■ Paris, 24.2.2016 (VCHR) – The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) described a pattern of grave violations of religious freedom in Vietnam at the Asia Pacific Religious Freedom Forum (APRFF), a high-level gathering of international personalities and organizations engaged in the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief.
The Forum, held in Taoyuan, Taiwan, from 18-21 February 2016, was organized by the Democratic Pacific Union, led by former Taiwanese Vice-President Annette (Hsiu-lien) Lu and the US-based China Aid, presided by activist and former political prisoner Bob Fu. Over 100 religious leaders, legislators, government representatives, journalists and civil society activists from 27 countries around the world took part in the APRFF, which is the first organization of its kind to bring together such a wide range of international personalities and organizations to discuss strategies to protect and promote religious freedom in the Asia Pacific region and beyond.
International participants included Commissioner Katrina Lantos-Swett of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), Members of Parliaments from Taiwan, Indonesia, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, the Netherlands, Israel and European Union, with video messages from the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Prof. Heiner Bielefeldt, and US Congressman Christopher Smith.
“By bringing together so many influential international and regional specialists, the Forum provided a rare opportunity to work together and exchange ideas, and opens new perspectives to advance religious freedom and collectively address the serious violations of this freedom confronting Asia and the Pacific region”, said Võ Trần Nhật, VCHR Executive Secretary, panelist at the event.
In his presentation, Võ Trần Nhật described how Vietnam, rather than seeking to promote freedom of religion or belief, has set up an elaborate system of restrictions and controls aimed at draining religious freedom and human rights of their very substance. Of particular concern, he said, was the new draft “Law on Belief and Religion” currently under debate in Vietnam’s National Assembly (5th Draft), which grossly contravenes the rights enshrined in Article 18 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Vietnam is a state party.
|Participants of the APRFF, including Katrina Lantos-Swett
next to Annette Lu, and Võ Trần Nhật on the front row
Võ Trần Nhật also unveiled the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights’ new report entitled: “Freedom of Religion or Belief in Vietnam: State Management of Religions.” The report analyses the new draft Law as well as other religious legislation in Vietnam, and demonstrates that they are designed to impose state control and turn religions into tools of the Communist Party. Religious communities refusing to submit to its dictates risk harsh persecution.
The VCHR report contains an important section on Vietnam’s policy of “stealth repression” against non-recognized, independent religious organizations such as the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), or its affiliated “Buddhist Youth Movement”, which are subjected to pervasive harassments, travel restrictions, Police surveillance and economic sanctions. It described the case of UBCV Patriarch Thích Quảng Độ, 2016 Nobel Peace prize nominee, subjected to diverse forms of detention (internal exile, prison and house arrest) over the past 30 years on account of his peaceful engagement for religious freedom, democracy and human rights.
“Vietnam systematically violates freedom of religion and belief, and the new draft law, if voted as such, will subject religious communities to the control of the one-Party state. Urgent measures must be taken to prevent this happening”, said Võ Trần Nhật.
In its recommendations, the VCHR report called on Vietnam to withdraw the 5th draft Law on Belief and Religion and prepare a new draft that conforms to Vietnam’s obligations under Article 18 of the ICCPR, in consultation with religious and belief communities (both recognized and unregistered), international legal experts and the UN Special Rapporteur on FoRB. It called on the international community to ensure thatbilateral relationships with Vietnam be dependent on measurable progress on freedom of religion and belief and human rights, and include specific provisions on the respect of these rights in trade agreements such as the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement, or implementing legislation for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other economic agreements to which Vietnam is a party. The report also urged the US to re-designate Vietnam as a “country of particular concern” for religious freedom violations as recommended by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom in their 2015 annual report.
At the closing of the APRFF, participants adopted the “Taiwan Declaration” which underscored the crucial role of freedom of religion or belief and human rights in general for democracy, economic development and the expansion of civil society, and pledged to establish and reinforce existing networks of religious freedom advocates committed to promoting religious freedom in their respective countries and abroad, including the creation of both governmental and non-governmental mechanisms to promote religious freedom and related human rights in the Asia Pacific region.—