On 30 March 2010, IGE signed an agreement with the Lao government to deepen and expand religious freedom there in a manner that builds social stability and encourages sustainable development.

The accord capped a 10-day trip to Vietnam and Laos through which IGE’s relational diplomacy engaged leaders at the national and local levels.

In the capitals of both Vietnam and Laos, the IGE delegation met with the #1 or #2 leader in the ministries of foreign affairs and public security; the government’s religious affairs department; the academy of social sciences; and the leaders of religious organizations. The American Embassy in both countries held a reception for IGE, highlighting the enduring relationships and practical results that IGE has achieved with both governments over the past ten years.

IGE also traveled to remote provinces in both countries to better understand the local conditions and their impact on building religious freedom. Provincial authorities and religious leaders provided keen insight about the interrelated issues surrounding religious freedom and the training that they needed. In particular, in the Laotian province of Luang Prabang, IGE took note of suggestions that there was a need for training that helped all parties understand that ethnic, state, and spiritual identities were not mutually exclusive. Indeed, it was imperative to better understand that new converts could honor their faith as well as their family and culture.

In every meeting, IGE stressed that a culturally-owned and legally-protected religious freedom was essential to social stability, sustainable development, and the attraction of foreign direct investment. Further, IGE made the case that such a comprehensive understanding and approach to religious freedom would strengthen the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and their country, as well as their integration into multilateral organizations.

Both countries encouraged IGE to introduce them to NGOs that could help on issues of sustainable development; especially, maternal health care, literacy development, and education.

Upon its return, IGE will meet with leaders from the State Department, Capitol Hill, the Pentagon, and the Vietnamese and Laotian embassies to discuss the outcomes of our continuing engagement in Vietnam and Laos.

Please direct all press inquiries to Abigail Skeans at: askeans@globalengage.org.