Cablegate: Uscirf Meets with Gvn National Assembly

DE RUEHHI #2033 3380550
P 040550Z DEC 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) On October 22, a delegation of the United States Commission
on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) met with Foreign
Relations Committee Chairman Nguyen Van Son and deputies of the
National Assembly (NA - Vietnam's parliament) to discuss the NA's
oversight and legislative role in protecting religious practitioners
in Vietnam. The Commissioners expressed concern over broad and
vague laws in Vietnam's legal code that give the power of subjective
legal interpretation to the government. Chairman Son said the NA
sought to remove injustice and inequity in Vietnam and agreed that
there is a need for further legal reform. He asked for
understanding that Vietnam is a developing country with limited
resources that still needs 20-30 years to develop its legal system.
End summary.

2. (SBU) National Assembly (NA) Foreign Relations Committee Chairman
Nguyen Van Son, recently returned from a working visit to the United
States, welcomed the United States Commission on International
Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Delegation to the National Assembly HQ of
Vietnam, in Hanoi on October 22. Son told the USCIRF commissioners
that he hoped they would see the significant changes in Vietnam
since their last visit in 2002 and said Vietnam lacked the tools of
mass media so it could not effectively spread the word of its many
changes and successes in recent years.

3. (SBU) USCIRF Chairman Cromartie thanked the Chairman for his
availability during the busy legislative session period. The
Commissioners then asked about ways the NA could hold the police
more accountable in cases of abuses of religious freedom, whether
the Chairman received reporting on such abuse cases, and whether the
Assembly had considered drafting a specific law against religious
discrimination. Son told the delegation that the NA does get
reports but that it had not heard of many abuse cases. He said that
there are laws in Vietnam against discrimination based on religion
and that all violators are punished. He added that the NA wanted to
remove injustice and inequity in Vietnam.

4. (SBU) USCIRF Commissioner Don Argue raised the case of an ethnic
minority child in the Central Highlands who was reportedly denied
admission to a Boarding School because he was a Christian on the
basis of the Ministry of Education and Training's (MOET) Circular 16
of 1997, which gave authority to schools to deny admission to
students from families belonging to "reactionary" religions. Son
was surprised about the case and took the documentation offered by
Commissioner Argue. He said all children in Vietnam had the right
to education, regardless of their religion, and said he would
investigate this particular case. Son said education policy in
Vietnam is set by the central government and this only could have
happened if local level authorities misinterpreted central
government policy. Commissioner Argue expressed concerns about lack
of implementation of the laws at the local level and cases of abuse
by Vietnam's police and security services.

5. (SBU) USCIRF Commissioner Bansal questioned Article 16 of the
2004 Ordinance on Religion and Belief, Vietnam's master law on
religion, which states that religious organizations cannot be
"contrary to the fine customs and habits and the interests of the
nation." Commissioner Gaer said she was struck by Vietnam's broad
and vague common laws that incorporate national security language
that can negate any law. She said this had a negative effect on
national unity and society and, more importantly, these vague terms
could lead to significant abuse. She asked Son who determines
violations of these broad laws.

6. (SBU) Son said the NA facilitated government policies on religion
and would continue to push for their implementation in all of
Vietnam's provinces. He noted that Vietnam is a poor country with
many mountainous and remote regions; this made it more difficult for
the central government to promulgate laws with limited resources.
Since the move to a market economy in the late 1980s, Vietnam has
been trying to build a state based on the rule of law. Son agreed
with the USCIRF Commissioners that Vietnam needs to revise many of
its laws and that many of the current laws were vague. He said
there is currently a backlog of 200 bills and laws, with several
laws drafted but without implementing decrees. The Chairman asked
for patience and understanding, emphasizing that Vietnam is a
developing country, and said Vietnam's legal system still needs 20 -
30 more years to develop.


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