The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, with the co-sponsorship of the Center for Religious Freedom of the Hudson Institute, cordially invites you to the Conference:
“Religious Freedom in Vietnam:
Its Importance for Regional and Global Security”
Monday 12th September 2016
12.00 to 2.00pm
at the Center for Religious Freedom, Hudson Institute
1201 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Suite 400
Washington, DC 20004
Speakers include Elliott Abrams, Former US Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and former Deputy National Security Adviser; Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, Executive Director of the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom and USCIRF Commissioner; Nina Shea, Director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom; Vo Van Ai, President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and representatives of Vietnamese religious communities.
The Conference will feature a panel discussion on “Religious Freedom and American Policy in the Next Administration”, and a panel on “Violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief in Vietnam” with testimonies from Buddhists, Catholics, Hmong Christians, Montagnards, Khmer Krom Buddhists. A roundtable session on strategies and best practices for interfaith coalition building to promote and protect freedom of religion or belief in Vietnam and South East Asia will be held from 2.00pm to 4.00pm.
A light lunch will be served at 11.30am.
Please note that online registration at the Hudson Institute is also mandatory. Due to limited capacity, we suggest that you register early to secure your seat. The link to register is: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/27005145116.
Vietnam is home to a wide diversity of religions. A majority Buddhist country, it also has Asia’s second-largest Catholic population, a fast-growing Protestant community, indigenous religions such as Cao Dai and Hoa Hao and religious minorities including Khmer Krom Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Bahá’í. Throughout history, religions have played an active role in all aspects of the nation’s life. This is particularly exemplified with the Buddhists, who have a tradition of independence and social engagement unique in South-East Asia.
Today, in Vietnam’s one-Party state, religious organizations and leaders continue to assume this crucial role, in addition to their activities in purely religious and spiritual matters. In the absence of opposition parties, a free press, independent trade unions and NGOs, the religious movements are essential voices of civil society, putting forth the people’s grievances and pressing for social and political reforms. Largely as a result, they are subjected to persecution in every form. Hanoi has set up “state-sanctioned” Churches under Communist Party control. It imposes a draconian system of registration, and a system of police enforcement that includes the intimidation, brutality and detention of religious followers with impunity. A new Law on Belief and Religion will soon be adopted that further restricts the right to freedom of religion or belief. Yet this ongoing repression finds little notice in the international press.
Why should this matter to Western democracies? The US has been a leader in the movement for international religious freedom. With the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, religious freedom for all groups became an institutionalized component of US foreign policy. The European Union is following with the adoption of EU Guidelines on the Protection of Freedom of Religion or Belief (2013) and the appointment in April 2016 of a Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the European Union. Efforts for increased transatlantic and global cooperation are underway to advance this basic freedom worldwide.
US foreign policy is deepening its engagement in Asia. President Obama’s “redressment to Asia” aims to strengthen the US presence in a region overshadowed by an expanding China. With its allies, the US has the vision and capacity to counterbalance Beijing’s advancement and maintain peace and security in the region. A freer, more democratic Vietnam would be a vital ally for the US, yet Hanoi’s newly appointed leadership is hardline and pro-Chinese. In April, the independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that Vietnam be included on the U.S. official listing of “countries of particular concern” for its record of religious persecution. In spite of this, President Obama visited Vietnam last May and lifted the U.S. arms embargo without securing any concessions for religious groups or their members. Will the next administration continue this trend or pursue policies that encourage meaningful reform?
The Conference aims to give voice to Vietnam’s persecuted religious communities; survey the current violations of religious freedom in Vietnam; explore policy options to promote religious freedom and develop a civic culture of tolerance and compassion; help lay the foundations of lasting peace in this region and in the world.