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Cablegate: Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue

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





E.O. 12958: NA
SUBJECT: Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue

Ref: STATE 123409

1. (SBU) Summary: Ambassador delivered reftel demarche to
Deputy Foreign Minister Le Van Bang on May 13 and left a
non-paper based on reftel para 12. Ambassador stressed that
progress on issues raised at the November 2002 Human Rights
Dialogue was insufficient to schedule another dialogue, nor
did Vietnam appear to be doing enough to avoid designation
as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC). Without progress
through the dialogue, Ambassador warned, Vietnam risked
stronger action and greater support for measures such as the
Vietnam Human Rights bill. Although DFM Bang reaffirmed the
usefulness of the dialogue, he noted that it is a U.S.
initiative and that many in the GVN would be happy if it
ceased. The Ambassador pointedly replied that, while the
dialogue may originally have been a U.S. initiative, it
would not be good for Vietnam or US-Vietnam relations if the
dialogue were dropped since it would only lead to greater
support for stronger action against the GVN like the VN
Human Rights bill. Bang took the point. He also hinted
that Father Nguyen Van Ly's sentence could be reduced or
lifted, and voiced interest in continuing discussions of the
other points. End Summary.

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--------------------------------------------- -----
Ambassador: If it's just talk, you won't like the
--------------------------------------------- -----

2. (SBU) Ambassador informed DFM Bang that there must be
significant progress on the issues discussed during the
Human Rights Dialogue in order to justify its continuation
and to avoid CPC designation for Vietnam. Since Vietnam
appears to be moving so slowly on human rights issues, both
are real dangers.

3. (SBU) Ambassador praised some positive steps that the
GVN has taken. Thich Huyen Quang's meeting with the Prime
Minister was important and his current relative freedom of
movement is welcome. His recent activities during his trip
to Ho Chi Minh City, meetings with city authorities and with
his colleague Thich Quang Do are also good signs and should
be allowed to continue. Other events Ambassador mentioned
include the opening of the Protestant theological school in
Ho Chi Minh City, the appointment of new Catholic Bishops,
and the emigration of actor Don Duong.

4. (SBU) Ambassador pointed out that there seems to have
been no action on other issues raised at the Human Rights
Dialogue. He highlighted several individuals imprisoned for
what appears to be nothing more than the expression of their
own opinions, including Father Nguyen Van Ly, Le Chi Quang
and a number of journalists. He noted that Thich Quang Do
is still under detention and asked for clarification of
Thich Huyen Quang's status.

5. (SBU) Ambassador reminded DFM Bang that the problems of
Vietnamese religious groups are closely monitored in the
U.S. He urged that Central Highlands churches closed from
2001-2002 be allowed to reopen and that Central Highlands
churches be allowed to join the Evangelical Church of
Vietnam - South, if they wished. Likewise, he called upon
the GVN to allow Protestant churches in the Northwest
Highlands to join the Evangelical Church of Vietnam - North.
While acknowledging a significant upsurge in legal religious
practice, Ambassador stated that the Highlands seem to be an
exception. There appears to be a common, but false,
suspicion that Protestantism is a cover for separatism.
Ambassador recounted that a Highlands province leader had
told him that minorities who converted to Protestantism were
"betraying their traditions." Such unjustified attitudes
seem to contribute to great problems for Protestants.

6. (SBU) Ambassador emphasized the benefits to Vietnam for
approaching human rights through a dialogue between
governments. As in China, the dialogue is a way to
demonstrate to Congress and outside observers how the USG,
as well as the GVN, are working on human rights. If
progress can be achieved through dialogue, there is little
reason to resort to stronger measures. However, Ambassador
reminded DFM Bang, observers, including those with the
Department, question the point of a dialogue without results
and support for tougher and more public methods is building.
Ambassador also noted that Vietnam suffers in comparison to
China because the Chinese have become adept at taking
advantage of the dialogues to produce sufficient results to
dissipate pressure for more serious actions.

--------------------------------------------- -------
DFM Bang: It was your idea, but it's not a bad one.
--------------------------------------------- -------

7. (SBU) DFM Bang remarked that the U.S.-Vietnam Human
Rights Dialogue was a U.S. initiative, that it had always
been difficult for the MFA to get permission to participate,
and that the MFA had worked hard to get other ministries to
participate in the last dialogue. He said that Vietnam had
several other human rights dialogues and that such dialogues
should benefit relationships. He remarked that he
understood that the U.S. dialogue was to satisfy the
concerns of "certain constituencies" in the U.S. If the
U.S. decided not to continue the dialogue, there would be
those in the GVN who would be "more than happy." While the
dialogue was mutually beneficial, it was "more necessary"
for the U.S., DFM Bang claimed.

8. (SBU) Responding to the persons of concern Ambassador
raised, DFM Bang said that such issues had to be decided on
an individual basis -- some would be successful -- others
would have to wait. DFM Bang voiced surprise with Thich
Huyen Quang's recent treatment and commented that the
Buddhist leader is "almost a hero." He claimed that there
had not been any restrictions on Thich Huyen Quang. DFM
Bang suggested that a factor in the Buddhist leader's
changed situation was that his first-ever trip to Hanoi had
been an eye-opener and given him a better appreciation of
the situation for Buddhist followers and monks in the North.

9. (SBU) DFM Bang pointed out that in December 2002,
Senator McCain had spoken both to Deputy Prime Minister
Nguyen Tan Dung and to Bang on behalf of Don Duong.

10. (SBU) Father Nguyen Van Ly's "thinking is
progressing," according to what DFM Bang said he had heard.
(Note: "Reform" on the part of the prisoner is required for
sentence reduction or amnesty. End note.) He added that he
"hoped for a breakthrough," in response to USG and
Congressional calls for Father Ly's freedom or a shortened

11. (SBU) There is "no problem with religion," according
to DFM Bang, because one may worship and practice religion
as one chooses in Vietnam. Only when religion is used for
other purposes, such as by the "Dega Protestants" do
problems arise. He claimed that there would be no problem
for those who wanted to join either the southern or northern
Evangelical Churches, although it was necessary to
distinguish "observing" religion from "abusing" it. Life in
the Central Highlands was improving and there was room for
religion, but not if it was connected to Kok Ksor. He added
that it was remarkable that there was harmony between
Vietnam's six major religions because this is not always the
case between overseas Vietnamese Buddhists and Catholics,
for instance. Finally, he expressed hope that Vietnam would
establish relations with the Vatican soon.

12. (SBU) DFM Bang repeated that if the U.S. did not want
to pursue the dialogue, that was acceptable to Vietnam.
The Ambassador pointedly noted that to stop the dialogue
would only lead to greater pressure within the U.S. to take
stronger measures against the SRV and that it was thus to
Vietnam's interest to find ways to maintain the dialogue.
Bang took the point and agreed that the dialogue was useful.
He noted that the GVN learns from and improves its
understanding of the U.S. through the dialogue; also, the
GVN does make improvements based on the dialogue. He added
that the dialogue allows detailed discussion -- that cannot
be accomplished through demarches -- of a whole range of
human rights issues.

DFM Bang: The alternative is not good.

13. (SBU) The GVN had noticed the Department's opposition
to the Vietnam Human Rights bill, DFM Bang said. If the
bill passed, he predicted, it would anger "veterans and
hardliners" damaging relations and impacting on MIA, trade,
and humanitarian issues. The bill would serve only the
interests of a small group of Vietnamese Americans, he

14. (SBU) DFM Bang appeared to take to heart that a
productive human rights dialogue is better than an unending
series of public confrontations. He is probably the best
person in the GVN to articulate this message to his
colleagues both because he understands it and because he
appears to be committed to improving the overall
relationship. He recalled that he was involved in the first
U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue in 1993. Major
challenges lie in whether he can focus enough attention
outside the MFA to achieve some progress, whether the GVN's
tortuous consensus-based decision-making process can achieve
prompt results, and whether there is sufficient political
will to overcome the opposition of those who are wedded to
Vietnam's closed systems and are suspicious of US motives.
Embassy and ConGen will continue to push for improvements,
particularly in areas laid out in reftel, but we are not
confident that we will see progress on more than a few of
the points in the next six months.

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