Cablegate: Gvn Explains New Ordinance On Religion

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

Reftels: A) Hanoi 2009; B)Hanoi 1987

1. (U) Summary: According to Nguyen Thanh Xuan, Deputy
Chairman of the GVN's Committee for Religious Affairs,
Vietnam's Ordinance on Religion (reftels) - which will take
effect on November 15 - was modeled on precedents from
within Vietnam as well as on similar laws from other
countries, including France, Russia, and China. Xuan
claimed that the ordinance would lead to a number of
significant improvements, including in accountability of
government officials for abuses of religious freedom and in
increased freedom of action for recognized religious groups.
"Many more" religious organizations would be recognized in
the near future, he stated. End Summary

2. (U) In a September 1 meeting with Pol Counselor and
Poloff, Xuan described the underlying bases from which the
new ordinance had been constructed. The first of these,
Xuan said, was respect for religious freedom. This had been
Vietnam's policy since independence, but the GVN came to
"better implement this policy in the 1990s." He added that
the 1955 Decree 234 on religion - promulgated by Ho Chi Minh
himself - as well as the "actual situation of religion in
Vietnam," were two other building blocks of the ordinance.
The GVN also considered its obligations under international
law, and had consulted the religious laws of eighteen other
countries, including France, Russia, the Philippines, China,
and Laos, Xuan said. He claimed that, because the ordinance
was issued by the National Assembly, it carried more weight
than the previous decrees governing religion, which had been
issued by ministries directly. This would help set a
standard for treatment of religious adherents that would be
equal in all regions in Vietnam, he claimed.

3. (U) Xuan described a number of ways in which religious
organizations would be more free to operate. The ordinance
had "streamlined administrative procedures," he said. State
management of religious groups would now come in three
forms: "inform, register, and seek permission." In the
past, he claimed, "seek permission" had been the most common
of these, whereas now "inform or register" would be most
common. Permission would now only be required for holding
conferences, establishing schools, and building churches, he
claimed. He noted that the ordinance upheld freedom of both
religion and "belief." This, he said, would give protection
to the "60 percent of the population" who followed
traditional beliefs, but did not adhere to any formal
religion. Xuan added that, while previous decrees only
governed the activities of religious practitioners, this
ordinance set guidelines that applied to all Vietnamese,
including government officials.

4. (U) Xuan pointed to a number of areas where he said the
ordinance went beyond existing precedents and would lead to
improvements in the situation for religious believers in
Vietnam. He said that the ordinance set five specific
conditions for the recognition of new religious
organizations, ending the subjectivity of the past. He
claimed that religious bodies now could be more easily
established, dissolved, or divided. This had been "hard to
resolve" in the past, Xuan said, and, as a result, some
congregations had become too crowded. He said that
organizations would be able to promote and transfer clergy
"without the permission of authorities," but added that
promotions would still have to be registered, and that
organizations would have to select "good people and good
citizens." Specifically addressing the Catholic Church,
Xuan noted that, for the naming or transfer of bishops and
cardinals only, the Vatican and GVN would have to "agree" on
candidates. He explained that, under the ordinance,
religious organizations in Vietnam could have "normal
relations" with organizations overseas. The "agreement" of
the GVN would still be required to study or attend
conferences abroad, although Xuan added that this was the
case for all organizations in Vietnam.

5. (U) Addressing implementation of the ordinance, Xuan
depicted it as a "framework," and said the GVN now needed to
"concretize" it with implementing documents between now and
November. He said the CRA was preparing to "communicate the
ordinance to religious figures and ordinary people" and also
to "educate officials at all levels" about it. Xuan claimed
that that religious organizations were "very happy" about
the new ordinance, but rued that the "outside world does not
fully understand it." [Note: Mission has received a number
of assessments from religious leaders that range from
lukewarm to very negative, septel. End note.]

6. (U) Finally, Xuan claimed that "many more" new religious
organizations would be recognized in the near future. He
cautioned that these organizations needed to register, and
show that they were "purely religious," and had "no negative
intentions." He added that this could include Protestants
and other religious groups that had existed in Vietnam
before 1975.

7. (U) Comment: The promise of recognition of new religious
groups is welcome news, although we wait for results before
assigning any real credit. It is also clear that much of
the impact of the ordinance rests on the implementing
documents. While they are unlikely to break new ground, the
documents - and the extent to which they are disseminated -
may potentially set the tone for new respect for religious
believers, or for a continuation of the status quo. End

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