Cablegate: Foreign Minister Engages Donor Ambassadors On Human Rights

DE RUEHHI #2019/01 3340716
R 300716Z NOV 07




Department for EAP/MLS

E.O. 12958: N/A

REFS: A) HANOI 1993; B) HANOI 2005; C) HCMC 1065

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1. (SBU) Summary: In a November 28 meeting, ambassadors from key
donor countries engaged Deputy Prime Minister/Foreign Minister Pham
Gia Khiem in an exchange on human rights issues. Discussion at the
event, hosted by DPM Khiem, focused largely on the recent appellate
hearing of two human rights lawyers (Ref A) and other recent
arrests. Khiem called for continued "dialogue" on human rights
issues, welcomed cooperation in addressing governance and corruption
issues, pledged further progress on religious freedom and encouraged
more diplomatic travel to the provinces. He also shared information
on the ASEAN Charter and the recent trip to Vietnam by UN Burma
Envoy Gambari (Ref B). End summary.

2. (SBU) On November 28 Deputy Prime Minister/Foreign Minister Pham
Gia Khiem hosted a lunch for ambassadors from donor countries billed
as a "pre-Consultative Group" exchange (ahead of the annual
Consultative Group meeting to be held December 6-7 in Hanoi). The
event, by design, provided a forum for a dialogue with the GVN on
human rights, governance, rule of law and related issues.

3. (SBU) After brief opening remarks by DPM/FM Khiem in which he
simply said he wanted to hear views and questions, UK Ambassador
Robert Gordon led off. He thanked DPM/FM Khiem for continuing the
tradition, started last summer in Ha Long Bay, of an informal lunch
with the Consultative Group Ambassadors to discuss "sensitive
issues" like human rights. Ambassador Gordon said the recent
appellate hearing of human rights lawyers Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi
Cong Nhan (Ref A) was a real improvement over their lower court
trial. The defense lawyers were able to make many important points,
an indication that, in some ways, Vietnam is opening up.

Ambassadors Express Concern about Human Rights
--------------------------------------------- -

4. (SBU) Ambassador Gordon went on to say, however, that his
government was still unhappy about the arrest of persons for
peacefully expressing their political views and called for the
release of the lawyers. He asked the GVN to review its policy
restricting the peaceful expression of political views with an eye
towards allowing free expression. He ended by acknowledging the
GVN's cooperation during the recent visit by the U.S. Commission on
International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and said that, although his
was a mixed review with some good and some bad points, there did
seem to be some progress being made.

5. (SBU) Swedish Ambassador Rolf Bergman then mentioned that he was
hearing from many people in Sweden concerned about the recent
arrests of political activists; in fact his Minister for Development
had called him that morning for a report on the recent arrests and
on the appellate trial of the two lawyers Dai and Nhan. Ambassador
Bergman also had positive things to say about the ability of defense
lawyers to state their case during the appellate hearing, but
requested that the lawyers be freed immediately, adding that all
political activists should be freed.

6. (SBU) Ambassador Michalak supported these points, underscoring
the USG stand on freedom of expression, saying that there was also
great interest in the United States about the fate of Dai and Nhan.
He noted there is legislation pending in Congress on human rights in
Vietnam. He also acknowledged that the defense lawyers for Dai and
Nhan were allowed to express their views freely, and echoed their
criticism of Article 88, a vague provision which prohibits speaking
out against the State, pointing out that many in the GVN were also
calling for an elimination or updating of that article. Ambassador
Michalak noted that we were asking for consular access to the
Americans in detention and again called for their immediate release.

7. (SBU) Ambassador Michalak then turned to Vietnamese statements
promising reform in the areas of general concepts aspects of good
governance, transparency and anti-corruption. He expressed U.S.
interest in aiding the GVN in addressing these issues, noting that
they have important economic implications and would help make
Vietnam a more open society.

DPM/FM Khiem's Response on Human Rights

8. (SBU) DPM/FM Khiem responded saying that anti-corruption efforts
and human rights were issues that would likely be with us for some

HANOI 00002019 002.2 OF 003

time. The most important thing, he continued, was to continue
having a dialogue on these issues. Khiem spent some time
documenting some of the positive things that the GVN had done in
Human rights and religious freedom, noting that over the past six
months, the GVN had held human rights dialogues at the vice minister
level with the United States, the European Union, Norway, Australia
and Sweden.

9. (SBU) Last year was a very good year for visits of diplomatic
staff to meet with church groups, religious leaders and other
community leaders in many provinces, including one province that had
over a hundred visits, Khiem said. He noted that the amnesty
programs had released 8,000 prisoners in the September amnesty and
700 prisoners during the Tet amnesty; of these, there were 13
foreigners and many released in both amnesties had been incarcerated
for having committed national security crimes against the GVN.

10. (SBU) Khiem added that the GVN would continue to build upon the
progress made in the area of religious freedom; to date hundreds of
religious groups had been licensed, 14,000 pagodas built, 500
evangelical churches, 600 non-evangelical churches, and 1,000 Cao
Dai places of worship. He also noted that Vietnam would host an
international Buddhist meeting in 2008 that would be attended by
5,000 believers. The GVN's relations with the Vatican were
improving, including a visit by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung with
the Pope in January. Khiem said he wanted to continue the dialogue
and to hear how the GVN could improve on these accomplishments.

Further Progress Needed

11. (SBU) Ambassador Michalak reminded Khiem that there were still
hundreds of house churches waiting for GVN approval, mostly in the
Northwest provinces, and urged that the GVN look at speeding up the
process for these approvals. Dutch Ambassador Andre Haspels held
there was a need for progress in political reform to match the
progress in economic reform. He noted that the Law on Associations
had gone through multiple drafts and still had not been passed. The
law was intended to promote NGO's and the formation of a civil
society and was sorely needed.

12. (SBU) Canadian Ambassador Gabriel Lessard noted the arrests of
activists before and after APEC as well as recently and called for
the release of such detainees. He noted that Canada makes a
distinction between political rights and religious rights and
acknowledged some progress on religious rights in Vietnam. He said
that Article 88 was "creating stars" since without it many of the
activists that were getting headlines for being arrested would be
obscure lawyers. He urged the GVN to make its legal system
compatible with Vietnam's obligations under international
conventions and treaties to which it was a signatory.

13. (SBU) Swiss Ambassador Jean-Hubert Lebet said they had a good
human rights dialogue with the GVN, tough but frank and open and
conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect. He thanked the GVN
for their help in arranging a recent trip by the so-called G-4
(Switzerland, New Zealand, Canada and Norway) to the Central
Highlands and urged that the GVN continue to let people visit all
provinces to see the reality on the ground. There has been progress
in religious freedom, but the situation varies greatly from province
to province. Rule of Law and Judicial reform are crucial to the
further development of Vietnam, he said. The current system does
not work and legal reform needs to be moved up in priority.

ASEAN Charter/UN Envoy on Burma

14. (SBU) The Dutch Ambassador congratulated the DPM on signing the
ASEAN charter and noted that there were two articles in it concerned
with human rights. Khiem said that the Charter was a landmark and
went through some of the mechanics, e.g., "three pillars," a
committee to oversee each pillar and a human rights committee. The
Charter is to be ratified within one year, with Terms of Reference
for the human rights committee to be worked out simultaneously with
the ratification process so that the whole mechanism would be ready
to go at the end of 2008.

15. (SBU) When asked about the recent visit to Vietnam of UN Special
Envoy on Burma Ibrahim Gambari (Ref B), the DPM said the GVN
received a briefing on the state of UN-Burma cooperation and that
Gambari sought the views of the GVN. The GVN had already
recommended to Burma that they take concrete steps to implement the

HANOI 00002019 003.2 OF 003

seven point roadmap to democracy; that they release all protesters
and that they conduct a dialogue among all parties including ASSK.
Khiem said the GVN told Burma that it should cooperate with Gambari,
ASEAN and others to come to a resolution of current issues.

Importance of Diplomatic Access to the Provinces
--------------------------------------------- ---

15. (SBU) DPM/FM Khiem reiterated his welcome to diplomats to "see
for themselves" by traveling to the provinces. He said the GVN
wished to make such trips more open and productive. Khiem's guests
took him up on his offer to hear of any problems in this regard.
The UK Ambassador responded that, in Dien Bien Phu, his Political
Counselor had been denied permission for some visits. Ambassador
Michalak added that we had protested a very unusual case of
harassment of our consular officers by the GVN and told the DPM he
could get the details of the unpleasant and potentially dangerous
incident from his staff (Ref C).

17. (SBU) Norwegian Ambassador Kjell Magne Storlokkens said he and
his colleagues from the UK and Switzerland were denied permission to
go to the Delta to investigate Khmer issues. He noted that, if
embassies are not allowed to gather information for themselves, they
would have to rely on "other sources" such as NGOs that had their
own agendas. The DPM looked a little nonplussed by the number of
responses to his supposedly innocent question and said that these
were probably "technical issues."

18. (SBU) The lunch ended with expressions of mutual appreciation
for the open exchange and pledges to keep up the dialogue. The full
Consultative Group meeting will be held December 6-7 in Hanoi.


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