Arlington, VA – (October 11, 2013) – From 24-29 September, an international delegation led by the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE) made its annual trip to Vietnam and Laos to conduct a 10-day training program on religion and rule of law and to build upon its 10+ years of engagement on religious freedom in both countries.
In Vietnam, IGE, in partnership with Brigham Young University and the University of Social Sciences and Humanities-Hanoi at the Vietnam National University, conducted its second ten-day Religion and the Rule of Law Certificate Program in Ho Chi Minh City, from 16-25 September 2013. The first-ever certificate program was conducted in Hanoi last December. Seventy-one scholars, policy advisors, and government officials working on religious affairs from Ho Chi Minh City and other provinces from the Central Highlands and the Mekong Delta participated in the program. The training focused on introducing comparative perspectives and practices on 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 Australia, China, Indonesia, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Spain, United States of America, and Vietnam. IGE’s Dr. Seiple presented, “Living with Our Deepest Differences: Some Observations on a Way Forward, Together”.
The program also included observers from Laos and Myanmar, deepening regional ties among like-minded leaders. The delegation from Laos included officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Lao Front for National Construction’s Department of Religious Affairs. The delegation from Myanmar included one of the most prominent Buddhist monks, the Venerable Sitagu Sayadaw, the founder of Sitagu International Buddhist Missionary Academy, Archbishop Charles Bo of the Catholics Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar, and Dr. Saw Hlaing Bwar, Director of the Myanmar Institute of Theology’s Judson Research Center.
These certificate programs seek to train an emerging generation of scholars, government officials, and religious leaders on international and comparative approaches to religion and the rule of law. The fact that two programs took place in both the north and south of Vietnam within one year indicates the high level of interest and eagerness by the Vietnamese government to explore international standards and practices on policymaking on religion and religious freedom. Equally important, participants engaged in constructive dialogue during the lectures and Q&A, respectfully challenging one another about how best to transition their countries.
Building on the success of the previous programs, IGE and its partners will deepen and expand this safe space for scholarship and training next year in Da Nang (on the coast in the central part of Vietnam). Following the certificate program in Ho Chi Minh City, IGE discussed potential religious freedom projects with the Department of Religious Affairs in Ho Chi Minh City and briefed U.S. Consul General Rena Bitter. The delegation then traveled to Gia Lai province, where it met with Protestant, Catholic, and Buddhist leaders.
During the visit to Hanoi, Dr. Seiple spoke at the “Rich Heritage of Religious Diversity in Vietnam and its Contributions to Vietnamese Society” conference, sponsored by the Delegation of the European Union to Vietnam and the Vietnamese government’s Committee on Religious Affairs. Dr. Seiple stressed the need for demographic surveys on religion, the translation and publication of materials and books related to religion/religious freedom, and the intentional development of local scholars (especially from ethno- and/or religious minorities). He also mentioned the need for a “center of excellence” on religion and the rule of law, in various countries, and within ASEAN as well. IGE also briefed the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear and his team about IGE’s work in Vietnam.
After Vietnam, the delegation traveled to Vientiane, Laos to meet with country partners, government officials, and religious leaders from 27-28 September 2013. Throughout the visit, IGE held candid discussions on the status of religious freedom in Laos with leaders from multiple faith groups, including the Lao Evangelical Church, Catholic Church, Lao Buddhist Association, Islamic Association, and the Baha’i’ Center. During meetings with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Lao Front for National Construction, IGE encouraged the Lao government to continue its work towards improving religious freedom throughout the country and to consider conducting trainings to educate officials and religious leaders on the new Decree 92 after it is revised.
About the Institute for Global Engagement – The Institute for Global Engagement works at the critical intersection of religion and global affairs, building sustainable environments for religious freedom worldwide. Through local partnerships, IGE works transparently to convene, connect, and build consensus among government, religious leaders, and scholars to ensure that all people, of any religion or no religion, have full freedom of conscience and can participate as equal citizens in public life. To learn more about IGE or our various overseas programs, please contact James Chen at firstname.lastname@example.org.