Penelope Faulkner : Emma Bonino, you are a former European Commissioner and one of the Members of the European Parliament who has spearheaded this Open Letter to the European Union at the Firth ASEM Summit held in Hanoi on 8-9 October 2004. Can you tell our listeners why you endorsed this letter ?
Emma Bonino : Because I believe that this kind of regional meeting should not only be related to economic issues, but it is a very important opportunity for European Ministers to raise democracy and human rights concerns. For example, we have expressed concerns about the delegation from Myanmar’s presence at the ASEM Summit because of the lack of democracy in Burma, and there are many other problems too.
We wanted to put pressure so that this ASEM meeting scheduled for October 8-9 2004 will not simply be “business as usual”, but will raise as a priority issue how strongly we feel in Europe, as partners in the ASEM process, about the violations of basic human rights and religious freedom which are going on in a very, very heavy way in this region. This Open Letter, with its many signatures, is a way of putting pressure on our European Ministers to raise concerns of freedom and democracy at this Summit. Not because we don’t disregard the economic aspect, but simply because we strongly believe that there cannot be sustainable economic development without political freedom and human rights.
Penelope Faulkner : The Open Letter calls for the release of Buddhist dissidents and UBCV leaders Venerables Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do, who have spent more than 23 years in detention. Do you expect their cases to be raised at the Summit ?
Emma Bonino : Exactly ! They must be raised as an example ! I am afraid that there are thousands of others whose names and stories we do not know. But we believe that naming the specific cases of these Buddhist monks is a way of raising the whole issue of religious repression that is currently going on in Vietnam. We are pressing the EU member states very strongly to take up this letter from 109 members of the European Parliament and use it as a tool to put pressure on the Hanoi regime.
Penelope Faulkner : The Open Letter has a very impressive list of signatures. Can you tell us a little bit about these signatories ?
Emma Bonino : Looking at this list of signatures, I am very satisfied. Because, as you can imagine, in the current international atmosphere, where everything is focused on terrorism, on Iraq, on Afghanistan and so on, the fact that 109 MEPs together raised their concerns about a country such as Vietnam, which is not a top priority in the international debate, is very important. Vietnam is a far-away country, not only geographically, but it is also far-away from the main concerns of the EP and the international community. In fact, this is the result of a very “stubborn” campaign launched by the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, who started several years ago to visit MEPs, one by one, and explain to them about the situation in Vietnam. So I am very satisfied, not only that the Open letter has obtained a large number of signatures, but especially that it is signed by people with very important responsibilities within the EP. For example, Mr Poettering, the President of the PPE (the Christian Democrats), which is the most important political group in the EP, signed this Open letter. Mr Poettering is not a guy who signs everything, he is a guy who is very cautious with his signature, evidently, because of his political role. The fact that he has signed the Open Letter means that we have finally succeeded, in some way at least, in making Vietnam a priority of the European Parliament.
Penelope Faulkner : Do you think the Open Letter can have a significant impact at the coming ASEM Summit ?
Emma Bonino : Yes, because we have been in contact with the Ministers of EU member states who will be attending the Summit, and according to my information, I am very confident that some European states will definitely raise this letter during the ASEM Summit. There is still a long way to go, but I believe that this Open letter is the first step in a battle that we will continue to raise stubbornly within the European parliament.
Penelope Faulkner : You say that you are “stubborn”, but the Vietnamese government is very stubborn too in its response to the international community. Supposing that Vietnam continues to repress human rights, can the EU do anything ?
Emma Bonino : Definitely ! In the EU Cooperation Agreement with Vietnam there is a human rights clause. So we can press the Commission to question the implementation of the human rights and democracy clause. This is always very difficult, because when you go to the European Commission or the Council of Europe, then political priorities play a major role. Democracy and human rights are not yet top priorities of Europe’s foreign policy. But they are becoming more and more important. Just 10 years ago, no one would even consider raising issues of human rights and democracy in an intergovernmental meeting such as ASEM. So we are definitely moving forward. I think the next step is to ask the Commission to really challenge the implementation of the human rights, good governance and democracy clause, which is a substantial part of the agreement we have with Vietnam.
Penelope Faulkner : Emma Bonino, you are a long-time defender of women’s rights and human rights over the world. Do you have a message for people who are risking their lives and safety every day to advance the cause of democracy and human rights in Vietnam ?
Emma Bonino : Yes, I would like to tell you all that you are not alone. You may feel alone, but here in Europe there are many people like us – we are a minority, not yet the majority, but we care so much about your lives and the limitations on your freedom that you are facing every day. It’s still a long way to go. It is your fight. We can support you, and we are doing the maximum we can. Just keep in mind that things are changing worldwide. Too slowly for my character, my temperament and my conviction, but definitely things are changing. So don’t give up. Don’t give up the nonviolent struggle you are fighting. I think that exactly because you are fighting in a nonviolent way in a moment when only violence seems to count, the very methodology of your struggle is paramount, and it is very, very important worldwide.
Penelope Faulkner : One last question, in the years you have been struggling for democracy, you have seen the Berlin wall fall, you have seen Communist regimes crumble. Do you think it is a any hope that Vietnam will become a democracy one day ?
Emma Bonino : Yes, definitely, definitely Penelope, and this is the message I want to pass on. When the Berlin wall came down, it came as a surprise for almost all the international observers. The world changed overnight. Nobody was expecting it. So, for people who are struggling in a nonviolent way in Vietnam, I would just like to remind you to keep up hope. You know, there is nothing so fragile as politics, and something that seemed so solid, so strong, so insurmountable, can be totally fragile and different in just 24 hours.
Penelope Faulkner : Thank you Emma Bonino.