Viewing cable 01HANOI2088
Title: STAFFDEL REES MEETINGS WITH SRV OFFICIALS ON RELIGIOUS AND MINORITY AFFAIRS

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
01HANOI20882001-08-27 06:11:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Hanoi
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

270611Z Aug 01

2001HANOI02088 - UNCLASSIFIED
 
 
 
                           UNCLASSIFIED     PTQ4485

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ACTION H-01     

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FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 3767
INFO AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 
AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 002088 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PREL PREF PHUM VM HUMANR ETMIN RELFREE
SUBJECT:  STAFFDEL REES MEETINGS WITH SRV OFFICIALS ON RELIGIOUS AND MINORITY AFFAIRS 
 
 
¶1.  (SBU)  SUMMARY.  COUNSEL TO THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON 
INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS JOSEPH REES AND CHIEF OF STAFF 
TO THE HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER BRIAN GUNDERSON MET WITH 
OFFICIALS OF THE GVN'S COMMITTEE ON RELIGION AND THE 
COMMITTEE FOR ETHNIC MINORITIES AND MOUNTAINOUS AREAS 
AUGUST 10, ACCOMPANIED BY POL/C AND HCMC POLOFF, TO 
CONVEY CONGRESSIONAL CONCERNS ABOUT FREEDOM OF RELIGION 
AND THE RIGHTS OF MINORITIES AND TO DISCUSS RECENT 
                       UNCLASSIFIED 
 
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EVENTS.  VIETNAMESE INTERLOCUTERS HEWED TO STANDARD 
REITERATIONS OF THE RIGHTS GUARANTEED UNDER THE 
VIETNAMESE CONSTITUTION ALONG WITH OBSERVATIONS OF THE 
NEED FOR ALL CITIZENS TO COMPLY WITH RELEVANT LAWS. 
THE STAFFDEL REQUESTED RELEASE OF SOME PROMINENT 
RELGIOUS LEADERS AS ACTS OF COMPASSION BY THE GVN. 
SEPTELS WILL COVER OTHER MEETINGS DURING THEIR 
SCHEDULE.  END SUMMARY. 
 
GVN COMMITTEE ON RELIGION 
 
¶2.  (SBU) IN A MEETING WITH CHIEF OF STAFF LE DINH HIET 
AND STAFF MEMBERS, MR. REES SAID THAT RELIGIOUS ISSUES 
IN VIETNAM WERE MUCH ON THE MINDS OF MEMBERS OF 
CONGRESS AS THE US AND VIETNAM CONTINUE THE PROCESS OF 
FULL NORMALIZATION OF RELATIONS.  NOTING THAT THE 
VIETNAMESE CONSITUTION PROVIDES IMPRESSIVE GUARANTEES 
OF FREEDOM OF RELIGION WHILE INCLUDING PROHIBITIONS ON 
USING RELIGION TO INJURE NATIONAL UNITY, HE INQUIRED 
ABOUT THE RIGHTS OF THOSE INDIVIDUALS WHOSE RELIGIOUS 
PRACTICES OR HIERARCHIES WERE DIFFERENT FROM THE 
GOVERNMENT-APPROVED ONES, SUCH AS WITH CERTAIN HOA HAO 
FOLLOWERS. 
 
¶3.  (SBU) MR. HIET DESCRIBED VIETNAM AS A MULTI- 
RELIGION NATION WITH CONSTITUTIONAL GUARANTEES ON 
FREEDOM OF RELIGION WITHIN THE FRAMEWORK OF LAW.  HE 
EXPLAINED THAT USE OF RELIGION TO SPEAK ILL OF OTHER 
RELIGIONS OR THE STATE WAS, FOR EXAMPLE, ILLEGAL AND 
COULD LEAD TO DISUNITY.  HE DESCRIBED HOA HAO FOLLOWERS 
AS ORDINARY CITIZENS WHO COULD FULLY PARTICIPATE IN 
                       UNCLASSIFIED 
 
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VIETNAM'S POLITICAL, ECONOMIC, AND SOCIAL LIFE, AND 
NOTED THAT THE HOA HAO HAD A GOVERNING BOARD OF 11 
PEOPLE WHO HAD BEEN ELECTED BY A HOA HAO CONGRESS IN 
MAY 1999.  WHEN ASKED ABOUT FOLLOWERS WHO MIGHT 
DISAGREE WITH THE SELECTION OF THOSE LEADERS, MR. HIET 
ASSERTED THAT VIETNAMESE CITIZENS ARE FREE TO WORSHIP 
AND FOLLOW THEIR BELIEFS BUT THAT THEIR RELIGIOUS 
ORGANIZATIONS MUST BE LEGAL.  HE REJECTED A 
HYPOTHETICAL COMPARISON WITH MARXIST-LENINISTS IN THE 
US WHO WOULD NOT AGREE TO A LEADERSHIP STRUCTURE 
ORGANIZED BY THE USG. 
 
¶4.  (SBU)  MR. HIET ADMITTED THAT GOVERNMENTAL 
AUTHORITY IN VIETNAM WAS "HIGHER" THAN THAT OF 
RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS BUT CLAIMED THAT THE STATE DID 
NOT INTERFERE IN THE INTERNAL WORKINGS OF RELIGIOUS 
AFFAIRS.  HE NOTED THAT, WHILE RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS 
HAD TO ASK PERMISSION TO HOLD AN ORGANIZATIONAL 
CONFERENCE, THE GOVERNMENT GAVE THAT PERMISSION.  WHEN 
MR. GUNDERSON ASKED HOW MUCH FREEDOM OF RELIGION 
EXISTED IF THESE GROUPS HAD TO ASK PERMISSION OF THE 
GOVERNMENT EVEN TO MEET, MR. HIET CLAIMED THAT EVERY 
COUNTRY HAS RULES GOVERNING THE SETTING UP OF 
ORGANIZATIONS.  HE CLARIFIED THAT THROUGH A 
REGISTRATION PROCESS, THE GOVERNMENT LEARNS THE 
PURPOSES AND PROPOSED ACTIVITIES OF THE ORGANIZATION TO 
ASCERTAIN WHETHER THE ORGANIZATION IS PURELY RELIGIOUS 
OR IF IT HAS POLITICAL AIMS THAT COULD BE HARMFUL TO 
THE COUNTRY. 
 
¶5.  (SBU). MR. REES ASKED ABOUT THE LEADERS OF THE 
                       UNCLASSIFIED 
 
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UNITED BUDDHIST CHURCH OF VIETNAM (UBCV), TWO OF WHOM - 
THICH QUANG DO AND THICH HUYEN QUANG - APPEARED TO HAVE 
BEEN IMPRISONED OR HELD UNDER "PAGODA ARREST" SIMPLY 
FOR THE EXERCISE OF THEIR RELIGION.  HE ASKED THAT, AS 
AN ACT OF COMPASSION, THE GVN RELEASE THEM AND ALLOW 
THEM TO MEET FREELY AND TO TRAVEL FOR NEEDED MEDICAL 
CARE.  MR. HIET REVIEWED THEIR HISTORY, NOTING THAT 
BOTH HAD BEEN CONVICTED BY A COURT IN 1977 FOR SLANDER, 
NOT FOR THEIR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS, BUT GIVEN SUSPENDED 
SENTENCES.  IN 1980, THEY COMMITTED ACTS OF SLANDER 
AGAIN AND WERE TRIED BUT NOT PUT IN JAIL.  IN 1995, 
THEY COMMITTED OTHER SIMILAR ACTS AND WERE TRIED AGAIN. 
HE STRESSED THAT THEY HAD NOT BEEN IMPRISONED FOR 24 
YEARS BUT THAT LEGAL ENTITIES HAD HANDLED THEIR CASES 
AS SPECIFIED BY THE LAW. 
 
¶6.  (SBU)  MR. REES ALSO RAISED THE CASES OF FATHER 
NGUYEN VAN LY AND FIVE HOA HAO LEADERS, AND URGED THE 
GVN TO RELEASE THEM AS AN ACT OF CONCILIATION, WHICH 
WOULD BOTH ELIMINATE NEGATIVE INTERNATIONAL PRESS ABOUT 
LACK OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN VIETNAM AND MARK AN 
ENORMOUS STEP FORWARD.  REGARDING FATHER LY, MR. HIET 
CLAIMED THAT THE CASE WAS NOT ABOUT RELIGIOUS FREEDOM 
ISSUES, THAT THERE WAS NO RELIGIOUS SUPPRESSION IN 
VIETNAM, AND THAT THOSE WHO VIOLATED LAWS WERE SUBJECT 
TO ARREST AND COURT TRIALS.  HE SAID THE CHARGE AGAINST 
FATHER LY WAS BASED ON ARTICLE 269 OF THE CRIMINAL CODE 
FOR ATTACKING OR SLANDERING THE GOVERNMENT.  FATHER LY 
HAD IGNORED WARNINGS NOT TO CONTINUE SUCH SLANDERS AS 
                       UNCLASSIFIED 
 
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WELL AS LIMITATIONS ON HIS TRAVEL. 
 
¶7.  (SBU)  MR. REES ASKED ABOUT REPORTS THAT HMONG IN 
NORTHWEST VIETNAM HAD BEEN PRESSURED TO RENOUNCE 
CHRISTIANITY, AND WHETHER THE COMMITTEE ON RELIGION HAD 
ANY PROCEDURES TO INVESTIGATE SUCH REPORTS.  MR. HIET 
RESPONDED BRIEFLY THAT THE GVN HAD NEVER FORCED ANYONE 
TO GIVE UP HIS RELIGION BUT THAT IF LOCAL OFFICIALS HAD 
DONE SO, THEY COULD BE PROSECUTED AND PUNISHED FOR 
VIOLATING THE LAW PROBHITING DISCRIMINATION BASED ON 
RELIGIOUS BELIEF. 
 
COMMITTEE FOR ETHNIC MINORITIES AND MOUNTAINOUS AREAS 
 
¶8. (SBU)  IN A DISCUSSION FOCUSING ON MONTAGNARDS AND 
THE SITUATION IN THE CENTRAL HIGHLANDS, DIRECTOR 
GENERAL TRUONG HO TO DESCRIBED THE VARIABLE DEVELOPMENT 
OF SOME GROUPS AND REGIONS WITHIN VIETNAM AS WELL AS OF 
VIETNAMESE LAWS.  HE DESCRIBED THE ROLE OF THIS 
COMMITTEE AS DEALING WITH LAWS AND POLICIES OF THE GVN 
REGARDING MINORITIES.  THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY HAS 12 PCT 
MINORITY REPRESENTATION EVEN THOUGH ETHNIC MINORITIES 
MAKE UP ONLY 11 PCT OF THE TOTAL POPULATION.  A COUNCIL 
OF ETHNIC MINORITY DELEGATES ADVOCATES MINORITY 
INTERESTS WITHIN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY.  HE POINTED TO 
PROVISIONS OF THE 1992 CONSTITUTION PROHIBITING 
DISCRIMINATION ON BASIS OF ETHNIC ORIGIN AND ENSURING 
THE EQUALITY OF ALL 54 NATIONALITIES WITHIN VIETNAM. 
HE CLAIMED THAT THE GVN HAD NEVER ENCOUNTERED ANY CASES 
OF SUCH DISCRIMINATION.  HOWEVER, HE NOTED THAT ANY 
ACTS THAT VIOLATE THE LAW OR CAUSE INSTABILITY WOULD BE 
                       UNCLASSIFIED 
 
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PUNISHED.  HE CLAIMED TO HAVE NO INFORMATION REGARDING 
THE REPORTED ARRESTS OF 52-56 MONTAGNARDS INVOLVED IN 
THE RECENT DEMONSTRATIONS IN THE CENTRAL HIGHLANDS, 
ALTHOUGH HE POINTEDLY SAID THAT HE HAD NOT SAID WHETHER 
SUCH REPORTS WERE TRUE OR FALSE.  HE CITED OTHER MEDIA 
REPORTS CLAIMING THAT MONTAGNARDS FELT CHEATED AND 
SPLIT WITHIN THEIR OWN COMMUNITY AFTER THEIR LIVES HAD 
BECOME MORE UNSTABLE AS A RESULT OF THESE 
DEMONSTRATIONS. 
 
¶9.  (SBU)  MR. GUNDERSON INQUIRED ABOUT THE MECHANISMS 
OF THE GVN TO ENSURE THE PROTECTION OF THE RIGHTS OF 
MINORITIES GUARANTEED UNDER THE CONSTITUTION.  MR. TO 
DESCRIBED THAT EVEN THOUGH THE CONSTITUTION PROMISES 
EQUALITY, THE GVN ACTUALLY GIVES EXTRA BENEFITS TO 
MINORITIES, SUCH AS REGARDING EDUCATION, UNIVERSITY 
ENTRANCE, AND, SOMETIMES LIGHTER CRIMINAL SENTENCES. 
THE MINISTRY OF JUSTICE, WORKING WITH THIS COMMITTEE, 
CONSIDERS "TRADITIONAL LAWS" THAT REFLECT LOCAL 
MINORITY CULTURES, EXCEPT IN CASES WHERE TRADITIONAL 
PUNISHMENTS WERE MORE SEVERE THAN GOVERNMENT NORMS. 
 
¶10. (SBU)  MR. GUNDERSON NOTED THAT THE TREATMENT OF 
MINORITIES IN VIETNAM WAS IMPORTANT TO CONGRESS AND 
OTHERS IN PART BECAUSE OF THE INTEREST OF CONSTITUENTS, 
AND THAT THE TREATMENT OF THESE GROUPS SHAPED VIEWS IN 
THE US ABOUT VIETNAM.  MR. TO SAID THAT THE HMONG WERE 
"JUST CITIZENS" WITH THE SAME RIGHTS AND 
RESPONSIBILITIES AS OTHER VIETNAMESE CITIZENS AND THAT 
THE GVN WAS VERY CONCERNED ABOUT MINORITY CULTURES. 
 
                       UNCLASSIFIED 
 
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¶11. (U)  STAFFDEL DID NOT HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO CLEAR 
THIS MESSAGE BEFORE DEPARTURE.  HARTER 
 
                       UNCLASSIFIED