On 9 December, 2011, IGE staff met with the Vietnamese delegation from the Committee for Foreign NGO Affairs (COMINGO) at the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington D.C. The delegation was visiting the U.S. to build relationships with NGO partners in the U.S. and to understand how NGOs work in the U.S.

During the meeting, IGE’s President, Dr. Chris Seiple, expressed IGE’s interest in ongoing collaboration with Vietnam to conduct more Religious Freedom Seminars at the provincial level. Over the past two years, IGE and the Government’s Committee for Religious Affairs (CRA) have worked together in training 1,028 local authorities and religious leaders on religious freedom policies and church registration in the Northwest Highlands. IGE emphasized the need to provide conflict resolution training for religious leaders and government officials (before they engage each other). IGE also discussed how it is important to continue holding Protestant Roundtables where registered and unregistered church leaders meet with government officials in Hanoi. This reconciliation process at the national level is critical to the sustainable success of implementing religious freedom policies in the provinces.

Mr. Vu Xuan Hong, head of the delegation and the president of the Vietnamese Union of Friendship Organizations (VUFO) –a cabinet level position that oversees all of the international NGOs in Vietnam—confirmed the trust and unique friendship between IGE and Vietnam when he said, “Vietnam has no other relationship with an NGO in any country like it does with IGE, and based on our five years of working together, we should continue and do more.” Mr. Hong suggested that IGE develop a white paper that they could sign together that would include religious freedom while broadening out to other human rights issues.

Mr. Vu Xuan Hong also suggested the following:

    Establishing a “hot line” between IGE and Vietnam for immediate communication about any religion-related incidents;
  • Organizing an American multi-faith delegation of religious leaders for a visit to Vietnam to meet with the Prime Minister and President and see Vietnam;
  • Organizing a Vietnamese multi-faith delegation of religious leaders for a visit to the U.S. to learn about religious freedom in the U.S.; and,
  • Creating a strategic plan that reflects this intentional engagement over the next 3-5 years.

Based on Mr. Hong’s suggestion, IGE recommended that religious freedom and human rights work be interwoven into a comprehensive concept of social development. Toward this end, IGE will facilitate development NGOs of all kinds to serve Vietnam in support of Vietnam’s five-year socio-economic development and poverty reduction plans.

Finally, the Vietnamese delegation and IGE discussed Secretary Clinton’s “Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society” (to which Dr. Seiple is a Senior Advisor). He explained that the dialogue is unprecedented, bringing the U.S. government into more routine contact with grassroots organizations globally. Through this dialogue, the U.S. State Department is intentionally exploring how best to codify a process through which it receives input from all of civil society—especially religious leaders—to better form and inform foreign policy.

The delegation was comprised of Vietnamese government officials from: the Vietnamese Union of Friendship Organizations; Vietnam-USA Society; Ministry of Home Affairs; Central Commission for External Relations under the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam; People’s Aid Coordinating Committee (PACCOM); Dien Bien Provincial People’s Committee; Hoa Binh Province Public Security; the Lang Son People’s Committee; and, the Department of Foreign Affairs.