PARIS, 1st April 2009 (IBIB) – The International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) received an appeal today from Patriarch Thich Quang Do, leader of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, calling on all Vietnamese to stage peaceful protests in their homes throughout the month of May 2009 as a “gesture of civil disobedience” against environmental damage and security risks caused by bauxite mining in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. UBCV leader and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Thich Quang Do, 80, sent the appeal clandestinely from the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon, where he is under effective house arrest.
Thich Quang Do recalled the widespread concerns of scientists, state media and local residents that the government’s costly and dangerous open-cut mining project in cooperation with China will “destroy the forests of the Central Highlands, pollute the basalt-rich red soils, increase the risk of prolonged periods of drought or flooding, and seriously contaminate water supplies, thus directly threatening the economic development of the southern regions of Central Vietnam, the Mekong Delta provinces of Dong Nai, Binh Duong, and even Ho Chi Minh City itself”. Noting that 7 bauxite mines were operating in Dak Nong province alone, Thich Quang Do warned against “the imminent desertification, the transformation of 6,000 verdant hills into mountains of toxic red sludge in an area of over 600,000 hectares, watered by hundreds of crystal streams, where some 29 ethnic minorities, mostly M’Nongs, have made their home”.
Thich Quang Do also warned against the “alarming threat to our national defence” posed by the settlement of thousands of Chinese workers in this “strategic military zone” at the cross-roads of the Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam borders, at the same time that “China is encroaching on the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos” in the South China seas…
The UBCV leader and prominent dissident called upon Vietnamese inside the country to “stage peaceful demonstrations at home as a gesture of civil disobedience: farmers will not go out to the fields; workers will not go to the factories; merchants and shopkeepers will not go to the markets; students will not attend classes”. Overseas Vietnamese should support this initiative, he said, by boycotting visits to Vietnam and not sending money to Vietnam throughout the month of May 2009.
He also called on Vietnam to make public the details of two controversial China-Vietnam Border Treaties, stressing that Vietnamese people “have the right to know to what extent the authorities have preserved or conceded the territories and waters which our forefathers gave their lives to defend”. He urged Vietnam to convene a Conference with participation of specialists and people’s representatives from all political and religious affiliations, including overseas Vietnamese to “examine the people’s concerns and rapidly take a decision to halt bauxite mining in the Central Highlands”. “Democracy is the people’s voice”, he concluded, “a voice of dialogue and debate in times of crisis, a common commitment to seek solutions to our nation’s problems. The time has come for our people to express their will through this month of peaceful protests at home”. The full text of the Appeal is as follows:
to stage a month of demonstrations at home
in protest against the exchange of Vietnam’s riches against foreign aluminium
“Disregarding warnings by scientists and specialists on the dangers of mining bauxite in the Central Highlands, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has awarded China the tender on a mining project in the region, and declared: “Bauxite mining in the Central Highlands is a major policy of the Communist Party, as stated in the 10th Communist Party Congress’ Resolution” (2006).
“This is the Communist Party’s decision. But what do the Vietnamese people think ?
“The people have echoed concerns raised by specialists, intellectuals and researchers in a wide range of articles in the state-controlled press, the media and Internet. They fear that open-cut bauxite mining and processing will destroy the forests of the Central Highlands, pollute the basalt-rich red soils, increase the risk of prolonged periods of drought or flooding, and seriously contaminate water supplies, thus directly threatening the economic development of the southern regions of Central Vietnam, the Mekong Delta provinces of Dong Nai, Binh Duong, and even Ho Chi Minh City itself. Since time immemorial, the central highlands’ verdant forests have preserved our ecological equilibrium, ensuring water preservation within the soil, and regulating the atmosphere and climate of the whole region. The destruction of these forests will not only irremediably harm the landscape. It will destroy the culture and life-style of thousands of ethnic minorities living on this fertile plateau.
“According to scientific studies, mining bauxite ore to make alumina (the powder used to produce aluminium) in this area is not commercially viable. The economic benefits of producing alumina in the Central Highlands are less than those earned from agriculture. Bauxite reserves may be rich, but they are limited. Once expended, they are gone. Agriculture and the cultivation of cash-crops (coffee, tea, cashews), on the contrary, have unlimited potential and their resources can be infinitely renewed. Moreover, Chinese technologies for disposing of the toxic waste known as “red mud” produced by bauxite processing are completely out of date. Whereas modern countries have developed “dry stacking” technology to reduce the risks of waste disposal, the Chinese continue to use the “wet deposit” system which risks contaminating the waterways in the Central Highlands, the Mekong Delta and the whole southern region.
“In an Open Letter to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, General Vo Nguyen Giap recently pointed out that the Communist Party had proposed a similar bauxite mining project in the Central Highlands to COMECON, the Soviet-Eastern Europe Economic Bloc, in the early 1980s. General Giap wrote: “the COMECON bloc advised our Government against exploiting bauxite in the region. They warned that it would cause devastating, long-term ecological damage, not only for local residents, but would also harm the lives and environment of people in the southern plains of the central provinces.”
“Precisely because of these risks of ecological damage, China’s Department for Environmental Protection closed down 100 bauxite mines in China between 2004-2008. In India, a widespread “green” movement staged mass demonstrations in protest against a 2004 bauxite mining project in Orissa covering 1000 hectares that threatened the lives of 60,000 local people.
“In Vietnam, in the province of Dak Nong alone in the extreme south of the central highlands, there are already seven bauxite mines. The ecological dangers are obvious – imminent desertification, the transformation of 6,000 verdant hills into mountains of toxic red sludge in an area of over 600,000 hectares, watered by hundreds of crystal streams, where some 29 ethnic minorities, mostly M’Nongs, have made their home. To exploit the 5.4 tons of bauxite ore in Dak Nong, hundreds of villages will be buried under mounds of red mud slurry. According to international experts, for every ton of alumina produced, 4 tons of bauxite ore are mined and three tons of red mud deposited in waste !
“These are the dangers for the people in the Central Highlands. But the project also presents an alarming threat to our national defence. The Central Highlands is a strategic military zone, a crucial defence point for Vietnam at the cross-roads of the Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam borders. A permanent Chinese presence in this zone could put our country at risk. Yet as work begins on the project, whole villages of Chinese workers have mushroomed on the plateau, and ten thousand Chinese settlers are expected in the coming year. Trong Thuy is stealing away My Chau on the Truong Son mountains! At the same time, off Vietnam’s seacoast, China is encroaching on the Paracel and Spratly archipelagos…
“Today, our country is under threat of invasion.
“This time, Chinese domination will not last just 1,000 years, but 3,000 or even more. For Vietnam’s leaders are not valiant rulers such as Ly Thai To, Tran Nhan Tong, Le Thai To. They are a government alienated from the people, a regime dependent on foreign influence from its ideology to the State apparatus, causing the complete disruption of our society and civilization.
“Only the united voice and will of the people can save our country today. First and foremost, to prevent the government from selling off its most precious resource – the people – on the markets of foreign aluminium. Secondly, to defend the homeland that our forefathers so painstakingly built and preserved.
“On behalf of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, I call upon all Vietnamese, at home and abroad, to oppose bauxite mining in the Central Highlands and denounce its destructive effects on the lives and environment of tens of thousands of indigenous people, especially as this project is not the fruit of studies by economists or environmental experts, but an illustration of Vietnam’s dependence on China.
“For Vietnamese abroad, I urge you to alert international opinion of the impending ecological disaster in the Central Highlands and the dangers of settling thousands of Chinese in this strategic border zone.
“For Vietnamese at home, I urge you to express your protest by holding a month of civil disobedience in May, beginning on Labour Day (May 1st).
“Living under an authoritarian regime tightly controlled by the Security Police, Vietnamese people have lost their right to demonstrate in public for the past 54 years in northern Vietnam and for 34 years in the South. I therefore appeal to you all to stage peaceful demonstrations at home as a gesture of civil disobedience: farmers will not go out to the fields; workers will not go to the factories; merchants and shopkeepers will not go to the markets; students will not attend classes. We have a month to prepare for this Month of Civil Disobedience and demonstrations at home, in which we shall call on the Vietnamese authorities to take the following three steps:
1/ “To urgently submit Vietnam’s claims on the continental shelf (national area of the seabed) to the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS) before the deadline of 13 May 2009 in order to protect the integrity of our territorial waters and lands;
“If the Communist Party and the government take no action on this, I call upon Vietnamese overseas to set up a “Committee to Protect Vietnamese Lands and Seas”, to compile information and launch an international campaign to present Vietnam’s claims to UNCLOS;
2/ “To make public the full contents of the Vietnam-China Land Border Treaty (1999) and Sea Border Treaty (2000), complete with detailed maps of these borders, which constitute an integral part of the treaties. The people of Vietnam have the right to know to what extent the authorities have preserved or conceded the territories and waters which our forefathers gave their lives to defend;
3/ “To convene an urgent conference with representatives of the whole population including scientists, economists, specialists in the environment, mining, geology, as well as military advisers and representatives of all political, religious and social sectors, including overseas Vietnamese, to examine the people’s concerns and rapidly take a decision to halt bauxite mining in the Central Highlands.
“The month of civil disobedience and demonstrations at home in May 2009 will show the Vietnamese people’s concern for the environment, and their determination to defend their homeland at this crucial moment of our history. Democracy is the people’s voice, a voice of dialogue and debate in times of crisis, a common commitment to seek solutions to our nation’s problems. In this moment of life and death, the time has come for our people to express their will through this month of peaceful protests at home.
“As I call for Vietnamese at home to stage peaceful protests in their homes, I call on Vietnamese abroad to support this movement with a general boycott, by refusing to visit Vietnam as tourists and not sending money to Vietnam throughout the month of May (with exceptions for humanitarian or urgent situations).
“Finally, I call upon the media to help relay the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam’s solemn appeal to Vietnamese at home and abroad and to the International community.”
29th March 2009
Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam
(signature and seal)
Sramana Thich Quang Do