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Cablegate: Vietnam's Justice Sector: Climate and Landscape

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

150035Z Sep 04





E.O. 12958: N/A

Reftel: Hanoi 1584

1. (U) This message incorporates the report of the
ICITAP/OPDAT team that visited Hanoi July 19-23 2004 in
advance of planned DOJ counternarcotics training activities.

2. (U) Summary: DOJ is ready to implement the training
programs supported with INCLE funds and listed in the U.S.-
Vietnam Counternarcotics LOA. Two training courses, each
targeting two separate groups, will address key weaknesses
within the main agencies charged with investigating,
prosecuting, and deciding narcotics cases in Vietnam.

3. (U) The conclusion of the letter of agreement on
counternarcotics cooperation (LOA) between Vietnam and the
United States, and the subsequent execution of the U.S.
Customs and Border Protection training iterations in Hawaii
and Hanoi in July and August, have created favorable
conditions for DOJ to provide further counternarcotics and
organized crime assistance to the GVN. GVN interlocutors
want U.S. assistance in these areas of criminal activity and
are willing to cooperate to make the OPDAT phase of LOA
implementation a reality. Since 1999, the GVN has taken
substantial steps to address the threats of illicit drugs
and organized criminal groups, but it lacks the experience
at all levels of its justice sector institutions necessary
to provide consistent and purposeful direction regarding
strategic planning, resourcing, and capacity building, and
to carry out effective operations. End summary.

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4. (U) Counternarcotics: Vietnam is a state party to
multinational international agreements that address the
illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic
substances. Since 1996, the GVN has pursued a comprehensive
domestic drug control approach. At the planning level,
Vietnam's national drug control committee (Standing
Committee for Drug Control) was established in 1997. From
1997 onward, the Vietnamese made efforts to increase the
ability of law enforcement agencies, including the police,
customs, and border army, to act in concert to address
illicit drug trafficking in selected urban and border hot
spots. For example, the GVN recently concluded a protocol
which established two drug interdiction task forces,
composed of police, customs, and border army officials,
under border army leadership in order to concentrate on the
most frequently used drug trafficking routes (Reftel). This
advanced interagency investigative cooperation.

5. (U) In June 2001 the GVN's national law for narcotic
drugs prevention and suppression entered into force. This
law, together with the additional eight decrees issued
pursuant to its provisions, was intended to focus the
efforts of the government agencies on the drug problem and
to foster more effective cooperation, domestically and
internationally, to counter the threat of the illicit drug
trade. One possible weakness of the GVN drug control regime
is that, despite the plethora of GVN pronouncements dealing
with drugs (all of which have the force of law), criminal
offenses are found only in the penal code of 1999, as
revised, and not in any other legislation. Therefore, it is
necessary to locate a corresponding offense section in the
penal code whenever criminal penalties are sought. There
exists a serious risk that the proliferation of drug control
legislation will contribute to a lack of knowledge, spotty
enforcement, and extensive training requirements.

6. (U) Organized crime: Vietnam has signed, but has not yet
ratified, the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized
Crime and its two protocols. As compared to the approach
taken with regard to illicit drugs, Vietnam does not have a
specific law addressing organized crime. Depending upon the
facts of each case, the various Vietnamese legal documents
which address organized criminal activity must be obtained
and reviewed to ensure a valid basis for investigation
exists and that proper procedures are followed in any given
--------------------------------------------- ---

7. (U) Police: Generally speaking, various "investigating
bodies" can carry out criminal investigations but the police
handle the majority of them. The police operate under the
direction of the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), which
reports to the Prime Minister. There are approximately
75,000 police officers who are organizationally assigned to
general police functions, traffic, criminal investigation
units, fire protection, corrections, and customs. The
management ratio (the number of management personnel
compared with functional personnel) is between 30 and 35
percent, with lower functional ranks representing 65 to 70
percent of the total force composition. The total number of
police personnel directly responsible for investigative
functions represents approximately 14 percent of the whole,
with approximately 6,000 general crimes investigators and
approximately 4,500 police dedicated to counternarcotics
investigations. Investigative tasks and responsibilities
are distributed by function among three sub-units. Unit "C-
14" is responsible for investigating crimes such as
prostitution, gambling, and human trafficking. Unit "C-16"
is responsible for investigating more serious crimes such as
murder, robbery, and sexual assault. Unit "C-17" is
responsible for counternarcotics investigations.

8. (SBU) Compentencies appear to exist that are rare in
other regional law enforcement agencies. MPS personnel are
fairly well educated and engaged. Observations from other
donors of counternarcotics assistance indicate that the
Vietnamese are amenable to new methods, are studious and
adaptable, and implement new techniques quickly.

9. (U) Procuracy: The Supreme People's Procuracy (SPP) is
an independent organ of government, responsible directly to
the National Assembly and the Office of the President. The
SPP has three main functions: it supervises criminal and
security investigations, undertakes criminal and civil
trials and appeals, and is responsible for the enforcement
of laws against members of the government and the judiciary.
Both civilian and military prosecutors function from within
the SPP, which, on the civilian side, is organized at the
three administrative levels (central, 64 provinces and
cities, and 610 districts) of the country. There are
approximately 10,000 SPP employees nation-wide, of whom
2,500 are provincial level prosecutors and approximately
3,500 are prosecutors at the district level.

10. (U) Courts: The Supreme People's Court (SPC) is also
an independent organ of government, responsible directly to
the National Assembly and the Office of the State President.
The courts are also organized at the three administrative
levels of the country into the central Supreme People's
Court, 64 provincial and city courts, and 610 district
courts. The jurisdiction of each court is set forth in the
criminal procedure code and operates on both a subject
matter and geographical basis. Each of the three levels of
the courts has the jurisdiction to act as a trial court of
the first instance, with the higher level courts acting as
the appellate court for the previous level. Matters of
constitutionality of laws are not adjudicable before the

11. (SBU) The Procuracy and the Courts are distributed
nationally according to geography rather than according to
demand, which results in significant differences in the
levels of activity in different jurisdictions. These levels
of activity mean that personnel in certain areas develop
more expertise than others, creating imbalances in
experience and ability in different parts of the country.
In addition, maintaining satisfactory levels of competence
in both organizations is complicated by the practice of new
prosecutors and judges receiving on-the-job training while
serving as apprentices for older "mentors". There is
apparently little attention given to ensuring that only the
most capable perform duties as mentors. Finally, the
quality of judicial decision-making is affected by the
presence of lay assessors. Lay assessors are non-
professional elected judges who serve with professional
judges on judicial panels. At all court levels, the
majority makes decisions and lay assessors always outnumber
the professional judges.

12. (U) Ministry of Justice: In Vietnam, the MOJ is not
responsible for supervising investigators, prosecutors, or
judges. It does, however, have responsibility for legal
aid. In addition to providing defense counsel for indigent
persons, war veterans, and war invalids, and overseeing the
"pro bono" legal aid services of the 64 bar associations
throughout Vietnam, the MOJ concentrates on preparing new
laws for consideration by the National Assembly and its
departments. Generally, MOJ and other players in the
drafting process use surveys of the practitioners in the
field to obtain data to assist in the initiation of laws or
for the revision of existing laws.


13. (U) The revised 2003 criminal procedure code (CPC)
entered into force on July 1, 2004. One significant change
involves oral argument at trial. For the first time, after
the presentation of evidence and questioning of witnesses is
completed, the prosecutor is now required to make an
"accusation," based on the documents, evidence examined at
trial, and on the presentations of the accused, the defense
counsel, the counsel of others, and others participating in
the court session. In addition, after the defense has made
a closing argument, the court may require the prosecutor to
answer the defense's claims.


14. (SBU) At various times, Vietnamese counterparts told
DOJ representatives that Vietnam lacked experience attacking
organized crime groups, identifying illicit drugs, and in
the following areas: methods of search and seizure in
economic crime cases, undercover operations and dealing with
cooperating witnesses, presenting complicated drug and
financial evidence at trial, charging decisions in organized
crime cases, and sentencing considerations in drug cases.

15. (U) DOJ has developed two assistance programs, each
addressing two groups of Vietnamese participants. Program
one is an anti-narcotics best practices program. Vietnamese
criminal investigators and those members of the Procuracy
whose duty is to supervise illicit drug investigations will
comprise one target group for this program. The second
target group will be made up of members of the Procuracy who
are responsible for trying these drug cases and the judges
who decide them. The objective of the anti-narcotics best
practices program is to familiarize participants with best
practices relating to illicit drug crime control from
investigation through sentencing. Its methodology will
include a focus on key areas of investigation and trial
methodology that are essential to successful anti-narcotics
prosecutions. Practical problem solving will require the
Vietnamese participants to use skills and tools recognized
in the international community in case-study exercises that
mirror real world drug cases prevalent in Vietnam.

16. (U) The second DOJ assistance program, focusing on
organized crime, will also target two groups. One group
will comprise Vietnamese criminal investigators and those
members of the Procuracy whose duty is to supervise
organized crime investigations. The second group will be
composed of members of the Procuracy who are responsible for
trying these organized crime cases and the judges who decide
them. The objective is to familiarize participants with
international practices of organized crime control and
international standards of conduct for government personnel
involved in organized crime control. Conditioned upon crime
trends in Vietnam, the program will use economic crimes
(including money laundering and bank fraud) for practical
problem solving. The Vietnamese participants in the second
program will also be required to use skills and tools
recognized in the international community in case-study
exercises that mirror real world organized crime activities
prevalent in Vietnam.


17. (U) In response to the requests of Vietnamese officials
to maintain the momentum thus far achieved in implementing
the counternarcotics cooperation LOA, DOJ provided us with
the detailed day-by-day agendas for the two assistance
programs for presentation to GVN counterparts. The GVN's
internal deliberative processes are time consuming, and will
likely require several more weeks of consultations before
they can approve these two new programs or agree on a venue.
However, in the meantime we will continue to work with DOJ
on the details.

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