In an Open Letter to the Presidency of the European Union, 109 prominent Members of the European Parliament from all political parties have urged the EU to place human rights, in particular human rights in Vietnam, “at the centre of discussions at the ASEM Summit in Hanoi”, and called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of Buddhist dissidents Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do, leaders of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) and six other members of the UBCV leadership.
In the Open Letter, the Euro MPs also expressed their deep concern on the lack of democracy and press freedom at the ASEM 5 People’s Forum in Hanoi in September 2004, condemning “the deliberate exclusion of Vietnamese civil society and the banning of access to the national and international press”.
“This Open Letter, launched by such a wide cross-section of MEPs, shows a real movement of indignation at the abysmal human rights situation in Vietnam, host country of this ASEM Summit”, said Vo Van Ai, President of the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, noting that the appeal was endorsed by many leading figures of the EP’s enlarged 25-country membership. Signatures include Edward McMillan-Scott, Vice-President of the European Parliament ; Hans-Gert Poettering, President of the EP’s largest political group, the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats ; Harlem Desir, Magda Kosane Kovacs, Pasqualina Napoletano and Jan Wiersma, Vice-Presidents of the European Socialist Party ; Graham Watson, President of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe ; Monica Frassoni and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Co-Presidents of the Greens/European Free Alliance ; Elmar Brok, President of the EP Foreign Affairs Commission ; Helene Flautre, Charles Tannock and Johan Van Hecke, President and Vice-Presidents of the EP Sub-Commission on Human Rights ; former EU Commissioner Emma Bonino and Marco Pannella, leaders of the Transnational Radical ; Max van den Berg, Vice-President of the EP Commission for Development ; former Lithuanian Head of State Vytautas Landsbergis ; Prof. Bronislaw Geremek, historian and former Polish Foreign Minister ; and Alain Lamassoure, former Minister (France).
Noting that the ASEM Summit opens on 8 October, anniversary of the “most brutal and pervasive crackdown launched by the Vietnamese authorities against the banned UBCV”, the MEPs deplored that, in spite of an Urgent EP Resolution on 20 November 2003 and repeated international appeals, “Vietnam has taken no steps to free these men”. Both UBCV leaders “have spent more than 23 years in detention for their nonviolent advocacy of religious freedom, democracy and human rights”.
The UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and his Deputy Thich Quang Do are currently detained without trial on charges of “possessing state secrets”, but the MEPs said they believed “their sole “crime” is that of steadfastly defending religious freedom and human rights.”
The MEPs recalled that human rights are enshrined in the 1995 EU-Vietnam Cooperation Agreement, and are essential to the ASEM process, which links sustainable development with democratic development and the rule of law. “As an ASEM member and host of this Fifth ASEM Summit, Vietnam has a double obligation to uphold these binding principles”, they said.
The 109 MEPs sent the Open Letter to the Prime Minister of Luxemburg, Mr Jean-Claude Juncker, who will preside the ASEM Summit to the Dutch Premier Jan Peter Balkanende and his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Blot (the Netherlands currently holds the EP Presidency), the President of the European Commission and heads of state of several EU member countries.