Cablegate: Designation of Countries of Particular Concern

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





E.O. 12958: N/A

A. 02 State 235694 B. Hanoi 0135

1. (SBU) Embassy understands that a recommendation from
Ambassador Hanford to the Secretary on designation of
Countries of Particular Concern under the International
Religious Freedom Act is imminent and would like to weigh in
arguing against a possible designation of Vietnam.

2. (SBU) Ref B reported on Ambassador's most recent
discussions with senior GVN leaders in the aftermath of
Ambassador Hanford's November meeting with GVN officials on
the subject of designation (ref A). Embassy agrees that the
GVN has some endemic problems related to religious freedom --
notably, what appears to be excessive government
oversight/control over the administrative structure of
recognized religious bodies and bans on all activities by non-
recognized groups; formal government roles not only in the
selection of religious students but also in the final
approval and even assignment of religious workers; difficulty
in the process of registration of house churches and
discouragement and/or harassment of non-registered "house
churches"; repeated -- but usually unconfirmed -- allegations
of beatings and harassment of religious believers who worship
outside legal religious bodies; and, reports of efforts by
some officials to convince people to renounce religious
belief. The GVN has a serious credibility problem in
dismissing many allegations, which are often impossible for
outside observers to verify or dismiss.

3. (SBU) It does not appear to Embassy that there was any
significant worsening of the situation of religious freedom
in 2002, however. Positive developments in 2002 included the
appointment by the Vatican (with GVN concurrence) of two new
Catholic Bishops, and the GVN blessing of the opening by the
Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam's theological school,
now apparently set for February 15 in Ho Chi Minh City. Less
dramatic but still welcome developments that stemmed
especially from the ref b discussion included offers by GVN
officials to take a number of concrete steps to address USG
concerns, such as (1) supporting the notion of independent
foreign observers, (2) investigating the validity of the
Khanh Hoa document on renunciations, (3) pledging that the
GVN would address any violations by officials of the policy
forbidding forced renunciations and sharing information about
officials already criticized or punished for such violations,
(4) investigating the four main points Ambassador Hanford
raised with the GVN in November 2002, (5) promising to work
with the Ministry of Public Security and "higher authorities"
to facilitate positive actions regarding persons of concern
such as Thich Huyen Quang, Thich Quang Do, and Father Nguyen
Van Ly, and (6) investigating the Mua Bua Sen death. (GVN
officials may not in the end deliver on these offers, but
Embassy believes it worthwhile to try to hold them at their
word.) We are also mildly encouraged by the pledge of
General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nong Duc
Manh at the Central Committee Seventh Plenum in January 2003
to work out better ways to deal with religious issues (along
with ethnic minority policies) over the long term.

4. (SBU) Embassy is also convinced that a designation would
not lead to any increased willingness of the GVN to address
chronic problems or USG concerns, but would instead likely
cut off any new avenues of cooperation and influence. We
believe that the GVN and the CPV, for their own reasons,
intend to encourage the longer-term trend toward greater
expansions of personal liberties -- including freedom of
religious belief -- but will inevitably resist doing so under
the threat of foreign sanctions or external pressure.
Embassy will continue actively to raise US and international
concerns with or without designation. Embassy believes that
we will be able to communicate more effectively and
successfully - and have greater influence - if Vietnam is not
included in the list of Countries of Particular Concern. We
also believe a first-time designation would ignore some
positive developments in 2002 and reflect instead rumors and
allegations that may not be based on fact.

5. (SBU) Embassy appreciates Ambassador Hanford's personal
attention to this issue as well as the careful consideration
of Embassy reporting over the past year by DRL/IRF.

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