The Institute for Global Engagement began its work in the Lao PDR in the late 1990s and has been in partnership with the Lao Front for National Construction and its Department of Religious Affairs in creating a sustainable environment for religious freedom.
In 2002, the Lao Prime Minister's Decree 92 was issued, defining rules for religious practice and the role of government in permitting religious activities. Though this has led to increased tolerance in some areas, it has also been used to restrict religious practices in other places. With a decentralized government in a difficult geography, local level harassments of minority religious and ethnic groups, especially Protestant churches, have become the most prevalent problem.
To promote sustainable religious freedom that is culturally owned by the Lao people and government, IGE's regional diplomacy pursues a top-down and bottom-up approach in order to promote religious freedom over the past ten years. In their 2010 religious freedom report, The State Department said, "We welcome the Lao government's written agreement with the Institute for Global Engagement to provide training on religious freedom for government officials and religious leaders."
Ambassador Robert Seiple first opened a relationship with the Lao government in 2000. However in 2002, several religious minorities were imprisoned.
That year IGE reached out to the Lao government by hosting a delegation of Lao religious and government leaders in the U.S. Following this visit, several of the Lao prisoners that were being held for religious reasons were released.
In 2004, Ambassador Seiple was asked to be the keynote speaker at the Religious Freedom conference in Laos. This conference was the first of its kind in a Communist state.
As relationships deepened, delegations of high ranking Lao government officials were participating in regional Religion and Rule of Law (R&ROL) conferences co-sponsored by IGE. In 2007 they attended the Conference in Hanoi and in 2008 they traveled to Beijing. After attending the recent 2011 R&ROL conference in Hanoi, Lao government officials expressed their interest to host the next conference in 2013.
In March 2010, IGE President Dr. Chris Seiple met with the Foreign Minister and the Vice Minister of Public Security, one of the most powerful governmental agencies in Laos. The government directly requested that IGE sign an agreement with the Lao Front for National Construction (LFNC), providing a road map for IGE and LFNC to collaborate on religious freedom progress in Laos through additional seminars on religious freedom and the proper implementation of Decree 92. As another sign of trust, in 2011 LFNC requested IGE to help with facilitating feedback from grassroots level religious leaders on the revision of Decree 92.
Through IGE's work, Lao Christian leaders and local government officials have the opportunity to participate in Religious Freedom/ Decree 92/ PM seminars that focus on the laws and policies of the Lao government to protect and implement religious freedom. The seminars help religious leaders understand how to incorporate faith into their civic responsibility. These discussions aim to demonstrate how Christianity can be authentically integrated into Lao society and culture while maintaining its prophetic edge.
In 2011, IGE signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) to conduct "Peace-Building" seminars to educate LFNC staff, local religious leaders, and other government officials about peace-building and to provide methods for resolving conflict.
Through IGE's programs, in Laos:
- Provincial and District level government officials are becoming aware of the need to faithfully implement Laos' law and policy that secures religious freedom for its citizens;
- Minority religious leaders and government officials are meeting face to face and building relationships that have built trust;
- Key Lao government leaders have been exposed to a variety of models of government law and policies from around the world that designed to secure religious freedom;
- Key religious leaders are learning to contextualize their faith in more appropriate ways to the Lao social and cultural context; and,
- Religious leaders and local government officials are educated and equipped with peace-building skills and methods for resolving future conflicts.
For additional information, please contact: Dr. Stephen Bailey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703.527.3100. For photos of IGE's work in Laos, please click here.