The European Foreign Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten has expressed EC concern on Vietnam’s continued detention of Venerable Thich Huyen Quang, Patriarch of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) and his Deputy, Venerable Thich Quang Do, and called for the Buddhist leaders’ release.
In written replies to questions tabled by Olivier Dupuis MEP, made public in Brussels this week, Mr. Patten stated : “The [European] Commission and Member States have called on the Vietnamese authorities to release Mr. [Thich Huyen] Quang and Mr. [Thich Quang] Do. The Commission esteems that none of the charges laid against these two men justifies their imprisonment or house arrest, and that their advanced age should be taken into consideration”. He added that the Commission has officially requested that diplomats from the EC delegation in Vietnam be enabled to visit the two monks.
Commissioner Patten also voiced the European Union’s disappointment with Vietnam’s lack of progress in the field of human rights. “The Commission is perfectly aware that Vietnam has not yet adhered to all the UN human rights treaties, and that its implementation of those it has ratified is not fully satisfying”. Moreover, he stressed, “the situation of freedom of expression in Vietnam did not improve in 2002”.
Mr. Vo Van Ai, President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and UBCV overseas Spokesman welcomed the EC’s position : “The EC’s condemnation of the arbitrary detention of Venerables Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do not only highlights a grave human rights abuse, but also underscores the crucial importance of religious freedom in Vietnam. By detaining religious leaders, the Vietnamese government is stifling civil society and preventing religious movements from contributing their immense potential to the development of a stable, democratic and prosperous society in Vietnam”.
Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do have both spent over two decades in prison or under house arrest for their nonviolent advocacy of religious freedom, democracy and human rights. Venerable Thich Huyen Quang has been detained without charge in the province of Quang Ngai since 1982 for protesting the suppression of the UBCV and the creation of the “Vietnam Buddhist Church”, a State-sponsored body controlled by the Communist Party’s Fatherland Front. The 85-year-old UBCV Patriarch, who suffers from high blood pressure, arthritis and a serious gastric condition, is in urgent need of medical care. Venerable Thich Quang Do, a 2003 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, is currently detained incommunicado at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Ho Chi Minh City. The 74-year-old UBCV leader was sentenced to 2 years “administrative detention” in June 2001 for launching an “Appeal for Democracy in Vietnam” and planning to lead a UBCV delegation to Quang Ngai to escort Thich Huyen Quang to Ho Chi Minh City for medical treatment.
The European Union is one of Vietnam’s most important trade partners and aid donors, with a cooperation budget of 162 million Euros for 2002-2006. Under the 1995 EU-Vietnam Cooperation Agreement, bilateral relations and development aid are conditioned on “the respect of human rights and democratic principles”.