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Cablegate: Vietnam's Experience with Human Rights Dialogues

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

Ref: Hanoi 2175

1. (SBU) Summary: Vietnam's series of human rights
dialogues with foreign governments are broad-based and
generally non-confrontational. Many are linked to ongoing
aid programs related to governance reform, but few dialogues
result in -- or are expected to - produce concrete short-
term results. Third-country diplomats in Hanoi nonetheless
value these dialogues as an opportunity to encourage long-
term grassroots changes, as well as to convey concerns about
human rights issues and sometimes about individual cases to
a host government that appears increasingly sensitive to
international criticism. End Summary


2. (SBU) Norway established relations in Vietnam in 1997,
and has held bilateral human rights dialogues in November
2001 in Oslo and January 2003 in Hanoi. The Norwegian MFA
and GVN are currently planning for their third dialogue,
scheduled for April or May 2004 in Oslo. A Norwegian
diplomat described the first two meetings as "getting to
know each other" and dealing with issues in only a "very
general" manner. In the first dialogue, the Vietnamese
delegation was headed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
(MFA), but included representatives from the Ministry of
Justice, Ministry of Public Security (MPS), Supreme People's
Court, and the National Assembly. Topics of discussion were
"non-confrontational;" the Norwegians addressed the need for
GVN adherence to United Nations conventions, and the GVN
requested Norway describe its criminal justice system. The
GVN group spent a week in Oslo, with one day for the
dialogue, followed by visits to Norwegian judicial
facilities and discussions with NORAD - the Norwegian aid
agency - on identifying areas for aid in promoting good
governance, a primary theme in Norwegian development

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3. (SBU) The Norwegian return visit to Hanoi in 2003 was led
by the MFA's Director General of Humanitarian Affairs, Human
Rights, and Democracy (equivalent to Assistant Secretary
Craner), and included representatives from NORAD, the
Norwegian Supreme Court, and an criminologist from the
University of Oslo. Issues were a continuation of those
from the first dialogue. The Norwegians did not raise
specific cases of concern with the Vietnamese. In planning
the third dialogue, the Norwegian diplomat expressed a hope
the meeting will become "more substantive" and that NORAD
could reach agreement on some aid projects developed from
themes discussed in the dialogue, notably criminal law
reform. The diplomat also assessed that the dialogues had
already helped develop a level of some trust on human rights
issues between the GVN and Government of Norway. He noted
that he had recently been allowed by the MPS to visit a
Vietnamese prison (which U.S. poloffs have done twice; a
third request has been outstanding for almost one year).


4. (U) Sweden not only participates in the EU - GVN human
rights dialogue (para 6) but also deals with a number of
human rights issues in its annual bilateral review of
development cooperation. Sweden established relations with
Hanoi in 1968, and has the longest standing diplomatic
relations of any Western country. Considered a "friend of
Vietnam," it nonetheless published a human rights report in
January 2003 that was critical of the GVN's record (earlier
year's reports had not been made public). Through its
bilateral review, Sweden also targets aid to what it sees as
human rights-related areas. These are broadly defined, and
the current theme, established at the request of the GVN, is
anti-corruption (ref a). In 2002, Sweden invited Vietnam as
an observer to the Sweden-Canada-China regional issues
dialogue, held that year in Jakarta. The Swedes considered
it an "eye-opening" experience for Vietnam to see the
relatively open way China addresses human rights


5. (U) Australia holds the "Australia-Vietnam Bilateral
Dialogue on International Organizations and Legal Issues,
including Human Rights," which its diplomats characterize as
an annual "non-confrontational" discussion of issues. The
meeting, along with talks with Iran and China, is one of
only three dialogues Australia holds worldwide. The most
recent dialogue - the second - was held on June 27 in
Canberra, and included GVN representatives from the MFA, the
MPS, the Supreme People's Procuracy, and Supreme People's
Court. In these dialogues, the Australians have provided
the GVN with a list of specific cases, and have been
relatively pleased with responses they receive. The
Government of Australia does not link aid programs to issues
discussed in the meetings. After the Canberra round, the
GOA sponsored a group of GVN officials to a human rights
course in Australia, followed by a study tour. The next
round of meetings is anticipated to take place in Hanoi in
August 2004.


6. (SBU) The European Union's dialogue has been held at a
lower level that Australia and Norway's, but on a biannual
basis. The EU and GVN have held three dialogues so far -
all in Hanoi - with the most recent one in June and the next
one scheduled for November 26. The meetings are planned by
a working group of all EU embassies in Hanoi along with the
Delegation of the European Commission, but at the dialogue
itself the EU is represented by the "Troika" ambassadors.
One EC representative was guardedly positive about the June
meeting, noting some GVN responses provided in response to
the EU's prisoner list. However, a British diplomat said
separately that that the dialogues have been relatively
disappointing: discussions have been unfocused, the GVN was
represented by relatively low-level officers from the MFA
only, and the impression was that the Vietnamese were "just
going through the motions."

7. (SBU) According the British diplomat, EU member countries
consider advancing human rights in Vietnam a "real
priority," pointing out that Foreign Minister Straw had also
raised the issue with Foreign Minister Nien during their
September bilateral meeting in London. Some EU member
embassies in Hanoi hope to revitalize the dialogue in its
upcoming session, by trying to raise the GVN representation
to the department director general-level, and to include
representatives from a number of different GVN ministries.
The EU is also planning better to structure the talks, and
will present the MFA with a list of topics ahead of time;
what will be on the list is still being hashed out in
working groups. According the British diplomat, the EU
nonetheless hopes to keep the dialogue "non-threatening" for
the GVN. Rather than confront the GVN with a list of
accusations, the goal is to frame EU concerns in positive
terms such as "promoting religious tolerance" in lieu of
"ending religious oppression."


8. (U) One likely additional participant in human rights
dialogues with the GVN is Switzerland. The Swiss held
bilateral dialogues in 1998 and 1999, but discontinued them
due to a lack of resources. On a visit in late August,
Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan proposed restarting of the
human rights dialogue. The Swiss Department of Foreign
Affairs is currently studying the issue, and diplomats here
have indicated it is likely Switzerland will agree to resume
the exchanges. Switzerland has some fears that the GVN has
sought the renewed dialogue only because Switzerland has
limited interests in Vietnam. At the same time, the Swiss
view themselves as neutral and free of the biases they
believe Vietnamese see in other countries - notably the U.S.
and Australia. Any new dialogue would have to involve a
range of GVN ministries - not just the MFA - and deal with
specific and controversial issues to satisfy the Swiss,
according to a diplomat in Hanoi. At the same time,
Switzerland is prepared to look for a "longer-term" and
broad range change in attitudes rather than immediate
results. The dialogue would also likely be twinned with a
development strategy of technical programs and exchanges,
developed around two or three issues identified in the
9. (SBU) Comment: Vietnam remains committed to the process
of dialogue, even on issues like human rights when they know
full well they will face criticism - direct or indirect -
from all of their interlocutors. Most third country
participants in these dialogues share U.S. frustrations with
a lack of specific results, but nonetheless claim to value
the exchanges as one of the few conduits in which they can
get information from the GVN, and make clear their concerns
while not expecting overnight change.

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