Cablegate: Vietnam Fatherland Front Discusses Religious Freedom

DE RUEHHI #0657/01 1560915
R 040915Z JUN 08




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Vietnam Fatherland Front Discusses Religious Freedom

REFS: A. HANOI 0278; B. HANOI 0442

HANOI 00000657 001.2 OF 002

1. (SBU) Summary: Poloff and DRL/IRF officer met with Mr. Tran Dinh
Phung, Permanent member of the Central Vietnam Fatherland Front
(VFF) Presidium and Head of its Board for Ethnicity and Religious
Affairs (Vice Minister rank), on May 28 to discuss the VFF role in
the promotion of religious freedom in Vietnam. After explaining the
VFF's role, Mr. Phung shared that there is currently a review of the
implementation of the legal framework on religion underway, and
highlighted the VFF's support to upgrade the Ordinance on Religion
to a law as well as expand freedom for religious groups to undertake
social and charitable activities. End Summary.

2. (U) The VFF is a political alliance of social organizations,
political groups, professional associations, ethnic groups,
religious groups, and groups of Vietnamese living overseas, all
underpinned by the Communist Party of Vietnam. The VFF is an
umbrella organization, Mr. Phung explained, intended to unite all
social groups and mobilize the people to continue social and
economic development. The VFF also participates in drafting laws,
recommending revisions when necessary. After passage of
legislation, the VFF collects feedback and may provide
recommendations to government and state offices to improve
implementation of laws. The VFF is led by a central office in Hanoi
and maintains executive committees at the provincial level, as well
as representatives at the district and commune levels.

3. (SBU) Mr. Phung underscored that the VFF takes the implementation
of the legal framework on religion very seriously, noting that, "our
responsibility is to encourage religious clergy and local government
officials to implement religious framework." He went on to explain
that each of the six major religions in Vietnam has a seat on the
advisory council and all religious groups are members of the VFF.
The VFF provides an open forum where members of religious groups can
share ideas and opinions, address problems, and make recommendations
for improvements. "The VFF wants religious followers to be good
citizens and good followers," he said, adding "religious believers
are our family members."

4. (SBU) Noting that Vietnam has no ethnic or religious conflicts,
Mr. Phung pointed to good interfaith relations, along with the
growing numbers of religious followers and religious places of
worship as positive signs for religious freedom in Vietnam. Mr.
Phung went on to acknowledge the uneven implementation of the legal
framework at local levels, commenting that while government and
local officials are supposed to understand and implement all laws,
actual practice may be different. In remote areas, many local
officials are often not keen on learning about new information and
new responsibilities; however, the GVN is working to standardize
qualifications for local officials without sufficient education in
order to improve the dissemination and understanding of legal

5. (SUB) When asked about specific recommendations to improve the
implementation of the legal framework on religion, Mr. Phung
responded that the VFF is coordinating with the GVN on a review of
the three years of implementation of the legal framework, focusing
both on achievements and needed improvements, as well as what more
can be done. Once the review is complete, the VFF will make
official recommendations, with the goal of having the recommendation
submitted by the end of 2008.

6. (SBU) Mr. Phung highlighted several areas where the VFF would
like to see improvements. Specifically, the VFF hopes the National
Assembly will consider making the legal framework stronger by
turning the current ordinance into law. Mr. Phung noted that the
VFF is also discussing how the GVN can facilitate pending
registration requests from religious groups, as well as assist
groups in training and ordaining more pastors and priests.

7. (SBU) The VFF is also looking to expand the freedom of religious
groups undertake more social and charitable activities, particularly
in the areas of assistance to the poor and disabled, as well as to
HIV/AIDS sufferers. Mr. Phung advocated for the ability of
religious organizations to be able set up clinics and provide
medical services, and establish schools, noting that such activities
provided needed social services and will better integrate religious
organizations and followers into their communities.

8. (SBU) With regard to the various land disputes between religious
groups and the GVN, Mr. Phung explained that the VFF proposal is to
seek agreement from religious groups that where the land is now
being used for religious, social, or charitable activities, they
will not pursue their claim. He added that the GVN should also
facilitate applications from religious groups that request land for
new facilities.

9. (SBU) Comment: The VFF's position as the lead mass organization
in Vietnam, as well as its role in promoting Communist Party

HANOI 00000657 002.2 OF 002

doctrine throughout the country makes it a heavyweight on social
issues such as religious freedom. As such, VFF's progressive
recommendations on strengthening the legal framework on religion,
improving registrations and training, and expanding freedom for
religious organizations to undertake social and charitable
activities are positive signs for continued progress on religious
freedom. As with the existing legal framework on religion, the
challenge will be the implementation of any new policy
recommendations at the local level. End comment.

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