U.S. continued to exclude Vietnam from the 2015 CPC list in the Annual Human Rights Report - An apparent admission for Vietnam's religious freedom

23/04/2016


On April 14, 2016, the U.S. State Department issued its 2015 Human Right Report which is once again biased and fails to provide accurate overview of the execution of human rights in Vietnam. But if noticed, we can see there is a positive sign that the U.S. did not classify Vietnam as a Country of Particular Concerns (CPC). The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent commission, each year makes recommendations to the State Department regarding countries that routinely violate religious freedoms. This year State would re-designate Burma (Myanmar), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan; and would “for the first time [designate] Tajikistan as a Country of Particular Concern. For another consecutive years, Vietnam has been sorted out of the list as an acceptance of Vietnam’s record of religious freedom.
Country of Particular Concern is a designation by the United States Secretary of State (under authority delegated by the President) of a nation guilty of particularly severe violations of religious freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998 (H.R. 2431) and its amendment of 1999 (Public Law 106-55). The term "particularly severe violations of religious freedom" means systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom, including violations such as: Torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; Prolonged detention without charges; Causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction or clandestine detention of those persons; or other flagrant denials of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons. Nations so designated are subject to further actions, including economic sanctions, by the United States.
And, unfortunately, the U.S. had many time before misunderstood about Vietnam’s situation of religious freedom and listed Vietnam as a CPC. But from 2013 when Vietnam has made obvious achievements of promoting religious freedom, the U.S. now must admit and exclude Vietnam from the list.
Yes, religion in Vietnam today looks markedly different than it did 40 years ago. This is the message we repeatedly heard from many foreigners who visited Vietnam in recent years. Vietnamese faithful conveyed how religious freedom has expanded in the last four decades for international understandings.
The Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam formally allows religious freedom. Every citizen is declared to be allowed to freely follow no, one, or more religions, practice his or her religion without violating the law, be treated equally regardless of his or her religion, be protected from being violated his or her religious freedom, but is prohibited to use religion to violate the law.
The status of respect for religious freedom improved significantly and quickly in Vietnam. Compared to previous years, the government continued to ease limitations on restrictions placed upon Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, Hòa Hảo, Bahá'í, and Caodaists. The government nationally registered the Bahá'í faith in March 2007, and the organization would be eligible for national recognition in 2008. Much of the change came from stronger implementation of significant revisions to the legal framework governing religion instituted in 2004 and 2005 and a more positive government attitude toward Protestant groups. Many recognized and unrecognized religious groups, especially Protestant groups in the Central and Northwest Highlands regions, reported that the situation for their practitioners continued to improve overall. In addition, the central Government continued to actively train, inform, and encourage provincial and local authorities to comply with regulations under the legal framework on religion.
The Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam (SECV)-ffiliated churches and house churches generally reported improved conditions in the Central Highlands provinces of Đắk Lắk, Gia Lai, Kon Tum, and Đắk Nông. At least 45 new Protestant SECV congregations "meeting points" in the Central Highlands and Bình Phước Province were registered or recognized. Most SECV congregations and meeting places in the Central Highlands were able to register their activities with local officials and allowed to operate without significant harassment. For example, hundreds of places of worship were allowed to operate in Gia Lai, effectively legalizing operations for tens of thousands of believers in the province. The SECV also opened a number of new churches in Gia Lai, Đắk Lắk, and Đắk Nông Provinces. In addition, the SECV continued to conduct Bible classes in these provinces to provide training to preachers in the region, allowing them to receive formal recognition as pastors. Ordination of new pastors is a key step in the formal recognition of additional SECV churches. Gia Lai authorities also facilitated the construction of a new SECV church in Chư Sê District.
Officials in most of the northern provinces acknowledged the presence of Protestants and stated that, in keeping with the government's instructions, they planned to expedite registration of some congregations. Attendance at religious services continued to increase during the period covered by this report. The number of Buddhist monks, Protestant pastors, and Catholic priests also continued to increase. Catholics across the country were allowed to celebrate Christmas, Easter and many rituals without interference.
The Government maintained its regular, active dialogue with the Vatican on a range of concerns, such as diplomatic normalization, Church leadership, organizational activities, and interfaith dialogue. Catholic and Protestant groups reported that the government continued to restore previously owned properties. The Government continued to publicize its new policy of religious tolerance through the organs of the state. The CRA continued to train more provincial propaganda cadres from the Northwest Highlands to disseminate information on religion to reduce societal tensions arising between followers of traditional ethnic minority beliefs and Protestant converts.
          In order to better understand the current situation, many U.S. delegations have visited Vietnam like delegation from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and given independent policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of state and Congress. What the delegation learned may have become part of the commission’s official findings for example, in this CPC list. The Annual Human Rights Report 2015 of the US Department of State has acknowledged Vietnam's achievements in ensuring human rights. Vietnam’s consistent policy is to respect and promote people’s fundamental rights. The country’s tremendous achievements in ensuring and improving human rights over recent years have earned recognition from the international community./.
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