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Cablegate: Staffdel Rees Meetings with Srv Officials On Religious and Minority Affairs

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

270611Z Aug 01

2001HANOI02088 - UNCLASSIFIED

UNCLASSIFIED PTQ4485

PAGE 01 HANOI 02088 01 OF 02 270722Z
ACTION H-01

INFO LOG-00 DS-00 EAP-00 UTED-00 TEDE-00 SS-00 TEST-00
DSCC-00 SAS-00 /001W
------------------16F492 270722Z /38
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 3767
INFO AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 002088

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PREF PHUM VM HUMANR ETMIN RELFREE
SUBJECT: STAFFDEL REES MEETINGS WITH SRV OFFICIALS ON RELIGIOUS AND MINORITY AFFAIRS


1. (SBU) SUMMARY. COUNSEL TO THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS JOSEPH REES AND CHIEF OF STAFF
TO THE HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER BRIAN GUNDERSON MET WITH
OFFICIALS OF THE GVN'S COMMITTEE ON RELIGION AND THE
COMMITTEE FOR ETHNIC MINORITIES AND MOUNTAINOUS AREAS
AUGUST 10, ACCOMPANIED BY POL/C AND HCMC POLOFF, TO
CONVEY CONGRESSIONAL CONCERNS ABOUT FREEDOM OF RELIGION
AND THE RIGHTS OF MINORITIES AND TO DISCUSS RECENT
UNCLASSIFIED

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EVENTS. VIETNAMESE INTERLOCUTERS HEWED TO STANDARD
REITERATIONS OF THE RIGHTS GUARANTEED UNDER THE
VIETNAMESE CONSTITUTION ALONG WITH OBSERVATIONS OF THE
NEED FOR ALL CITIZENS TO COMPLY WITH RELEVANT LAWS.
THE STAFFDEL REQUESTED RELEASE OF SOME PROMINENT
RELGIOUS LEADERS AS ACTS OF COMPASSION BY THE GVN.
SEPTELS WILL COVER OTHER MEETINGS DURING THEIR
SCHEDULE. END SUMMARY.

GVN COMMITTEE ON RELIGION

2. (SBU) IN A MEETING WITH CHIEF OF STAFF LE DINH HIET
AND STAFF MEMBERS, MR. REES SAID THAT RELIGIOUS ISSUES
IN VIETNAM WERE MUCH ON THE MINDS OF MEMBERS OF
CONGRESS AS THE US AND VIETNAM CONTINUE THE PROCESS OF
FULL NORMALIZATION OF RELATIONS. NOTING THAT THE
VIETNAMESE CONSITUTION PROVIDES IMPRESSIVE GUARANTEES
OF FREEDOM OF RELIGION WHILE INCLUDING PROHIBITIONS ON
USING RELIGION TO INJURE NATIONAL UNITY, HE INQUIRED
ABOUT THE RIGHTS OF THOSE INDIVIDUALS WHOSE RELIGIOUS
PRACTICES OR HIERARCHIES WERE DIFFERENT FROM THE
GOVERNMENT-APPROVED ONES, SUCH AS WITH CERTAIN HOA HAO
FOLLOWERS.

3. (SBU) MR. HIET DESCRIBED VIETNAM AS A MULTI-
RELIGION NATION WITH CONSTITUTIONAL GUARANTEES ON
FREEDOM OF RELIGION WITHIN THE FRAMEWORK OF LAW. HE
EXPLAINED THAT USE OF RELIGION TO SPEAK ILL OF OTHER
RELIGIONS OR THE STATE WAS, FOR EXAMPLE, ILLEGAL AND
COULD LEAD TO DISUNITY. HE DESCRIBED HOA HAO FOLLOWERS
AS ORDINARY CITIZENS WHO COULD FULLY PARTICIPATE IN
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 03 HANOI 02088 01 OF 02 270722Z
VIETNAM'S POLITICAL, ECONOMIC, AND SOCIAL LIFE, AND
NOTED THAT THE HOA HAO HAD A GOVERNING BOARD OF 11
PEOPLE WHO HAD BEEN ELECTED BY A HOA HAO CONGRESS IN
MAY 1999. WHEN ASKED ABOUT FOLLOWERS WHO MIGHT
DISAGREE WITH THE SELECTION OF THOSE LEADERS, MR. HIET
ASSERTED THAT VIETNAMESE CITIZENS ARE FREE TO WORSHIP
AND FOLLOW THEIR BELIEFS BUT THAT THEIR RELIGIOUS
ORGANIZATIONS MUST BE LEGAL. HE REJECTED A
HYPOTHETICAL COMPARISON WITH MARXIST-LENINISTS IN THE
US WHO WOULD NOT AGREE TO A LEADERSHIP STRUCTURE
ORGANIZED BY THE USG.

4. (SBU) MR. HIET ADMITTED THAT GOVERNMENTAL
AUTHORITY IN VIETNAM WAS "HIGHER" THAN THAT OF
RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS BUT CLAIMED THAT THE STATE DID
NOT INTERFERE IN THE INTERNAL WORKINGS OF RELIGIOUS
AFFAIRS. HE NOTED THAT, WHILE RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS
HAD TO ASK PERMISSION TO HOLD AN ORGANIZATIONAL
CONFERENCE, THE GOVERNMENT GAVE THAT PERMISSION. WHEN
MR. GUNDERSON ASKED HOW MUCH FREEDOM OF RELIGION
EXISTED IF THESE GROUPS HAD TO ASK PERMISSION OF THE
GOVERNMENT EVEN TO MEET, MR. HIET CLAIMED THAT EVERY
COUNTRY HAS RULES GOVERNING THE SETTING UP OF
ORGANIZATIONS. HE CLARIFIED THAT THROUGH A
REGISTRATION PROCESS, THE GOVERNMENT LEARNS THE
PURPOSES AND PROPOSED ACTIVITIES OF THE ORGANIZATION TO
ASCERTAIN WHETHER THE ORGANIZATION IS PURELY RELIGIOUS
OR IF IT HAS POLITICAL AIMS THAT COULD BE HARMFUL TO
THE COUNTRY.

5. (SBU). MR. REES ASKED ABOUT THE LEADERS OF THE
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 04 HANOI 02088 01 OF 02 270722Z
UNITED BUDDHIST CHURCH OF VIETNAM (UBCV), TWO OF WHOM -
THICH QUANG DO AND THICH HUYEN QUANG - APPEARED TO HAVE
BEEN IMPRISONED OR HELD UNDER "PAGODA ARREST" SIMPLY
FOR THE EXERCISE OF THEIR RELIGION. HE ASKED THAT, AS
AN ACT OF COMPASSION, THE GVN RELEASE THEM AND ALLOW
THEM TO MEET FREELY AND TO TRAVEL FOR NEEDED MEDICAL
CARE. MR. HIET REVIEWED THEIR HISTORY, NOTING THAT
BOTH HAD BEEN CONVICTED BY A COURT IN 1977 FOR SLANDER,
NOT FOR THEIR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS, BUT GIVEN SUSPENDED
SENTENCES. IN 1980, THEY COMMITTED ACTS OF SLANDER
AGAIN AND WERE TRIED BUT NOT PUT IN JAIL. IN 1995,
THEY COMMITTED OTHER SIMILAR ACTS AND WERE TRIED AGAIN.
HE STRESSED THAT THEY HAD NOT BEEN IMPRISONED FOR 24
YEARS BUT THAT LEGAL ENTITIES HAD HANDLED THEIR CASES
AS SPECIFIED BY THE LAW.

6. (SBU) MR. REES ALSO RAISED THE CASES OF FATHER
NGUYEN VAN LY AND FIVE HOA HAO LEADERS, AND URGED THE
GVN TO RELEASE THEM AS AN ACT OF CONCILIATION, WHICH
WOULD BOTH ELIMINATE NEGATIVE INTERNATIONAL PRESS ABOUT
LACK OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN VIETNAM AND MARK AN
ENORMOUS STEP FORWARD. REGARDING FATHER LY, MR. HIET
CLAIMED THAT THE CASE WAS NOT ABOUT RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
ISSUES, THAT THERE WAS NO RELIGIOUS SUPPRESSION IN
VIETNAM, AND THAT THOSE WHO VIOLATED LAWS WERE SUBJECT
TO ARREST AND COURT TRIALS. HE SAID THE CHARGE AGAINST
FATHER LY WAS BASED ON ARTICLE 269 OF THE CRIMINAL CODE
FOR ATTACKING OR SLANDERING THE GOVERNMENT. FATHER LY
HAD IGNORED WARNINGS NOT TO CONTINUE SUCH SLANDERS AS
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 02 HANOI 02088 02 OF 02 270722Z
WELL AS LIMITATIONS ON HIS TRAVEL.

7. (SBU) MR. REES ASKED ABOUT REPORTS THAT HMONG IN
NORTHWEST VIETNAM HAD BEEN PRESSURED TO RENOUNCE
CHRISTIANITY, AND WHETHER THE COMMITTEE ON RELIGION HAD
ANY PROCEDURES TO INVESTIGATE SUCH REPORTS. MR. HIET
RESPONDED BRIEFLY THAT THE GVN HAD NEVER FORCED ANYONE
TO GIVE UP HIS RELIGION BUT THAT IF LOCAL OFFICIALS HAD
DONE SO, THEY COULD BE PROSECUTED AND PUNISHED FOR
VIOLATING THE LAW PROBHITING DISCRIMINATION BASED ON
RELIGIOUS BELIEF.

COMMITTEE FOR ETHNIC MINORITIES AND MOUNTAINOUS AREAS

8. (SBU) IN A DISCUSSION FOCUSING ON MONTAGNARDS AND
THE SITUATION IN THE CENTRAL HIGHLANDS, DIRECTOR
GENERAL TRUONG HO TO DESCRIBED THE VARIABLE DEVELOPMENT
OF SOME GROUPS AND REGIONS WITHIN VIETNAM AS WELL AS OF
VIETNAMESE LAWS. HE DESCRIBED THE ROLE OF THIS
COMMITTEE AS DEALING WITH LAWS AND POLICIES OF THE GVN
REGARDING MINORITIES. THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY HAS 12 PCT
MINORITY REPRESENTATION EVEN THOUGH ETHNIC MINORITIES
MAKE UP ONLY 11 PCT OF THE TOTAL POPULATION. A COUNCIL
OF ETHNIC MINORITY DELEGATES ADVOCATES MINORITY
INTERESTS WITHIN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY. HE POINTED TO
PROVISIONS OF THE 1992 CONSTITUTION PROHIBITING
DISCRIMINATION ON BASIS OF ETHNIC ORIGIN AND ENSURING
THE EQUALITY OF ALL 54 NATIONALITIES WITHIN VIETNAM.
HE CLAIMED THAT THE GVN HAD NEVER ENCOUNTERED ANY CASES
OF SUCH DISCRIMINATION. HOWEVER, HE NOTED THAT ANY
ACTS THAT VIOLATE THE LAW OR CAUSE INSTABILITY WOULD BE
UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 03 HANOI 02088 02 OF 02 270722Z
PUNISHED. HE CLAIMED TO HAVE NO INFORMATION REGARDING
THE REPORTED ARRESTS OF 52-56 MONTAGNARDS INVOLVED IN
THE RECENT DEMONSTRATIONS IN THE CENTRAL HIGHLANDS,
ALTHOUGH HE POINTEDLY SAID THAT HE HAD NOT SAID WHETHER
SUCH REPORTS WERE TRUE OR FALSE. HE CITED OTHER MEDIA
REPORTS CLAIMING THAT MONTAGNARDS FELT CHEATED AND
SPLIT WITHIN THEIR OWN COMMUNITY AFTER THEIR LIVES HAD
BECOME MORE UNSTABLE AS A RESULT OF THESE
DEMONSTRATIONS.

9. (SBU) MR. GUNDERSON INQUIRED ABOUT THE MECHANISMS
OF THE GVN TO ENSURE THE PROTECTION OF THE RIGHTS OF
MINORITIES GUARANTEED UNDER THE CONSTITUTION. MR. TO
DESCRIBED THAT EVEN THOUGH THE CONSTITUTION PROMISES
EQUALITY, THE GVN ACTUALLY GIVES EXTRA BENEFITS TO
MINORITIES, SUCH AS REGARDING EDUCATION, UNIVERSITY
ENTRANCE, AND, SOMETIMES LIGHTER CRIMINAL SENTENCES.
THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE, WORKING WITH THIS COMMITTEE,
CONSIDERS "TRADITIONAL LAWS" THAT REFLECT LOCAL
MINORITY CULTURES, EXCEPT IN CASES WHERE TRADITIONAL
PUNISHMENTS WERE MORE SEVERE THAN GOVERNMENT NORMS.

10. (SBU) MR. GUNDERSON NOTED THAT THE TREATMENT OF
MINORITIES IN VIETNAM WAS IMPORTANT TO CONGRESS AND
OTHERS IN PART BECAUSE OF THE INTEREST OF CONSTITUENTS,
AND THAT THE TREATMENT OF THESE GROUPS SHAPED VIEWS IN
THE US ABOUT VIETNAM. MR. TO SAID THAT THE HMONG WERE
"JUST CITIZENS" WITH THE SAME RIGHTS AND
RESPONSIBILITIES AS OTHER VIETNAMESE CITIZENS AND THAT
THE GVN WAS VERY CONCERNED ABOUT MINORITY CULTURES.

UNCLASSIFIED

PAGE 04 HANOI 02088 02 OF 02 270722Z
11. (U) STAFFDEL DID NOT HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO CLEAR
THIS MESSAGE BEFORE DEPARTURE. HARTER

UNCLASSIFIED

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