United States Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520
January 5, 2004

The Honorable Henry J. Hyde, Chairman
Committee on International Relations
U.S. House of Representatives

Dear Mr. Chairman:

We are pleased to provide a report required by Section 702 of the FY 2003 Department of State Authorization Act on the U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue

The report notes our disappointment with the lack of progress made by the Government of Vietnam on human rights.  During the November 2002 dialogue, we made clear to the Government of Vietnam that if we are to continue the dialogues these discussions must lead to concrete results.  We suggested specific actions that the Government of Vietnam could take to illustrate a commitment to positive change in key human rights areas and stressed the need for substantive progress.  Due to the lack of positive results this year, we have not scheduled the next round of dialogue.  We will continue to seek tangible progress on human rights before making any determination about future dialogues.

Thank you for your interest in the human rights situation in Vietnam.  Please feel free to let us know if we can be of further assistance.

Sincerely,

Paul V. Kelly
Assistant Secretary
Legislative Affairs

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Report to Congress on the Government of Vietnam’s Progress Toward Improved Human Rights For the Period December 2002-December 2003

Introduction and Summary

On November 8, 2002, the Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor held the 10th round of the U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue in Washington.  The Department of State has been dissatisfied with the lack of progress from these dialogues in general and specifically with the lack of progress over the past year.  During the 2002 dialogue we made clear to the Government of Vietnam (GVN) that if we are to continue these dialogues, the discussions must lead to concrete results.  The Department specifically described the requirements for this report, suggested specific actions that the GVN could take to illustrate a commitment to progress in key human rights areas, and stressed the need for substantive progress.   Due to the lack of concrete results from the last dialogue, we have not scheduled the next round.   

The areas of progress and/or lack thereof made by the GVN, as stipulated by Congress, are summarized below:

  1. Commercial and criminal codes, including Decree 31/CP
  2. Release of political and religious activists and cessation of surveillance/harassment
  3. Ending official restrictions on religious activity
  4. Freedom of the press
  5. Prison conditions and transparency in the penal system
  6. Rights of indigenous minority groups
  7. Worker rights and cooperation with the ILO
  8. Access to persons eligible for processing as refugees or immigrants

1.  Commercial Codes, Criminal Codes and Administrative Detention Decree 31/CP

The GVN is working on bringing its commercial code into compliance with international standards as part of the implementation of the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA).  Vietnam has developed new laws on foreign investment and enterprise development, a new law on the promulgation of laws that should provide more transparency, and key amendments to the commercial law to bring Vietnam’s legal and regulatory structure closer in line with it’s BTA commitments.  Unfortunately, the 1999 criminal code remains unchanged and we have seen no progress in this area.  Individuals remain detained under Administrative Detention Decree 31/CP, including Thich Tue Sy, Thich Nguyen Ly, Thich Thanh Huyen, and Bui Minh Quoc whose cases we have raised specifically with the GVN over the course of the year.  The GVN reported in the November 2002 dialogue that other countries have joined us in expressing concern over Decree 31/CP and that they intend to review its usefulness.  We are not aware of any progress in this review to date.

2.  Release of Political and Religious Activists and Ending Surveillance/Harassment

We have seen no progress in this area although during the year, the GVN twice provided information on political and religious detainees of concern in response to lists sent by the USG.  Over the course of the year, new prison sentences have been imposed on Pham Hong Son and Tran Dung Tien for peacefully expressing their views, as well as three relatives of imprisoned Catholic priest Father Nguyen Van Ly—Nguyen Thi Noa, Nguyen Truc Cuong, and Nguyen Vu Viet—for having expressed concern about his condition and sharing information with outside observers.  U.S. Embassy and Consulate General observers were barred from observing any of these trials.  In addition Nguyen Vu Binh, Pham Que Duong, Dr. Nguyen Dan Que, and Pham Van Tuong (also known by his former religious name Thich Tri Luc) remain in investigative detention awaiting arraignment.  We remain concerned over the continued surveillance and/or harassment of activists such as Nguyen Lap Ma, Thich Huyen Quang, Thich Quang Do and others.  Thich Huyen Quang of the unofficial Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) enjoyed increased freedom of movement following his March 2003 trip to Hanoi for surgery for skin cancer and held an unprecedented meeting with PM Khai in April.  His deputy Thich Quang Do, who had been detained in his pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City since June 2001, was released in June 2003.  However, in October 2003, following a UBCV assembly that was not authorized by the Government, Vietnamese authorities harassed a UBCV delegation that included Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and deputy Thich Quang Do, and sentenced three senior UBCV monks (Thich Tue Sy, Thich Nguyen Ly, and Thich Thanh Huyen) to 24 months of administrative detention. 

We remain concerned about the prison sentence given to Father Nguyen Van Ly in 2001, though it was reduced from a total of 15 years to 10 years in prison, followed by two years house arrest, in July 2003.  In September 2003, Father Ly’s two nephews and niece mentioned above were sentenced to five, four, and three years imprisonment respectively.  On November 28, 2003, the GVN reduced their sentences; the niece who had been placed under house arrest is free and the nephews should be released by February. 

3.  Ending Official Restrictions on Religious Activity

There has been no progress in this area.  We remain concerned by the detention of numerous religious leaders, as well as church closings, attempts at forced renunciations of faith, and imprisonment of Protestants in the Central Highlands and Northwest Highlands.  We note that the 7th Party Plenum passed new resolutions on religion and ethnic minorities that acknowledge the need for the GVN and CPV to respect human rights and improve conditions for appropriate enforcement of the law.  However, we question aspects of the Plenum’s resolutions on religion, which seem to indicate an intention to further control religious organization and suppress unauthorized religious activities. 

The Government of Vietnam recognizes only six religions – Buddhist, Protestant, Catholic, Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, and Islam.  An official registration process is required for these religions, as well as individual religious denominations and congregations.  The GVN continues to restrict the activities of several religions or denominations, including independent Buddhists, Protestants, Cao Dai, Baha’i and Hoa Hao who lack recognition or have chosen not to affiliate with recognized groups.  Other groups, such as Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Baptists operate in some provinces with fewer restrictions.  GVN officials suggest these bodies may have opportunities to officially register in the future.  The USG continues to express great concern at reports of harsh treatment of unregistered ethnic minority Protestants in the Northwest and Central Highlands.  Reports from these provinces indicate that many Protestants face pressures to renounce their faith, closure of unregistered churches, and the arrest or harassment of pastors.  We received credible reports of the deaths in custody of one Hmong Protestant leader in Lai Chau Province in July 2002, and another Hmong Protestant leader in Ha Giang Province in July 2003.  We also received credible reports of an incident on December 29, 2002, in Lau Chau province, in which a group of what appeared to have been security agents allegedly broke up a church service of Hmong Protestants with some type of pepper spray or tear gas and confiscated their worship materials.  The Department of State continues to press the GVN to investigate these reports, to take measures to end any campaign of this nature, and to bring the violators to justice.

The GVN concurred with the Vatican’s appointment of new Catholic Bishops and did not object to the elevation of Cardinal Pham Minh Man in Ho Chi Minh City.  Several observers have noted that the Catholic seminaries are allowed increased international contact.  In February, a Protestant seminary was allowed to open in Ho Chi Minh City.

4.  Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the press and expression in Vietnam remained limited this year.  Several dissidents listed above were arrested or sentenced this year for peacefully expressing their views on the Internet or via e-mail.  We remain concerned by the GVN regulations on Internet use promulgated by the Ministry of Culture and Information.  We note that the local press has sought to expand reporting, but have been warned by senior officials against reporting too critically or extensively, including on corruption issues.  There appears to have been no essential change in treatment of the foreign press or in the freedom of movement of the Vietnamese or foreign press.  Foreign news, including VOA and CNN are available to Vietnamese by short-wave radio and satellite television, but these mediums are beyond the price range of most Vietnamese.  Some foreign radio stations and web sites are blocked, including Radio Free Asia and the Philippines-based missionary station Far East Broadcasting Corporation, although some broadcasts are audible in Vietnam.

5.  Prison Conditions, Transparency and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

It is difficult to determine whether there has been any substantive change in prison conditions in Vietnam.  Embassy officers were allowed to visit a prison in 2002, but requests during 2003 have not been accommodated.  One foreign diplomat was allowed to visit a prison, and described conditions as not unduly harsh given Vietnam’s economic situation.  Conditions appear to vary by prison.  Some imprisoned activists are reportedly held in solitary confinement.  We have encouraged the GVN to cooperate with the ICRC on prison visits with the goal of improving conditions and transparency in the detention system.  We also continued to urge the GVN to implement the recommendations of the UN Commission on Human Rights’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that remain largely neglected and to issue a new invitation to this UN mechanism as well as others such as the UN Commission on Human Rights’ Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance. 

6.  Respecting the Rights of Indigenous Minorities in the Central and Northern Highlands

This is another area where we have seen no improvement, although the GVN appears to be making efforts to address some land and economic problems of ethnic minorities.  Officials continue to restrict severely freedom of assembly and religion in the Central and Northwest Highlands where there are indications of harsh treatment and religious repression of ethnic minority Protestants.  The GVN uses the separatist agenda of a relatively small number of ethnic minority leaders as a rationale for violating civil and political rights in ethnic minority regions.  The GVN somewhat improved international access to the Central Highlands over the past year, however, all diplomatic visits to sensitive regions remain supervised and controlled.  We will continue to monitor closely developments in regions of concern. 

7.  Respecting the Basic Rights of Workers and Cooperating with the ILO

We have seen some improvement in worker rights in recent years in Vietnam, which is due, in part, to steady increases in GVN cooperation with the ILO.   The ILO officially opened an office in Hanoi on February 17, 2003 and has been expanding its operations.  The U.S. Department of Labor is working on six projects with Vietnam to improve labor conditions, including an HIV/AIDS workplace-based education project.  The ILO and U.N. Development Program are cooperating on a large multiyear technical assistance program to strengthen labor law implementation.  In addition, the 2003 ILO Committee of Experts Report states that the Government of Vietnam has made strides in establishing a state labor inspectorate and to implement labor inspection training (2003 ILC, 91st Session, C. 81).  We believe, however, that more needs to be done if Vietnam is to protect adequately its workers as the economy grows.  We have urged the GVN to respect freedom of association, the right to organize and bargain collectively in trade unions, as well as to continue to work actively to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.  We are closely monitoring the implementation of Vietnam’s new labor law that went into effect on January 1, 2003, and its effect on worker rights.  The old law, drafted with a central role for the Communist Party, was not adequate for a modernizing economy and was in many cases ignored.  Effective implementation of the new labor law will be essential for the modernization of Vietnam’s labor relations system.

8.  Access to Persons Eligible for Processing as Refugees or Immigrants

Cooperation on refugee caseloads showed progress this year, although our access to applicants is still restricted by long-standing GVN-USG agreements that require GVN permission prior to interview.  We routinely communicate directly with refugee applicants by mail, phone, fax, and telex.  This year has also seen passport issuances for a few long-standing Montagnard cases.  Less than 30 cases in various refugee-processing categories remain to be processed.  Within this group a few have not been processed because they still do not have passports, although the number is decreasing slowly.  The others have not completed processing because the applicants themselves have failed to actively pursue their cases.  Most Vietnamese applicants for immigrant visas to the U.S. receive their Vietnamese passports and are processed with few problems.  However, some Montagnard immigrant visa applicants face difficulty obtaining Vietnamese passports.  In particular, one of the first Visas-93 Following-to-Join cases for families of Montagnards resettled out of Cambodia in 2002 is having difficulty getting passports issued. 

Conclusion

We did not hold a human rights dialogue with Vietnam this year, because steps taken were inadequate and did not constitute progress from the last dialogue.  In the November 2002 dialogue Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor J. Scott Carpenter stressed the need to see results on religious freedom and human rights if the dialogue is to be continued.  Both stressed the importance of greater access and transparency on many of these issues such as the need to open trials, provide more information and access to sensitive regions to the international community and allow human rights NGOs to work in Vietnam.  The Department of State will remain vigilant in its monitoring of the human rights situation in Vietnam and will continue to seek tangible progress in improved human rights before any determination is made about future dialogues.