Cablegate: Gvn Discusses Domestic Violence Prevention

DE RUEHHI #0749/01 1770717
R 250717Z JUN 08




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: GVN Discusses Domestic Violence Prevention

REF: 07 HANOI 2011

HANOI 00000749 001.2 OF 003

1. (U) SUMMARY: During her June 9-11 meetings with GVN officials in
Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Andrea Bottner, Senior Coordinator,
Office of International Women's Issues, highlighted progress and
discussed challenges related to domestic violence in Vietnam. Ms.
Bottner praised the passage of legislation on gender equality and on
prevention of domestic violence (reftel), shared resources, and
encouraged continued attention to ongoing challenges. Despite
recent legislation and a solid commitment by officials to address
the problem, effective prevention of domestic violence in Vietnam
remains a long-term effort. END SUMMARY.

DV Law: Passage and Implementation

2. (U) The Family Department of the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and
Tourism (MCST) has overall responsibility for coordinating the
directives and decrees that must be drafted and signed for the Law
on Domestic Violence Prevention and Control (DV Law), passed in
November 2007, to go into effect on July 1, 2008. Mr. Le Do Ngoc,
Director General of the Family Department, explained that the Prime
Minister's Directive, issued May 30, 2008, assigns implementation
and enforcement tasks related to the DV Law to various ministries.
Two guidance decrees - to be published by the GVN in July 2008,
following comment by the Prime Minister's cabinet - will follow this
Directive. Mr. Ngoc noted that the two draft decrees, posted to the
MCST website for public comment, are attracting a great deal of
public interest.

Rural Areas: A Particular Challenge

3. (U) Regarding the GVN's strategy to implement the DV law in
isolated, rural areas, Mr. Ngoc conceded that reaching remote
communities is challenging for all social services and noted the
added dimension of the differing languages and cultural traditions
of the numerous ethnic minorities throughout Vietnam. GVN officials
rely on local resources, he said, such as the Vietnam Women's Union
(VWU) and the Vietnam Fatherland Front (VFF), to raise public
awareness about domestic violence and provide training at local
levels. Mr. Ngoc emphasized the importance of the participation of
local people, as ultimately domestic violence is an issue for the
whole community.

DV Law: A Legislative First

4. (U) Mr. Dang Thanh Son, Deputy Director of Administration and
Criminal Legislation Department, Ministry of Justice, told Ms.
Bottner that the DV law was the first time a National Assembly
committee took the lead in drafting a law, and sought input from
various ministries, the VWU and VFF, as well as the UN and NGOs.
Mr. Luong Phan Cu, Vice Chair of the National Assembly Committee on
Social Affairs, confirmed that the DV law is stronger as a result of
the joint effort, but revealed that consideration of the law in the
National Assembly caused a heated debate. Many National Assembly
members expressed concern that the law would "interfere with" or
"wreck" the unity of the family.

5. (U) In terms of next steps, Mr. Son observed that many question
the feasibility of implementing and enforcing the law. The GVN is
now drafting the sub-laws and regulations (decrees, circulars,
directives, etc.) for implementation, sparking debates on the "how"
of the law, including how to identify victims and report incidents.
He cautioned that full implementation is likely to take a long time,
given the sensitivity of the family issues involved.

Changing Attitudes, Increasing Awareness

6. (U) Mr. Ngoc shared what was to become a familiar refrain during
Ms. Bottner's visit: domestic violence has long been considered a
private family matter in Vietnam. The inviolate nature of the
family in Vietnamese culture and pressure on Vietnamese women to be
agreeable and maintain harmony in the family combined with the
society's acceptance of the husband's right to "correct" his wife
and children through violence makes changing the attitudes of
government officials and ordinary citizens an uphill battle.

7. (U) While confirming his belief that domestic violence damages
both families and society, Mr. Cu highlighted that Vietnam's
Confucian culture makes it very difficult for victims to come
forward as women often lack the self-confidence to make their abuse
public and there is insufficient social support to help them when
they do. While HCMC's domestic violence hotline received over one
hundred calls in the past year, People's Council Chairwoman Pham
Phuong Thao admitted that many women "suffer in silence" either
because they assume the blame for their own abuse or because they

HANOI 00000749 002.2 OF 003

are skeptical about the efficacy of outside support networks.

8. (SBU) When HCMC government officials discussed cases of domestic
violence where they had intervened to stop abuse, it was clear the
ultimate goal was reunification of the families and reconciliation
between couples. Most asserted that reconciliation should be the
primary goal, complicating the development of a formal shelter
system for domestic violence victims who wish to leave an abusive
family situation. Several officials blamed domestic violence on
external factors, like poverty, economic changes, alcoholism and
conflicts with in-laws, rather than recognizing the behavioral
issues and putting the appropriate blame on the abuser.

9. (U) Ms. Bottner acknowledged that the hardest part of addressing
domestic violence is changing cultural attitudes towards the
problem. Ms. Bottner explained that the impetus for change in the
U.S. criminal justice system came from women who demanded the
government address the issue, but there is still a continuing need
for awareness and education about the issue.

10. (U) Mr. Ngoc underscored improvements in public awareness of
domestic violence as a societal problem. Public awareness is the
key activity in Vietnam's National Program of Action for Domestic
Violence Prevention and Control, he explained. MCST will conduct
mass media campaigns twice a year and the VWU will undertake public
awareness activities at local levels including providing training to
local authorities.

Role of Reconciliation Committees

11. (U) Mr. Ngoc emphasized that family reconciliation is
fundamental to Vietnam's response to domestic violence. Within a
neighborhood or village, a reconciliation committee may offer its
assistance in dispute mediation to families experiencing domestic
violence. Mr. Ngoc went on to suggest that the reconciliation
committee should be the first recourse for a domestic violence
victim; if the abuse worsens, then law enforcement authorities could
become involved. In either case, Mr. Ngoc stated that the incident
should be reported to commune's People's Committee Chairman or other
appropriate community leaders. In Mr. Cu's view, a woman who finds
herself the victim of domestic violence should choose whether to
report directly to local authorities or to ask the reconciliation
committee to step in. While the DV law is unclear as to whether a
response by the reconciliation committee or the local authorities
will take precedence, Mr. Son confirmed that the implementing
regulations will require community leaders to report cases of
domestic violence to law enforcement authorities.

12. (U) Ms. Bottner engaged GVN officials regarding the need for the
entire community to play a role in solving the problem of domestic
violence, explaining the U.S. coordinated community response model
and suggesting ways in which this model might inform the GVN's
response to domestic violence. Vietnam's focus on the family lends
itself well to the idea that a response to domestic violence
requires coordination and cooperation among the entire community of
service professionals - mental health counselors, medical
professionals, government officials, officials from the justice
sector, and police officers. GVN officials were receptive to the
overall concept, but cautioned that it would be some time before
Vietnam could provide a level of coordinated services received by
victims in the U.S.

Shelters and Services for Victims

13. (U) The DV Law specifies five types of support facilities for
victims of domestic violence: 1) health clinics; 2) Social
Protection Centers; 3) support centers; 4) Counseling Centers for
the prevention and control of domestic violence; and 5) Reliable
Addresses within the community. Only the first two currently exist.
Social Protection Centers are government-run centers caring for
orphans, the elderly, the disabled, and other groups in need. The
DV law requires these Centers to provide assistance to domestic
violence victims, although their ability to do so is likely very

14. (U) Mr. Ngoc explained that "Reliable Addresses" are the
residences of community leaders, such as the commune People's
Committee Chairman, VFF representative or VWU representative. These
community leaders might also be reconciliation committee members
assisting the couple in crisis. Under the DV law, Reliable
Addresses are to be designated by the commune People's Committee in
coordination with the VFF and announced publicly so women know where
to go if a shelter is not available or is too far away. Mr. Son
added that training will be provided for people in the network of
Reliable Address on the dynamics of domestic violence and how to
respond to reported cases.

HANOI 00000749 003.4 OF 003


15. (SBU) Vietnam continues to make solid progress on the prevention
of and response to domestic violence, although entrenched cultural
attitudes and the low level of public awareness about the issue mean
that the GVN still has much work to do. The theme of increased
awareness, training and education continued throughout Ms. Bottner's
meetings. Other key challenges discussed include the difficulties
in implementing the DV law in isolated rural areas; cultural
sensitivities, including those of ethnic minority populations; and
effective intergovernmental coordination as well as cooperation with
non-governmental stakeholders. Although some GVN officials
responsible for implementing the DV law still lack an understanding
of the complex dynamics of domestic violence, officials generally
expressed a willingness to learn more, along with a genuine desire
to address the problem. Ms. Bottner's visit was a key opportunity
to highlight the importance of combating domestic violence with the
GVN. Post continues to receive positive feedback on the visit and
highly appreciates G/IWI's engagement in Vietnam. End comment.

16. (U) This cable was jointly prepared with ConGen Ho Chi Minh City
and cleared by G/IWI.


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