IGE President Chris Seiple spoke today as an expert-witness at a Congressional Human Right Caucus (CHRC) briefing on religious freedom in Vietnam. Sponsored jointly by the CHRC, the CHRC Taskforce on International Religious Freedom (TIRF), and the Congressional Caucus on Vietnam (CCV), the briefing addressed key issues regarding Vietnam’s current climate towards religious freedom, and also examined progress that has been made in Vietnam since its designation by the U.S. Department of State as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) in 2004-2006.

The CHRC briefing was chaired by Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez. Several expert-witnesses testified with Seiple, including:

    Amb. John Hanford, U.S. Department of State;

    Commissioner Leonard Leo, U.S. Commission on International

    Religious Freedom;

    T. Kumar, Amnesty International;

    Nguyen Dinh Thang, Boat People SOS; and

    Sereivuth Prak, Khmer Kampuchea-Krom Federation.

Seiple recently returned from his fifth trip to Vietnam in the past three years. In his written testimony, he described Vietnam as “…a country amidst serious transition and strategic transformation.” He stated that the Vietnamese, from common citizens to government leaders, “…have made the collective decision to not only participate in the world economy, but to join the global civil society as well. In time, I am convinced that Vietnam will be a leader in each.”

Seiple noted that significant economic advances have been made in Vietnam over the past several years, revealing the country’s desire to develop a strong civil society, one that is free from the grinding poverty that has plagued it for so long. He explained that these trends, “…indicate a desire to not let the past—from previous military enemies to failed economic policies—influence the future.”

In his statement, Seiple encouraged a step-by-step approach to religious freedom in Vietnam, and noted that ongoing challenges are not in violation of the 2006 International Religious Freedom Act’s guidelines. Although there is still much work to be done, a series of ordinances, decrees, and guidelines have begun to create “…a new framework for how religion and the state work together for society’s sake.” This framework is unprecedented in Vietnamese history, and Seiple stressed that the promotion of religious freedom at the intersection of culture and the rule of law requires innovative persistence.

Seiple shared with the CHRC that, “…It has been our direct experience at IGE that promoting religious freedom is indeed possible, but only through a relational diplomacy that simultaneously works from the top-down and the bottom-up.” He explained that IGE’s commitment to building relationships across all levels of society has create a much-needed space for dialogue about Vietnam’s desire to move “…toward a legal framework that allows religion and state to peacefully co-exist where both serve society.” He emphasized that is it only through time-intensive relational diplomacy that significant progress can be made.

He concluded by saying that Vietnam is committed to working to “…develop a religious freedom framework and enable an even stronger civil society.” His full statement is available in pdf format.