From November-December 2012, IGE visited Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar to affirm IGE’s religious freedom work and deepen partnerships in Southeast Asia.

Vietnam: IGE, in partnership with Brigham Young University and the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Hanoi, co-conducted the first-ever ten day certificate training program on Religion and the Rule of Law, 26 November-5 December. 80 participants learned about comparative religion and the rule of law in Vietnam and other countries around the world. Program instructors included law professors, judges, and political science experts from Belgium, France, Netherlands, United States of America, and Vietnam. The program also included observers from Laos and Myanmar. The certificate program deepens and expands IGE’s previous series of conferences (2006, 2007, 2011) on Religion and the Rule of Law in Southeast Asia.

On 27 November, IGE renewed its partnership with its long-term partner, Vietnam-USA Society (VUS). This new agreement serves as a governing portal through which IGE will conduct various initiatives with partners throughout Vietnam (e.g., The Institute for Religious Studies at the Vietnamese Academy of Social Sciences).

Also during this trip, IGE, VUS, and the Institute for Religious Studies co-conducted the 3rd Protestant Roundtable, which brought government researchers, policy advisors, and Protestant leaders together to discuss “Protestantism and Vietnamese Culture” on 28 November. This 3rd roundtable provided a unique space for candid discussion between the government and the Protestant community about the Protestant faith’s positive contributions to Vietnamese society, the challenges to traditional beliefs, and religion-related policies in Vietnam. The roundtable is part of an ongoing dialogue that facilitates a national reconciliation between the government and the Protestant community.

IGE’s President Dr. Chris Seiple and the Pew Forum’s Dr. Brian Grim, both of whom taught at the above certificate program, also made presentations to Vietnam’s diplomats, officials working on religious affairs, and professors at the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam. Dr. Seiple shared about the work of the Religion & Foreign Policy Working Group of the U.S. Secretary of State’s Federal Advisory Committee regarding the “Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society,” and Brian Grim presented his research on “faith and global issues.”

U.S. Embassy in Hanoi where Ambassador David Shear celebrated the signing of the new agreement and IGE’s efforts in Vietnam, including the religious freedom and conflict resolution seminars completed just prior to the certificate program.

Laos & Myanmar: From 29-30 November, IGE met with top leaders at the Lao Front for National Construction (LFNC), the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Justice. At these meetings IGE congratulated Laos for its work on conducting religious freedom and peace-building training seminars. This year, IGE and the LFNC conducted 14 seminars and trained over 759 government officials and religious leaders. During meetings with government officials, IGE encouraged Laos to continue its work towards improving religious freedom throughout the country and to revise Decree 92. In August and September, at the request of the Lao government, IGE facilitated three “Decree 92 Feedback” seminars. These seminars enable government officials to hear what religious minority group leaders believe should be revised and clarified in the decree. IGE and its Lao country partners are hopeful that the revised Decree 92 will be ratified into official law of the Lao P.D.R. in the near future. 

In addition to these meetings, Dr. Chris Seiple met with key religious leaders from Muslim, Christian, and Baha’i’ faith groups. The religious leaders discussed the challenges and improvements to religious freedom for their faith group. He did the same in Myanmar, meeting with Buddhist, Christian, and Muslim leaders. Dr. Seiple was greatly encourage by the people of Myanmar and their vision for the future.