Cablegate: Uscirf Meets Hcmc Gvn: Deputy Party Secretary Dua

DE RUEHHM #1193/01 3381112
P 041112Z DEC 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

HO CHI MIN 00001193 001.2 OF 002

1. (SBU) The USCIRF's meeting with Deputy Party Secretary Nguyen
Van Dua on October 25 explored the reasons for implementing a
legal framework on religion in Vietnam, with the CIRF
questioning whether the law is a tool for freedom or control,
and the Secretary justifying the need to protect Vietnam's
citizens from "dishonest people." Dua affirmed that Vietnam's
citizens can practice religion freely and invited CIRF to report
abuses to his office directly. Dua also put the confiscated
church property issue in the broader context of land rights use
and development priorities in Vietnam, noting the GVN is working
to resolve the land rights "disorder" that is a continuing
legacy of years of conflict.

Free Market for Religion
2. (SBU) As with HCMC People's Council Chairwoman Thao (septel),
Commissioner Cromartie commended Vietnam for being a freer place
than it was three years ago, but asked Deputy Party Secretary
Dua to expand religious freedoms further. Cromartie linked
economic prosperity with social and political freedoms, noting
their interdependence in fostering a free society. Commissioner
Argue said just as Ho Chi Minh City leads Vietnam in the area of
economic growth and reform, HCMC should lead the country by
fostering this same entrepreneurial attitude toward religious
freedom. Commissioner Argue said "strong religious
organizations will produce strong families and leading
citizens." Dua responded to calls for HCMC to lead Hanoi on
religious freedom issues by affirming Hanoi's lead on religious
-- and all other -- policy in Vietnam, but said that leaders in
both cities often exchange views on Vietnam's economic and
social development priorities, including religious freedom
issues. In response to Commissioner Argue's comments about the
role of religion in building strong families, Dua relayed the
story of his own mother, whom he described as a devout Buddhist,
and the fact that she remained active in her temple even though
Dua himself is both a non-believer and communist party official.
When his mother passed away, Dua added, he followed all
Buddhist traditions in arranging her funeral and memorial

What's This Ordinance For, Anyway?
3. (SBU) Many Commissioners voiced concerns about whether the
legal framework was aimed at enhancing or controlling religious
freedoms, citing slow registrations, failure to recognize
certain religious groups, and reports of provincial officials
requiring lists of church followers -- lists that are then used
to pressure followers to abandon their beliefs. Others raised
concerns about vague language in the ordinance that could be
interpreted restrictively, with Commissioner Bansal referring
specifically to one provision that states "it is acceptable to
worship as long as this worship propagates views in line with
this nation's fine traditions."

4. (SBU) Dua responded by saying each country had its own
cultural and societal values, and the CIRF looked at religious
activities in Vietnam from their own unique perspective. Dua
said the GVN issues guidelines with the intent to enhance the
development of society and respond to the needs of the people
and the legal framework on religion was enacted because religion
is so important to many Vietnamese people. He stated that
Vietnamese law ensures the right to follow a particular religion
as long as that religion operates within the law. Responding to
concerns about "vague language," Dua once again replied that the
language only seemed vague when viewed outside its cultural and
social context; he assured commissioners that within the
Vietnamese tradition of reverence for family and social order,
the meaning of the rules are quite clear.

A Cautionary Tale
5. (SBU) Dua justified the need for a legal framework by
recounting a fable about a man who claimed he had been possessed
by a spirit and could cure disease. The man went around giving
people unclean water as his "cure," which only made them more
ill. Dua said it would be illogical to allow just anyone to set
up a religious organization in Vietnam without the government
ensuring the organization's good intentions. Dua compared the
process for registering a religion to the process for
registering a corporation or any other legal entity, noting the
need to ensure order and protect the public from "dishonest
persons." Dua said just as a business license can be revoked
for illegal behavior, religious organizations that do not work
in accordance with the conditions of their license could
theoretically have their licenses revoked by the issuing body.
Dua was quick to add, however, that he had never heard of any
religious group getting its license revoked. He affirmed that

HO CHI MIN 00001193 002.2 OF 002

Vietnamese people can carry out normal religious activities
without fear of government intervention. Dua encouraged the
CIRF to reach out to more religious groups in order to get a
broader perspective of religious practice in Vietnam.

6. (SBU) Responding to the CIRF's concerns about registration
leading to harassment, Dua agreed with CIRF's position that
religious groups should not be required to submit lists of the
names of adherents. He noted the legal framework only requires
three conditions for registration: groups must provide the name
of the venue they will worship at, the size of the congregation,
and the names of the group's leaders. Any requests beyond those
are not authorized under the legal framework and thus not
permitted. Dua invited USCIRF to report any abuses in which
religious groups in HCMC were required to submit lists of
followers to his office.

Dua on Land Rights
7. (SBU) Like HCMC People's Council Chairwoman Thao, Dua assured
the CIRF that land that was formally "given" to the GVN by
religious organizations will be used in a manner consistent with
the wishes of the religious group that gave it, while "borrowed"
properties would be returned. Dua said the history of Vietnam
is colored by its struggle for independence, and that this
struggle induced "disorders" in land and property rights. Dua
said these "disorders" are not limited to religious
organizations, but affect many individuals and groups in
Vietnam. Dua said Ho Chi Minh City has implemented new policies
aimed at stabilizing land usage and the People's Committee is
considering the land needs of HCMC's religious organizations.
Dua acknowledged the GVN still needs to figure out a way to
return the land to avoid future "disorders."

Comment: Not Quite Seeing the Light
8. (SBU) The CIRF's line of questioning pointed out the
dual-sided nature of the legal framework on religion in Vietnam.
Many religious leaders here laud the new freedoms their
congregations now enjoy and are cautiously optimistic about
further reforms. But several pastors have noted the law's
limitations by comparing the GVN to "a parent giving a child one
piece of candy at a time." Dua's defense of the legal framework
on religion as a means to protect Vietnam's citizens from
"dishonest people" has also been voiced by other GVN officials,
including the head of Protestant affairs for Southern branch of
the National Committee on Religious Affairs (CRA). While the
GVN is making concrete progress on improving religious freedom
conditions in practice, the GVN's skeptical attitude towards
religious groups--as well as other civil society
organizations--will take longer to evolve.

9. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.

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