Cablegate: Drl Das Dugan in Hcmc: Human Rights, Religion, Women's

Published: Wed 1 Dec 2004 04:19 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
REF: A) HCMC 1481 B) HCMC 1465
1. (SBU) Summary: Religious leaders and human rights dissidents
told DRL DAS Dugan that despite strict GVN controls, they have
seen improvement in human rights and religious freedom. They
welcomed continued pressure on Vietnam but cautioned against
sanctions. Recognized religious groups planned to test the
provisions of the new Ordinance on Religion. Protestant house
church leaders had concerns over the new law's implications. GVN
officials stressed their commitment to expand gradually human
rights in Vietnam and asked for USG patience. The HCMC Women's
Union outlined efforts to assist trafficked women and sex workers
and to counsel Vietnamese overseas brides, especially to Taiwan.
Dugan welcomed dialogue with GVN leaders, stressed the importance
of human rights and religious freedom to the United States and
urged the GVN to build partnerships with religious organizations
to combat social evils. End Summary.
2. (SBU) DRL DAS Elizabeth Dugan and Senior DRL Advisor Susan
O'Sullivan visited HCMC November 20 to 22 to assess human rights
and religious freedom issues. They met with Deputy Chairman of
the HCMC External Relations Office Le Hung Quoc, five Vice-
Chairman of the HCMC Fatherland Front, Cardinal Man, and a Central
Highlands leader of the recognized Protestant Southern Evangelical
Church of Vietnam (SECV). The DRL team visited a women's shelter
run by the HCMC Women's Union, met with HCMC social activists, and
attended a Protestant House Church service. DAS Dugan also
discussed met with dissidents Father Chan Tin, Dr. Tran Khue and
the wife of Dr. Nguyen Dan Que. They also were the first USG
officials to meet with Buddhist leader Thich Quang Do since his
placement in unofficial "pagoda arrest" in October 2003. (HCMC
1465 and HCMC 1481 report on the status of Dr. Que and on DAS
Dugan's meeting with Thich Quang Do, respectively.)
GVN: "the glass is half full"
3. (SBU) The External Relations Office and the Fatherland Front
noted their commitment to improve human rights. Fatherland Front
officials said they were leading a process of step-by-step
"democratization." However, the GVN's first priority is poverty
eradication and raising living standards. ERO Deputy Director
Quoc said Vietnam has made real progress on human rights over the
past ten years and more will be made in the next five. Patience
and giving Vietnam room to develop is key, they argued. GVN
officials said that CPC designation was unwarranted. While there
are "isolated" problems caused by "uninformed" local officials,
the majority of Vietnamese enjoy greater religious freedom than
Dissidents: CPC Yes, Sanctions No
4. (SBU) Dissidents Tran Khue, Mrs. Tam Van -- wife of imprisoned
activist Dr. Nguyen Dan Que -- and Father Chan Tin thanked DAS
Dugan for U.S. efforts to promote human rights in Vietnam. They
noted that Vietnam has made progress in expanding personal
freedoms over the past 10 years, but much more was needed. Father
Chan Tin was skeptical that the new ordinance on religion would
expand religious freedom. Tran Khue called for greater
transparency in government and for the eventual end to one-party
rule. Mrs. Que thanked DAS Dugan for USG support of her husband
and hoped for his amnesty. (Ref A) Father Chan Tim and Dr. Tran
Khue applauded the USG for CPC designation, but opposed any
sanctions. In a separate meeting, Thich Quang Do of the banned
United Buddhist Church of Vietnam also supported CPC designation,
but opposed sanctions. (Ref B)
SECV and Catholic Church: weighing the new ordinance
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5. (SBU) A Central Highlands SECV leader told DAS Dugan that
conditions for the SECV in the province of Gia Lai were difficult,
although improving. He noted that he was in frequent contact with
the provincial Committee for Religious Affairs (CRA) and other
local officials. This dialogue and the SECV's decision to steer
clear of Montagnard separatism or other "political" demands have
been the keys to progress. The SECV contact said that since
September the local authorities approved opening three churches --
out of six requested -- although one of the three remains mired in
a dispute over the name of the church.
6. (SBU) Calling the new ordinance "difficult for me and the local
authorities," the SECV representative noted that he has held
discussions with the provincial CRA as well as Ministry of Public
Security (MPS) officials from Hanoi on implementation of the law,
which came into effect November 15. He said that the SECV had
been asked by the CRA to detail its plans for compliance. The
SECV has a list of 85 churches and 440 "meeting points" but has
not submitted it to the authorities for registration. The SECV
fears that if registration is denied, the police will use the list
to close "unauthorized" places of worship. In the interim, the
SECV submitted to the Hanoi MPS and local CRA a list of SECV
pastors and officials in the province. The provincial CRA asked
the SECV to remove one of the pastors, claiming a past affiliation
with the Montagnard separatists. Thus far the SECV has refused.
The SECV pastor told us that he also secured a promise from the
Hanoi MPS that they would "reorient the psychology" of local
police officials who remain suspicious of Protestants.
7. (SBU) Cardinal Pham Minh Man, Archbishop of HCMC, told DAS
Dugan that he will reserve judgment on the new ordinance until he
can test provisions that give the Church freedom to ordain and
transfer priests and to participate more fully in charitable and
social services. He told DAS Dugan that because of GVN
restrictions on the Church's charitable activities, a number of
programs have been forced underground. Examples he cited include
a shelter run by nuns for pregnant women, a street children center
and an HIV/AIDS clinic in HCMC. He hoped that a recent GVN
invitation to Catholic nuns to work in GVN HIV/AIDS clinics might
suggest a change in GVN thinking about the Church's role.
Protestant House Churches: On the outside looking in
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8. (SBU) After attending a Protestant house church service in an
outer district of HCMC, DAS Dugan met with Pastor Pham Dinh Nhan
(strictly protect), a leader of the Vietnam Evangelical Foundation
(VEF), an umbrella organization for Vietnam's house churches.
Pastor Nhan welcomed USG efforts to promote religious freedom in
Vietnam. He said that almost all house churches faced periodic
police harassment, although the frequency of harassment has
decreased. The house church that DAS Dugan visited had been
subject of police inquiry 12 times since its creation, but none in
the past year.
9. (SBU) Nhan said that the Ordinance on Religion presented house
churches with difficult decisions. He confirmed that there has
been dialogue with local CRA and MPS officials on how house
churches fit in the new legal framework. The sticking point is
that GVN officials do not wish to recognize the "scattered" house
churches as places of worship. The large number of Protestant
denominations and the lack of a hierarchal structure in the
Protestant community add to the GVN's difficulty in dealing with
the house church movement, Nhan said. Some in the house church
movement fear that the GVN will use the law a pretext to close all
house churches. As a result, attendance at some house churches in
HCMC was down on November 21 -- the first Sunday under the new
law. (Note: Except for the house church of controversial
Mennonite Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang, we have heard of no GVN effort
to close house churches since the ordinance came into effect. End
Women's Center of HCMC: a drop in the bucket
10. (SBU) DAS Dugan visited the Center for Disadvantaged Women and
Children, run by the HCMC Women's Union, part of the Fatherland
Front. The Center is supported financially by AFESIP, a French
NGO. The Women's Union representatives explained that the Center
is a GVN-approved pilot project to help female victims of
trafficking, prostitution and drug addiction. The Center promotes
HIV awareness and distributes condoms to prostitutes, provides
vocational training and helps its clients reintegrate into
society. The programs are run by three "peer" advisors, former
sex workers who are now employed full time by the center.
11. (SBU) In its first two years of operation, the Center had
assisted 52 young women and teenagers -- 19 currently are Center
clients. Of the 52 women assisted by the Center, four were "lured
into prostitution," 17 became prostitutes of their own volition,
18 were victims of sexual abuse, and 11 are "at risk" children
from poverty stricken or abusive homes. Another two young
Vietnamese women were brought to the Center after being found
abandoned in a hotel in HCMC. The two were to be trafficked to
Taiwan, according to the Women's Union officials. The Center
estimates that there are 10,000 to 15,000 sex workers in HCMC.
12. (SBU) The Women's Union representatives told DAS Dugan that in
2004 they had launched a second self-funded initiative -- an
advisory center to counsel Vietnamese women who plan to marry
foreign husbands. The Center has counseled 479 prospective brides
to date. The Women's Union hopes that the Center will be able to
develop the capacity to check the bona fides of foreigners on
behalf of prospective Vietnamese brides. The Union hoped to
minimize tragic situations such as a number of Vietnamese women
who unknowingly were married to disabled South Korean men to be
their caregivers.
13. (SBU) The Women's Union representatives told DAS Dugan that,
from 1993 through May 2004, 41,900 women from Vietnam's
southernmost 13 provinces became overseas brides. The rate of
overseas marriage is on the rise -- some 5,000 per year from
Vietnam's 13 southern provinces in the last three years.
According to the Women's Union, 32 percent married Taiwanese 69
percent married men who were at least 20 years their elder. 80
percent were unemployed prior to marriage and 75 percent had low
education levels -- some were illiterate. Many did not speak
their future husband's language. On average, the brides' families
received 6 million Dong (USD 360) from marriage brokers, according
to Women's Union statistics.
14. (SBU) In her meetings with Vietnamese officials, DAS Dugan
applauded the Women's Union for its efforts but noted that the
needs far exceeded the Union's -- and the GVN's -- limited
resources. She noted that in the U.S. and elsewhere, religious
groups provide support in dealing with difficult social issues.
DAS Dugan encouraged her interlocutors to build stronger
partnerships with Vietnam's religious organizations to tackle
social problems.
15. (U) DAS Dugan cleared this cable.
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