Cablegate: Uscirf Meeting with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dzung

DE RUEHHI #1848/01 3020817
R 290817Z OCT 07





E.O. 12958: N/A


HANOI 00001848 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) On October 23, five commissioners from the United States
Commission on Religious Freedom (USCIRF) discussed human rights and
Vietnam's prisoners of concern with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dzung.
USCIRF members said that Vietnam will not enjoy full religious
freedom until its citizens can freely speak their minds, stating
that many international non-governmental entities and foreign
governments share USCIRF's concerns about the recent crackdown on
political dissent. The PM responded that the Vietnamese
Constitution guarantees freedom of political and religious
expression and that Vietnamese citizens in prison are there because
they "violated Vietnamese laws." USCIRF members reminded the PM
that Vietnam had signed on to several international covenants, such
as the UN Declaration on Human Rights, and that keeping these
individuals in prison for peacefully expressing their political
views violates international norms. International law is a good
reference point for the GVN, but every government has the right to
make its own laws based on its own social, political, economic and
cultural conditions, the PM responded. After pointing to the
positive direction the U.S.-Vietnam relationship is heading, the PM
said he wondered how the United States could "lecture Vietnam" on
human rights given the use by the U.S. of Agent Orange and the
legacy of 2.1 million Vietnamese war dead. He strongly and
repeatedly urged the USG not to impose its values on Vietnam, but
said the GVN remains open to discussing its differences with the
USG. End Summary.

2. (SBU) On October 23, five commissioners from the United States
Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) held
discussions on religious freedom and human rights with Vietnamese
Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dzung. USCIRF Chairman Michael Cromartie
noted President Bush's statement during Vietnamese President Nguyen
Minh Triet's visit to the White House that the Government of Vietnam
(GVN) must do more on human rights if it is to enjoy deeper
relations with the United States. The ability to freely speak one's
mind and practice one's religion is a fundamental right of all
humans, Cromartie said. The GVN has made progress on religious
freedom, but its crackdown on political dissent concerns not only
the USCIRF but other non-government entities and foreign governments
as well. Furthermore, imprisoning those who merely call for
political change goes against international legal norms that the GVN
has signed on to, he said.

3. (SBU) PM Dzung responded by noting the positive direction in
which US-Vietnam relations are heading and that the Vietnamese
people want even stronger ties with the American people. He
acknowledged that differences on human rights remain, but that it
"is important to continue to discuss these differences in an open
and frank manner." The PM said Vietnam has its own laws and
traditions and the GVN does not arrest or imprison its citizens
because of their religious or political beliefs. The right to
political and religious expression is enshrined in the Vietnamese
Constitution, he added. However, if Vietnamese citizens form, or
try to form, organizations that seek to incite people and harm the
State, they are breaking Vietnamese law and will be punished.

4. (SBU) USCIRF Commissioner Felice Gaer followed up by appealing
for the GVN, in keeping with its international obligations, to
release Le Thi Cong Nhan, Nguyen Van Dai, Father Nguyen Van Ly and
any other prisoner of conscience. The PM responded that the GVN is
not "afraid of these individuals" but that they are in jail simply
because they broke Vietnamese law. International law is a "good
reference point" for the GVN, but Vietnam is a sovereign nation with
its own laws. "I fully understand the UN Declaration on Human
Rights, and we always are working to advance human rights in our
country," the PM said. However, the U.S. and other countries do not
have the right to impose their values on Vietnam, he asserted.

6. (SBU) The PM reiterated that Vietnam wants to move forward in its
relations with the United States. However, the USCIRF delegation
was "fixated on human rights" and did not, in his view, have a good
understanding of Vietnam's history and traditions. Becoming heated,
he pointed to the Agent Orange (AO) issue, saying the GVN and
Vietnamese people view it as a human rights issue and citing
statistics on the number of people killed during the war as well as
people affected by AO. He asked if the USCIRF was taking the AO
issue into consideration and whether the United States felt guilt
about the number of people affected by AO. "How can the U.S.
respect itself on human rights given what it did during the war?" he

7. (SBU) USCIRF Commissioner Dr. Donald Argue replied that the war
was indeed tragic, but it is "a new day" in the Vietnam-U.S.
relationship, "so let us move forward." The U.S. does not consider
itself perfect, but is deeply committed to freedom of conscience and

HANOI 00001848 002.2 OF 002


8. (SBU) USCIRF Commissioner Preeta Bansal commended the GVN for
having the foresight in recognizing Protestant groups as separate
entities. She asked if, in that same vein, the GVN would be willing
to recognize Buddhist sects or groups, such as the United Buddhist
Church of Vietnam (UBCV), that want to remain outside the umbrella
of the GVN-sanctioned Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS). She also asked
if the PM would be willing to meet UBCV leaders. The PM replied
that, as the GVN's top leader, he is ready to meet any religious
dignitary who wants to meet. He reminded the USCIRF delegation
that, last year, he met Pope Benedict in Rome and that he holds
regular discussions with Vietnam-based religious leaders. However,
the PM said that he only talks to religious figures who have
followed "the requirements of Vietnamese law" (Note: UBCV leaders
such as Thich Quang Do have consistently called for the end of
one-party rule. End Note).

9. (SBU) The PM asserted that, since the majority of UBCV members
"voluntarily" decided to join the VBS years ago, those who continue
to want a separate UBCV entity should "listen to the majority" who
do not want this. Commissioner Bansal explained that freedom of
belief is "an individual decision," so if only a few people want to
have their own separate religious organization, they should be
allowed to do so. This right is enshrined in international law, she
added. The GVN could send a strong signal about its dedication to
protecting religious freedom by inviting various Buddhist and Hoa
Hao leaders and followers to the VBS-sponsored international "Ve
Sak" (full moon) festival scheduled for next year in Vietnam, she
said. She reminded the PM that GVN treatment of the UBCV and
various Hoa Hao sects is an "important benchmark" in USCIRF's
assessment of religious freedom conditions in the country.

10. (SBU) The PM said that the various sects must obey Vietnamese,
not U.S., laws. He reiterated that Vietnam is a sovereign nation
with its own laws which represent the will of its 84 million people
and will not be dictated to by the United States. "You must respect
our views and perspectives," he said. Bansal emphasized that she
was referring not to U.S. laws but rather international laws that
Vietnam had signed on to.

11. (SBU) The PM asked that the USCIRF avoid "manipulated
information." He said USCIRF members are always welcome to come to
Vietnam to talk to a variety of people about the religious and human
rights situation here. To continue the dialogue on human rights and
religious freedom, the PM urged the USCIRF to come again next year.

12. (U) This cable was cleared with USCIRF Chairman Cromartie.


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