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Cablegate: Vietnam Engages Third Countries On Human Rights

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 2193 and previous, B) Hanoi 1615, C) Hanoi

1676, D) 03 Hanoi 3277

1. (SBU) Summary: Vietnam has been actively engaging third
countries in formal exchanges on human rights issues,
including hosting the annual Canada-China-Norway human
rights forum, carrying out a bilateral discussion on the
death penalty with EU countries and conducting the bi-annual
EU-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue. While the three fora are
more focused on process and discussion rather than concrete
results, Vietnam did pledge to the Europeans to reduce the
number of crimes subject to capital punishment. End

Canada-China-Norway Dialogue

2. (SBU) Vietnam hosted the December 9-10 Canada-China-
Norway Dialogue at the request of the Government of Norway
(which also funded this year's meeting.) A Norwegian
Embassy officer told Poloff that this was the sixth time the
three countries had held their trilateral dialogue, to which
an increasing number of other countries in the region have
been invited. In addition to the three principals, all
ASEAN members were represented save Burma, Cambodia and
Brunei, and delegations also came from South Korea, Japan,
Mongolia, Australia, New Zealand, Afghanistan, Nepal and
Pakistan. Norway wished to invite North Korea, but this was
vetoed by China on the grounds that "Vietnam does not have
good relations" with that country. (Note: Vietnam and North
Korea generally maintain positive relations as socialist
brethren, although ties have been strained by after the
approval for South Korea to fly 458 refugees from Ho Chi
Minh City to Seoul last July. (Ref A).) Each national
delegation consisted of one official participant and one non-
Government representative, mostly members of NGOs. Vietnam
also sent twenty observers, including from the Ministries of
Justice, Public Security and Labor, Invalids and Social

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3. (SBU) The dialogue was centered on four themes: freedom
of expression, in which the Canadian Government took the
lead; women's rights and the effect of globalization on
human rights, in which China took the lead for both issues;
and corporate and social responsibility, in which Norway
headed the discussion. A Canadian diplomat noted that
participants questioned her presenter extensively on the
Canadian Government's limits on "hate speech" and on
information that could be accessed on the internet. Vietnam
repeatedly brought up Article 19 of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (which states
restriction on speech may be necessary "for the protection
of national security and public order") in justifying its
limitations of free speech.

4. (SBU) The Canadian diplomat commented that there was
"informal and open discussion" at the forum, which was not
focused around specific goals or results. The Norwegian
diplomat said that, at the forum, representatives from
Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Mongolia suggested the
establishment of an Asian nations-only dialogue on human
rights, although other countries were tepid about this. He
also noted that the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security
was sufficiently concerned that dissidents would try to use
the conference to air grievances that it "insisted" on
posting guards at the entrances to the venue.

Death Penalty Seminar

5. (U) From November 24 to 26, the EU carried out a seminar
for Vietnamese officials on the abolition of the death
penalty, as agreed to in last summer's EU - Vietnam dialogue
(Ref. B). The seminar was coordinated by the Danish
Institute for Human Rights Studies, which brought in experts
from the United States, South Korea, the United Kingdom and
Eastern Europe to discuss their respective countries'
experiences with capital punishment. At the seminar the GVN
promised to end capital punishment for three crimes right
away, said that it would "consider reducing" the number of
crimes subject to the death penalty to 21 (from the current
29) by 2007, and stated that abolition of the death penalty
is a "long term objective." EU participants did not recall
specifically for which crimes capital punishment would be
abolished, but said they believed that they are economic
crimes. The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) was insistent
that the death penalty is an important tool in its efforts
to combat drug trafficking, however.

6. (SBU) European Commission diplomats commented they were
pleased by the broad range of participation at the seminar,
which included representatives from several government
ministries, and also representatives from thirty provincial-
level departments of justice. They also noted that only the
first two days of the seminar involved foreign involvement,
while the third was for Vietnamese participants only. They
GVN has refused to provide to EU missions a readout of this
final day, but a Dutch diplomat commented that merely having
the closed-door session suggested serious discussions on the
EU-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue

7. (U) On December 9 and 10, the European Union held the
full session of its bi-annual human rights dialogue with the
GVN. The dialogue is held in Hanoi by the EU Troika
Ambassadors at mid-year with only MFA counterparts, and at
the end of the year with representatives from a number of
GVN ministries. Participating in this year's session were
representatives from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs
(MFA), Public Security (MPS), Justice (MOJ) and Culture and
Information (MCI), as well as the Committee for Religious
Affairs (CRA), the Office of the Government and the Ho Chi
Minh Political Academy. In this year's dialogue, the GVN
suggested some future sessions could be held in Brussels.
EU participants demurred, but proposed study trips to the EU
could be arranged around specific issues discussed in the

8. (SBU) Giving Poloff a readout of the dialogue, a Dutch
diplomat recounted that Vietnam chose four topics and led
discussion in all of them, and the EU did the same. The
GVN's first topic was "Vietnam's approach to human rights,"
in which it declared that the Vietnamese Government is
solely responsible for the protection of human rights in
Vietnam. It also accused the EU of holding Vietnam to a
double standard on human rights, saying that the Europeans
had participated in actions "depriving Iraqis of their
freedom," with which the EU ambassadors expressed their
disagreement. Vietnam also led a discussion on the issue of
"discrimination against minorities and migrants in the EU,"
raising specifically the question of Muslim migrants. The
third discussion topic was the issue of "the abuse of the
issue of human rights by some NGOs in the EU," in which it
referred specifically to the support that Italy's
Transnational Radical Party gave to the Montagnard
Foundation (Ref C). Finally the Vietnamese discussed
"detention and treatment of prisoners in the United States
and United Kingdom," in which it again accused the EU of
holding Vietnam to double standards and pointed specifically
to the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib.

9. (SBU) The European Union led a discussion on the
"exercise of fundamental freedoms," in which it focused on
GVN limits on freedom of expression, the media, freedom of
religion and freedom of association. As part of this, the
Europeans specifically requested foreign journalists be
allowed longer-term visas. (Note: Foreign journalists
resident in Vietnam are currently given three-month visas,
and visa renewal is sometimes used by the GVN to pressure
journalists on their story content. End note.) Responding
on this discussion subject, the CRA stated that it had
"developed measures to distinguish between real Protestants
and Dega Protestants," and would now facilitate the
registration of "real" Protestant churches. The MCI stated
that it is trying to strike a balance between "popularizing"
the internet and ensuring that no "incorrect information" is
spread though it.

10. (SBU) On the issue of "ethnic minorities and the Central
Highlands," the EU raised concerns over the number of people
detained after protests last April. In response, the GVN
said that it is "working with the UNHCR to resolve the
problem." On "persons of concern/fair trial/transparency,"
the EU urged Vietnam to ratify the United Nations Convention
Against Torture, urged access to trials by international
observers and requested information on a list of prisoners
previously provided. The GVN provided little response to
this, although the MPS acknowledged that Vietnam's laws are
"not in accordance" with international human rights laws and
that it is "moving to align them." The EU's final issue was
"the death penalty," at which it raised concerns about the
high numbers of people subjected to capital punishment in

11. (SBU) Overall, the Dutch diplomat said that the EU
participants felt that the "whole atmosphere of the dialogue
was better" this year as compared to last December's session
(Ref D). She noted that, this year, the dialogue was a full
day -- it had previously been a half-day only -- that there
was more interaction between the two sides and that the GVN
participants appeared "more confident." She acknowledged,
however, that there had been "no concrete replies" by the
GVN to issues raised by the EU participants at the dialogue.

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