concern list have
been incarcerated under Article 88, for activities that would be
considered legal freedom of speech and the press in the United
States. The U.S. Mission tracks approximately 50 individual cases
of prisoners of conscience and activists under various forms of
house arrest, surveillance, and/or harassment. We continue to call
for the release of all prisoners of conscience and freedom of
peaceful expression of political views, but where we see individuals
expressing their political opinions, many of our government
interlocutors see "lawbreakers" trying to destabilize the regime.

9. (SBU) Your visit comes at a particularly interesting time for the
Vietnamese media. All outlets remain under the control of the GVN
but a recent case has highlighted strains within the system. On May
12, two investigative reporters of leading dailies Thanh Nien and
Tuoi Tre were detained by the police for their articles on a major
corruption scandal in 2006. The police allege the two abused their
positions for personal gain and revealed State secrets. Media and
general public response has been strongly negative against the
police and other officials. While media contacts have told us that
editors have been directed to stop covering the story, a number of
outlets have continued to write about the arrests, and they remain a
primary focus of the Vietnamese blogosphere. Journalists suggest
the arrests will not hamper their coverage of corruption cases, but
several have also voiced private concerns that reporters need to
exercise particular caution now as this story continues to unfold.
Post will continue to follow developments closely.

10. (SBU) Beyond this particular story and more broadly in the
media, perceptible progress is, however, being made. Key Vietnamese
leaders are committed to enhancing governance establishing the rule
of law, and - publicly anyway - combating corruption, all critical
in building guarantees of individual freedoms. Vietnam's leading
newspapers are more aggressive in terms of the types of news they
publish and their willingness to push back against censors. Only a
few years ago, any protest resulted in swift and severe police
action. Over this past year, various peaceful protests occurred
involving issues such as land rights, opposition to Chinese
territorial claims, and demands for the return of Catholic Church
property, with one stretching out for a month before it finally
ended peacefully.

11. (SBU) With regard to religious freedom, Vietnam has made
surprising progress, in large part due to the intensive engagement
of Ambassador Hanford over recent years. More needs to be done, but
the country no longer qualifies as a particularly severe violator of
religious freedom under our legal definition and we removed the
nation from the list of countries of particular concern in late

Consequences of War

12. (SBU) In your meetings, you may hear references to "consequences

HANOI 00000614 003.2 OF 004

of war" or "legacies of war" issues, especially given the recent
U.S. Court of Appeals decision to uphold the district court
dismissal of a lawsuit brought by Vietnamese citizens against
American chemical companies seeking compensation for injuries due to
exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange and its contaminant, dioxin.
In addition to Agent Orange (AO)/dioxin, however, "legacy" issues
also include unexploded ordnance (UXO) and land mines from the war
era and the recovery of missing Vietnamese military personnel.

13. (SBU) While scientists and GVN officials continue to debate the
human impact of the 80 million liters of AO sprayed over 2.6 million
hectares and 3,000 hamlets in Vietnam, recent GVN-approved studies
reveal that dioxin contamination is not widespread, but rather is
concentrated in roughly 20 "hotspots," At or around for former U.S.
bases. At these bases, spillage from which Operation Ranch Hand
missions, where AO was transferred, stored, and loaded have soil
dioxin concentrations exceeding levels recommended by the U. S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health
Organization. Other areas targeted by aerial spraying do not
currently have elevated concentrations of dioxin.

14. (SBU) Over the past few years, the United States and Vietnam
have begun to cooperate on certain aspects related to AO/dioxin,
which, in turn, has led to an improved tone in the
government-to-government dialogue and in the Vietnamese press.
Since 2001, the USG has spent over $2 million to initiate technical
dialogues, scientific conferences on the health and environmental
effects of AO/dioxin, and fund a four-year project to build the
capacity of Vietnamese scientists to analyze soil samples collected
at the Danang airport dioxin "hotspots." In 2007, Congress
appropriated an additional USD 3 million in Economic Support Funds
(ESF) for "dioxin mitigation and health activities." Mission
Vietnam has met with the GVN, local officials, and several NGOs to
begin implementation of this funding. U.S. engagement has
encouraged several other donors to enter this area and we coordinate
our efforts with those donors as part of a multilateral approach to
this development issue.

15. (SBU) Since 1989, USAID, through support from the Patrick J.
Leahy War Victims Fund (LWVF) and other sources, has provided over
USD 43 million to support NGOs and private voluntary organizations
to develop comprehensive programs for people with disabilities,
independent of cause. In addition, since 1993 the USG has been
actively involved in assisting the people of Vietnam in overcoming
the social and economic impacts of remaining UXO from the war.
Vietnam was formally accepted as the 37th participant in the U.S.
Humanitarian De-mining Program in June 2000, and the USG is now the
largest donor of humanitarian assistance for mine action programs in
Vietnam. The USG has invested over USD 37 million in a broad
spectrum of programs not only to locate, remove and destroy
unexploded ordnance and landmines, but also to address the UXO
effects on health and livelihood of Vietnamese living in affected

16. (SBU) Today, various NGOs conduct UXO and land mine clearance,
risk education and victim rehabilitation. The USG has also donated a
significant quantity of equipment to the PAVN to assist efforts in
UXO and landmine clearance and return land to productive use. In
2006, the State Department provided USD 3.5 million to support UXO
action and demining activities in Vietnam, almost a third of which
went directly to PAVN in the form of donated demining equipment.
FY08, an additional USD 2.5 million will be provided to underwrite
mine action related activities in Vietnam. For FY08, Congress
dictated that approximately $2.5 million be spent on demining
programs, a substantial increase from the $800,000 requested by the

What You Can Expect

17. (SBU) You can expect your interlocutors not only to be
articulate and well informed, but also to speak in terms generally
supportive of growth in the bilateral relationship. I fully expect
the overall tenor to be positive, contributing to our efforts to
help translate those good feelings into measurable accomplishments
in our bilateral relationship.

18. (SBU) When confronted on directly on shortcomings in Vietnamese
law regarding human rights issues, our GVN interlocutors often do
not disagree directly. Rather, they may acknowledge shortcomings in
the Vietnamese legal system, but note that these reflect the
different stages of development in our respective countries as well
as different cultural norms. They will make the point that United
States standards should not be "imposed" on a developing country of
Vietnam's status and per capita income.

HANOI 00000614 004.2 OF 004

19. (U) There will be media interest in your visit, both among
Vietnamese and international outlets. We are making arrangements
for a press conference and, in addition to questions on the purpose
of your visit and the results or your meetings, would anticipate
questions on your recent dialogue in China.

20. (SBU) Again, we look forward to your visit and stand ready to do
everything we can to make your visit to Vietnam as productive as


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