August 28, 2020
The Honorable Mike Pompeo
Department of State
2201 C Street NWWashington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Pompeo:
We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, are writing to recommend that the Department of State apply sanctions in response to the egregious violations of religious freedomin Vietnam, which in most ways are getting progressively worse.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended that Vietnam be designated a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) “ for engaging in systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations, as defined by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).” In a letter dated July 30 to you, Senators John Cornyn and Marco Rubio urged, in addition to CPC designation, that the Department of State impose Global Magnitsky Act sanctions against certain individuals who have committed grave human rights violations. We fully support these recommendations.
While reportedly there have been a few scattered improvements in recent years, the bigger picture is that the already grim situation has worsened. An increasing number of victims who reported human rights violations to UN mandate holders have been subjected to punishment, including being placed under travel ban, detained, beaten, tortured, or vilified in public. Two long-time followers of the Cao Dai Religion, following their meetings with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, have been purportedly excommunicated from their religion by a canonically illegitimate Cao Dai organization that was established by order of the Vietnamese Communist Party. A witness to the beatings of some 30 Catholic women by an organized mob known as Red Flag Association was issued an arrest warrant and the priest who reported the mob received death threats. On the other hand, the victims’ repeated petitions to the police asking for an investigation of the perpetrators have been ignored by the police.
In June, the Political Officer and Political Affairs Advisor at the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) met with over twenty Montagnard Christians during a visit to Gia Lai Province and Dak Lak Province. All those who met with these U.S. officers have been subsequently taken to the police station for questioning. They were ordered to abandon their faith and stop reporting human rights violations. The police threatened them with beating, detention, imprisonment and, at least in one case, death.
Silencing those who reported human rights violations severely hampers any efforts by the international community to assess Vietnam’s compliance with its professed commitments to international human rights standards. In their April 30 communication, two UN Special Rapporteurs expressed grave concern to the Vietnamese Government: “These allegations, if correct, would not only contravene Vietnam ‘s international human rights obligations under the ICCPR, in the sense that they impinge upon internationally-recognized rights of Vietnamese nationals, but they also appear to illustrate a pattern of reprisals against persons who sought to engage and cooperate with United Nations human rights mechanisms or foreign diplomatic representatives.” (Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, 30 April 2020, Reference # AL VNM 2/2020)
With Chinese officials in Xinjiang recently having been targeted for sanctions, Vietnam may come to believe—mistakenly—that its own poor human rights record might be overlooked by the U.S. Government due to geopolitical and economic interests. Applying targeted sanctions against Vietnamese officials would dispel this impression of immunity and be an effective way for the United States both to draw a clear line for religious freedom while encouraging Vietnam to be a more responsible and reliable partner in a future strategic relationship with the United States.
We therefore further call on your good office to apply targeted sanctions under IRFA to government officials responsible for acts of severe persecution against people of faith in the following provinces:
Dak Lak Province: Government officials who are responsible for forced renunciation of faith through harassment, multiple interrogations, torture, imprisonment, denial of medical care, and intimidation of Christians, including many Montagnards (ethnic minorities living in the Central Highlands and other remote, primarily mountainous regions). Since 2013, we have documented 177 incidents of forced renunciation of faith, 8 incidents of torture, 5 incidents of imprisonment, and 2 deaths by torture, all because of the victims’ religious belief and/or practice.
Gia Lai Province: Government officials who are responsible for forced renunciation of faiththrough harassment, multiple interrogations, torture, imprisonment, denial of medical care, and intimidation of Christians, including many Montagnards. Since 2013, we have documented 49 incidents of forced renunciation of faith, 16 incidents of torture, 20 incidents of imprisonment, 15 incidents of beating, and 2 deaths by torture, all because of the victims’ religious belief and/or practice.
Kontum Province: Government officials who are responsible for forced renunciation of faith through harassment, multiple interrogations, torture, imprisonment, denial of medical care, and intimidation of Christians, including many Montagnards; and for demolishing a Buddhist pagoda, denying personal documents to its abbot and threatening his followers. Since 2013, we have documented 29 incidents of forced renunciation of faith, 3 incidents of imprisonment, and 1 incident of demolition of house of worship. By 2018, practically all house churches of the Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ had been forced to cease operations.
Phu Yen Province: Government officials who are responsible for the elimination of an entire religion (An Dan Dai Dao Buddhist Sect) and the arrest, torture and imprisonment of 25 of its leaders and key followers – they are included in USCIRF’s victims list; the confiscation of religious and other property of the An Dan Dai Dao Sect and assets of four sect members who are U.S. citizens; repeated attempts to seize an independent Cao Dai temple serving its congregation in order to transfer it to a government-created sect; ordering followers of the Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ to renounce their faith and threatening them with torture and imprisonment for non-compliance.
Nghe An Province: Government officials who are responsible for the persecution and imprisonment of Catholics calling for environmental justice after the ecological disaster of 2016; use of organized mobs known as Red Flag Associations to intimidate and incite hate speech against entire Catholic parishes and their priests; retaliation against victims and witnesses who denounced the Red Flag Associations and the government officials directing them; travel bans against priests and parishioners who advocated for environmental justice; and forcing Hmong Christians and Vietnamese Catholics to renounce their faith and threatening or punishing those who resisted.
Detailed information of identified perpetrators has been submitted to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and the International Religious Freedom Office at the Department of State. We respectfully request that you take that information into account in determining the appropriate sanctions to apply against individual government officials responsible for egregious violations of religious freedom in Vietnam.
Thang D. Nguyen, PhD
CEO & President
Boat People SOS
Alliance Defending Freedom International
Association for the Advancement of Freedom of Religion or Belief in Vietnam
Buddhist Solidarity Association
Build Human Rights for Montagnards
Campaign to Abolish Torture in Vietnam
Campaign for Uyghurs
China Aid Association
Christian Freedom International
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)
Citizen Power Initiatives for China
Church of Scientology National Affairs Office
Coalition to Abolish Modern-day Slavery in Asia (CAMSA)
Committee for Religious Freedom in Vietnam
Con Dau Parishioners Association Human Rights First
Global Alliance Against Communist Propaganda and Disinformation
Global Women Christian Chamber of Commerce Embassy Ministerial Alliance Sphere
Hoa Hao Buddhist Congregation – Central Overseas Executive Committee
Healing for the Nations
Human Rights First
Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam
International Center on Religion and Justice
International Christian Concern
Junior Sacerdotal Council of Cao Dai Religion
Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice
Minh Van Foundation
Montagnards Stand for Justice
Red Eagle Enterprises
The Alliance for Enlightened Judaism
The International Multi-Faith Coalition
Vietnam Coalition Against Torture
Vietnam Human Rights Network
Vietnamese Women for Human Rights
Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett President, Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and JusticeFormer Chair, US Commission on International Religious Freedom
Kristina Arriaga Former Vice Chair, US Commission on International Religious FreedomCEO, Intrinsic
Rev. Andrew Dzung Nguyen Priest of Benedictine Order, New MexicoCurrently at Thien An Monastery, Vietnam
Duong Xuan Luong Former religious prisoner of conscience in VietnamDallas-Fort Worth, Texas
Pastor A Ga, Montagnard Evangelical Church of Christ Former victim of religious persecution in VietnamRaleigh, North Carolina
Illong Ju, Christian Former victim of religious persecution in North Korea
Hoang Van Pa, Hmong Christian Former Victim of religious persecution in Vietnam
Ksor Sun – Montagnard Christian Former religious prisoner of conscience in Vietnam
Truong Minh Tam, Jurist Human rights advocate, refugee from Vietnam
Surry P. Roberts M.D.Advocate for Montagnards Raleigh, North Carolina
Nguyen Van ChinhMonk of the Benedictine Order Fresno, California