|5/09/2005: Vietnam: Agreement Reached But Results Awaited|
OR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) notes that the agreement announced last week between the U.S. and Vietnamese governments appears to address a number of important religious freedom concerns, but the Commission emphasizes that dramatic actions still need to be taken by Vietnam before CPC designation should be altered. The effect of signing this agreement is the avoidance of more stringent actions available under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), including economic sanctions, required for countries designated as "countries of particular concern," or CPCs. Vietnam was designated a CPC by the State Department in September 2004.
"This was the first diplomatic agreement signed with a CPC country since the passage of IRFA. The use of CPC designation as a diplomatic tool has allowed the two countries to talk seriously about religious freedom issues. However, we note that although some details of the agreement were discussed, the agreement itself is not public and the Commission has not seen it," said USCIRF Chair Preeta D. Bansal. "Moreover, the agreement only signals promises of improvement and not actual measurable progress, and from what has been announced by the State Department, it appears to leave a number of important areas of religious freedom concern unaddressed. The Commission will continue to consult with the State Department and the Congress on the implementation of Vietnam's commitments undertaken in this agreement and calls for the creation of a monitoring mechanism to ensure that the agreement is fulfilled and other issues are resolved."
In the past two months, the government of Vietnam has made several gestures, including the release of prominent dissidents, a directive to stop forcing Protestants to recant their faith, and another to streamline the application process for religious groups registering with the government. These actions were cited by the State Department as evidence of progress. However, important issues appear to remain unresolved or unaddressed in the agreement that had resulted in Vietnam's CPC designation:
Continued Bansal, "Based on the State Department's comments accompanying the release of the agreement, the Commission remains concerned that Vietnam does not appear to have made any commitments or taken positive steps in these important areas of religious freedom concern."