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Cablegate: United States and Vietnam Hold Annual Human Rights

VZCZCXRO4238
PP RUEHHM
DE RUEHHI #0682/01 1610729
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 090729Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7976
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 4827
RHEHNSC/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 05 HANOI 000682

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL/AWH AND DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM KIRF PREL PGOV OTRA VM

SUBJECT: UNITED STATES AND VIETNAM HOLD ANNUAL HUMAN RIGHTS
DIALOGUE

REFS: A) Hanoi 0569 B) Hanoi 0580


SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) This year's Human Rights Dialogue was a candid and
constructive exchange, with both sides vowing to move the bilateral
relationship forward in the one arena where the USG and GVN continue
to have serious differences. The USG delegation, lead by DRL
Assistant Secretary David Kramer, urged the GVN to make more
concrete progress on rule of law, the release and treatment of
persons of concern and freedom of the press and internet issues.
The GVN delegation, led by Assistant Foreign Minister Doan Xuan
Hung, noted that the Dialogue was well-timed before an expected
visit to the U.S. by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. AFM Hung
welcomed the USG's offer of technical assistance for legal reform,
agreed to consider certain prisoners eligible for release under
amnesty and responded positively to the idea of having foreign media
outlets apply for representative offices in Ho Chi Minh City.
Certain aspects of the GVN's position on human rights were
predictable, including their avowal that "there are no political
prisoners, only lawbreakers" in detention and their assertion that
all Vietnamese citizens enjoy freedom of speech and freedom of
assembly, despite evidence to the contrary. The GVN delegation also
took the U.S. to task for its poverty rate, lack of health insurance
for its citizens and lack of religious tolerance towards Muslims and
other religious minorities. End summary.

A FRANK AND FRIENDLY EXCHANGE
-----------------------------

2. (SBU) A/S Kramer and AFM Hung both agreed to a frank and friendly
exchange at the outset of the one-day May 29 Human Rights Dialogue
at the Government Guest House in Hanoi. A/S Kramer emphasized that
concrete progress on human rights issues would further improve
Vietnam's international image as its global profile grows, and
strengthen Vietnam by allowing greater political and civic
participation in addition to economic development. AFM Hung
affirmed the GVN's desire for an open discussion where neither
delegation tried to "impose its views on the other side." AFM Hung
said improving the lives of Vietnam's citizens was the GVN's "top
priority," noting Vietnam's progress in poverty reduction,
achievement of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals and
the "promotion of democracy within the socialist context" evidenced
through its grassroots democracy and administrative reform efforts.
AFM Hung linked human rights to the widening spectrum of bilateral
and multilateral issues Vietnam is now discussing with other
nations, along with trade and investment, security and global health
issues. Measuring the expansion of U.S.-Vietnam relations in the
number of U.S. delegations traveling in Vietnam, AFM Hung said that
between 2004 and 2006, the GVN helped coordinate 73 Embassy trips
and over one hundred Consulate General trips in more than fifty
cities and provinces, including the Northwest, Central Highlands and
Mekong Delta regions. AFM Hung also affirmed that Vietnam wants to
build better ties with Vietnamese citizens overseas and make it
easier for them to return and contribute to the country's
development. Nevertheless, the GVN delegation made a point to
criticize certain overseas Vietnamese groups, at one point citing
the Viet Tan, which it claimed had "unobjective" and outdated
viewpoints and sometimes hostile intentions towards the Hanoi
regime.

3. (SBU) AFM Hung said these visits had helped improve Vietnam's
image in the U.S., and many of his American friends had told him
they've seen improvements in areas like religious freedom. AFM Hung
said more visits will help counter the views of a few groups in the
U.S. who "remain hostile and hold extremist views" towards the GVN
and "pose a threat to the further development of our relationship."
AFM Hung asked the U.S. not to support groups "conducting activities
against the Vietnamese Government" like "the Degar Protestants and
Viet Tan." A/S Kramer said while the U.S. stood by the principles
of free speech and free assembly, it did not support any group or
individual whose aim was the overthrow the GVN. A/S Kramer further
clarified that meeting with dissidents did not equal support for
their causes. (Note: The MFA protested a scheduled visit by A/S
Kramer to meet with dissidents in Hanoi. Though we were formally
"discouraged" by the GVN, we faced no obstruction in holding this
meeting, reported septel. End note.)

RULE OF LAW AND CRIMINAL CODE REFORM
------------------------------------

4. (SBU) A/S Kramer kicked off the discussion on Rule of Law by
suggesting several concrete steps Vietnam could take to demonstrate
its commitment to legal reform, including bringing Vietnam's
criminal code in conformity with international standards, supporting

HANOI 00000682 002 OF 005


rule of law reform as outlined by Senator Leahy, and ensuring due
process in the court room. A/S Kramer also called for a repeal of
"catch-all" national security laws like Article 31, which have been
used to deprive dissident defendants of legal representation, and
Article 88, which prohibits "propagandizing against the State" and
has been used to convict many members of pro-democracy groups such
as Bloc 8406, the People's Democratic Party and other activist
groups. The Ambassador added it would be useful to have a clearer
definition of "propaganda against the state." A/S Kramer said the
arrest and conviction of Father Nguyen Van Ly, lawyers Le Thi Cong
Nhan and Nguyen Van Dai and others had negatively impacted Vietnam's
image in the world and restricted the rights of these individuals to
peacefully discuss democratic and political reform.

5. (SBU) Ministry of Public Security (MPS) Deputy Director Nguyen
Thanh Son responded that the USG "lacked information" about groups
like Bloc 8406 and asserted the "so-called peaceful activists" were
"discontents" who attempted to incite civil disorder and "provoke
the public." Son said Vietnamese society has many channels to
express opinions, including a Law on Public Complaints and
Denunciations, which are "appropriate to the culture, tradition and
customs of Vietnam." But the expressions of groups like Bloc 8406
"did not serve the national interest" because they only looked at
"bad things" and did not recognize the GVN's progress or
achievements. Son said Bloc 8406's ultimate goal was to establish a
political party in opposition to the Communist Party with support
from "hostile foreign forces." While A/S Kramer said he was "no
expert" on Bloc 8406, he said he had a different understanding of
their activities and also noted that, from the U.S. perspective,
having more than one political party was "not a bad thing."

6. (SBU) On specific legal reforms, Ministry of Justice Deputy
Director Le Thanh Long agreed with the need to revise Vietnam's
criminal code, noting that the first criminal code was written in
1985 and the version currently in use was the fourth revision from
1999. Long said the GVN was undertaking "a careful study" before
conducting further reforms in order to ensure the revised code would
be based on "firm foundations." The Ministry of Justice's strategic
plan, set to be completed by 2020, aims to reduce penalties for
certain crimes, increase fines (e.g., for IPR violations) and get
rid of many "economic crimes." Long said they would also reduce the
number of crimes subject to the death penalty and revise penalty
levels and crimes for juveniles in accordance with the UN Convention
on Rights of the Child.

7. (SBU) The Ambassador responded that he appreciated the
information on specific legal reforms the GVN was currently
undertaking and added that the USG stands ready to provide technical
assistance for legal reform efforts, including accelerating a
long-delayed project to establish a web portal posting all published
decisions by the Supreme People's Court, a project that has been
underway since 2005. He added that it might be helpful to
promulgate information about the various ways Vietnamese citizens
could contact their government and lodge complaints, because given
the number of land rights protesters that have gathered in Hanoi and
Ho Chi Minh City over the past few years, citizens do not seem to be
aware of these communications channels and these demonstrations are
probably not the "channels" the GVN had in mind. The Ambassador
added that even if the means of communication and resolution process
is not perfect, "people need to know there is a process" for lodging
complaints.

ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS
------------------------------------

8. (SBU) MFA International Organizations (IO) Department Deputy
Director Ms. Pham Thi Kim Anh led a GVN discussion on economic,
social and cultural rights stating that human rights were comprised
of two sets--socioeconomic and political. Because Vietnam is a
developing nation, she said, economic and social rights were their
top priorities. Reducing Vietnam's poverty rate from 50 to 14% and
doubling living standards in the past decade stood out as
achievements in this arena. Ms. Anh noted that the number of
doctors, nurses and hospitals in Vietnam was ten times higher in
2005 than it was in 1945 (when Vietnam first declared its
independence). In contrast, Ms. Anh said poverty was on the rise in
the U.S., with the 2007 census showing 36.5 million Americans living
below the poverty line and 12 million children suffering from
hunger. She noted that 32 percent of Americans have no health
insurance. She also urged the USG to comply with its UN obligations
by ratifying the International Convention on Economic Social and
Cultural Rights.

9. (SBU) A/S Kramer acknowledged the importance of socioeconomic
rights but noted government accountability and transparency go
hand-in-hand with these rights. He pointed to the lively debate in
the U.S. between presidential candidates on the issue of health

HANOI 00000682 003 OF 005


care. These issues and others were a source of concern for many,
and the U.S. Government's responsibility is openly discussed in the
media and by the public. The Ambassador added that if the GVN could
provide expertise or technical assistance with America's health
insurance policy, it would be most welcome. The Ambassador also
added that socioeconomic issues were a key point of discussion in
the Consultative Group, a group of donor nations (including the
United States and the EU) in Hanoi which meets periodically with the
GVN to discuss and coordinate sustainable development assistance
programs in Vietnam. A/S Kramer said the U.S. had ratified a number
of UN conventions, and asked about the possibility of having a
senior UN official visit Vietnam. Ms. Anh acknowledged plans to
invite the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights this summer and the
visit of a Special Rapporteur.

PERSONS OF CONCERN
------------------

10. (SBU) A/S Kramer noted that while the release of several
prisoners in the last year is a good sign, other detainees and
prisoners give us cause for concern. A/S Kramer voiced USG support
for anyone exercising their fundamental rights, but acknowledged
that the GVN sees things differently. Citing the serious tension in
the bilateral relationship caused by these cases, A/S Kramer
encouraged the GVN to take actions consistent with its UN
commitments, highlighting that progress would send a positive signal
for our relationship and improve Vietnam's international image.

11. (SBU) Specifically, A/S Kramer requested positive action on a
number of cases, including the release of high-profile prisoners
such as Father Nguyen Van Ly and human rights lawyers Le Thi Cong
Nhan and Nguyen Van Dai, and two Vietnamese journalists recently
arrested in connection with reporting the PMU-18 corruption scandal
(Ref. A). In addition, A/S Kramer asked for U.S. access to Bui Kim
Thanh (Ref. B), a democracy and labor activist recently recommitted
to a mental institution on questionable grounds, in order to conduct
the interviews and medical exam necessary to make a determination of
eligibility for resettlement in the United States.

12. (SBU) A/S Kramer went on to inform the GVN that cyber-dissident
Pham Hong Son (currently under house arrest) had been selected for a
National Endowment for Democracy (NED) fellowship. Reminding the
GVN of the negative fallout surrounding the return, arrest, and
release of previous NED fellow Le Quoc Quan last year, Kramer urged
the GVN to grant permission for Son to "participate without incident
and return without fear," including obtaining a Vietnamese passport.


13. (SBU) In response, AFM Hung declared, "there are no political
prisoners in Vietnam", a point that A/S Kramer later highlighted by
stating that he never used the word "political" when describing
prisoners. AFM Hung explained that the GVN does not detain or
arrest people because of their opinions, but because they have
violated the laws of Vietnam. Regarding the specific cases raised
by A/S Kramer, AFM Hung stated that Father Ly, Nguyen Van Dai, and
Le Thi Cong Nhan will be seriously considered for amnesty on a
humanitarian basis when appropriate. He went on to agree that the
GVN could facilitate the procedures for possible resettlement of Bui
Kim Thanh after the GVN has fulfilled its responsibility to treat
her health problems. For Pham Hong Son, AFM Hung stated that he
must serve out his probation period under house arrest but left open
the possibility of him being allowed to participate in the
fellowship.

14. (SBU) AFM Hung then criticized the USG for requesting the
release of the two Vietnamese journalists without seeking any
information as to the reason why they were detained. He also
reminded the U.S. side that four people were detained, two
government officials and the two journalists, lamenting that the
public and international community are only focused on the
journalists. AFM Hung explained that the two journalists were
detained and are under investigation because the GVN believes they
violated the law by providing false information to and "provoking"
the public and releasing state secrets, not because they reported on
corruption. He added that they "abused their positions." A/S
Kramer noted the importance of having a full investigation of the
allegations under a system of due process. He also raised the
possibility that the reporters used the best information they had
and did not intend to report false information, observing that these
arrests may scare reporters away from reporting on sensitive issues
like corruption.

15. (SBU) MPS Deputy Director Son added that amnesty requests must
be based on Vietnamese law, including an assessment of the
prisoner's attitude toward rehabilitation. After serving
"two-thirds of their sentence" (Note. We read the law as one-third
of the sentence. End note.) and with the proper attitude, a

HANOI 00000682 004 OF 005


prisoner's case goes to the Committee for Amnesty and Reduction in
Penalty for consideration. Regarding Le Thi Cong Nhan, Son raised
the possibility of her resettlement to the United States, should the
GVN grant her amnesty and release her from prison. A/S Kramer noted
that while the U.S. has no indication from Le Thi Cong Nhan that she
is seeking resettlement in the U.S., her case could be reviewed if
such a request was made.

16. (SBU) Son also noted that the GVN does not want to amnesty
prisoners on the basis of U.S. requests alone as it creates the
impression of special treatment. He complained that the U.S. does
not give sufficient public recognition of GVN humanitarian efforts
to grant amnesty to persons of concern. A/S Kramer responded that
the U.S. publicly recognizes GVN efforts in the annual Country
Reports on Human Rights, as well as in regular consultations with
Congress and others. The Ambassador added that we struggle with
what level of public credit we should give for GVN actions, as we
try to respect GVN sensitivities while sharing our appreciation when
appropriate.

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM AND TOLERANCE
-------------------------------

17. (SBU) A/S Kramer commended Vietnam for the real progress made on
religious freedom in Vietnam, commenting that greater religious
freedom promotes social stability and improves Vietnam's
international image. Religious groups in Vietnam widely report that
freedom to exercise their faith has increased and incidents of abuse
and harassment have decreased. In the interest of promoting further
progress, A/S Kramer raised several areas where more work remains to
be done:

- Increased pace of church registrations in the Northwest highlands,
where some 1000 applications are still pending;
- Greater education of the Vietnamese public and training for local
officials about the GVN's legal framework on religion;
- Improved response by the GVN to isolated incidents of abuses by
officials; and
- More attention to resolution of property claims raised by
religious groups, possibly through the creation of a commission to
address land issues.

18. (SBU) Clearly pleased with U.S. recognition of Vietnam's
progress on religious freedom and noting the recent growth in
religious practice in Vietnam, AFM Hung acknowledged that the GVN
must improve and expand training and education at local levels. The
Government Committee on Religious Affairs representative added that
they will accept the offer of a U.S.-based NGO, the Institute for
Global Engagement, to assist with training in the near future.

19. (SBU) AFM Hung explained the complexity of land claims in
Vietnam, noting that, given Vietnam's history and recent rapid
development, the GVN must take many competing interests into account
to resolve these issues in a satisfactory manner. While the central
government has a lead role, provincial and local authorities must
also be consulted.

20. (SBU) Turning to the issue of religious tolerance, Ms. Pham Thi
Kim Anh, MFA IO Deputy Director, pointed out that religious
tolerance must go hand in hand with religious freedom. Referencing
acts of discrimination against Muslims, including publishing of the
"Danish cartoons," and passage of U.S. House of Representatives
Resolution 847, "recognizing the importance of Christmas and the
Christian faith," Ms. Anh urged the U.S. to pursue greater respect
for cultural diversity and religious differences. A/S Kramer agreed
that more can always be done to improve tolerance, respect and
understanding, highlighting President Bush's visit to a Washington,
D.C. mosque shortly after the events of September 11, 2001, to
demonstrate U.S. Government recognition that a vast majority of
Muslims do not support violence and terrorism.

FREEDOM OF THE PRESS AND THE INTERNET
-------------------------------------

21. (SBU) Stressing the importance of a free press, including
protection of journalists and their sources, A/S Kramer noted the
GVN could significantly improve freedom of the press and the
internet by removing restrictions on internet use, providing access
to currently censored websites, repealing the requirement for
Internet cafe owners to register the personal information of
computer users, releasing the two journalists who reported on the
PMU-18 scandal, allowing foreign media offices to open up in Ho Chi
Minh City, and passing the draft Law on Associations.

22. (SBU) Mr. Le Nghiem, Director of the Department of Foreign
Affairs Information in the Ministry of Information and
Communication, highlighted recent developments in Vietnam, including

HANOI 00000682 005 OF 005


a significant increase in the number of news websites available in
Vietnam. He noted that western news sources (VOA, BBC, CNN, and
Bloomberg) are now readily available in both English and Vietnamese,
and the press increasingly contains differing viewpoints on
government policies. Nghiem went on to note that Vietnam now has 20
million people with access to the internet or 24 percent of total
population, and over one million bloggers online with no censorship
from state.

23. (SBU) While agreeing that internet access is important and often
beneficial, Nghiem voiced concerns about the reliability of
information on the Internet as well as "dangerous content" being
harmful to the younger generation. A/S Kramer explained that two
things are illegal on the Internet in the United States - child
pornography and, in some states, gambling. He emphasized the
individual's right to choose what to view online, and encouraged the
GVN to take a similar, hands-off approach.

24. (SBU) Regarding the ability of foreign press organizations to
open offices in Vietnam, Mr. Dang Xuan Dung, Deputy Director,
Department of Information and the Press, Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, stated that the GVN works hard to facilitate press
activities in Vietnam. To date, Bloomberg is the only press
organization to request an office in HCMC and the request was
granted; others have not asked to open up HCMC offices, according to
Dung. He emphasized that international reporters are allowed to
work in HCMC and agreed to facilitate future requests to grant
permits for foreign journalists to work in HCMC and southern
provinces, as well as any future requests from foreign press
agencies to open and operate representative offices.

CONCLUDING REMARKS
------------------

25. (SBU) A/S Kramer noted that there is no reason why U.S.-Vietnam
cooperation on human rights should not be as robust as our bilateral
cooperation on other issues, such as HIV/AIDS, security, and the
economy.

26. (SBU) The Ambassador summed up the concrete results of the
dialogue, noting the GVN's agreement to seriously consider requests
on prisoners, the Ministry of Justice's agreement to work with the
U.S. on rule of law projects, the MFA's agreement to facilitate the
opening of foreign press offices in Ho Chi Minh City, and the
commitment of both sides to promote religious freedom and tolerance.


ALOISI

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