GENEVA, 16 September 2014 (VCHR) – Speaking at the 27th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva jointly with Acting together for Human Rights (Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme), Mr. Vo Van Ai, President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) denounced impediments to the recent visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt (from 21-31 July 2014), in particular those caused by the Vietnamese authorities themselves.
In his preliminary remarks on concluding his visit, Mr. Bielefeldt said that many of his meetings had been “interrupted” because people he wanted to meet had been threatened, intimidated or harassed. He was constantly followed by “undeclared security or police agents” who violated the confidentiality of many private meetings, obliging him to cut them short. The UN Special Rapporteur said Vietnam had violated the terms of reference of in situ visits. He added that no-one should suffer reprisals because of meeting him, and told the Vietnamese authorities that he would closely monitor the situation of all those he met to ensure that this was respected. In brief, he concluded, “grave violations of freedom of religion or belief are a reality in Vietnam”.
Mr. Vo Van Ai told the UN Human Rights Council it was “inadmissible that Vietnam, which holds a seat on this Human Rights Council, persists in violating freedom of religion or belief”. He raised the plight of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and its Patriarch Thich Quang Do, a 2014 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, who has been held under different forms of detention (internal exile, prison and house arrest) for the past 30 years.
This is only the second time a UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief has visited Vietnam. The previous visit was made in 1998 by the late Prof. Abdelfattah Amor. His visit was also marred by restrictions by the Vietnamese authorities, who subjected him to close surveillance, intercepted meetings and threatened and harassed independent witnesses.
Full Text of Mr. Vo Van Ai’s Oral Statement
to the UN Human Rights Council
Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme its partner, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) strongly condemn the disruptions to the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief in Vietnam in July 2014.
At the end of his mission, the Special Rapporteur said that Vietnam had violated the terms of reference of in situ visits. Some planned visits had been “interrupted”, and a number of interlocutors had been warned, intimidated and harassed to dissuade them from meeting him. The Special Rapporteur also said his whereabouts had been constantly monitored by “undeclared security or police agents”, and that the privacy and confidentiality of some private meetings were violated. He concluded that “severe violations of freedom of religion or belief are a reality in Viet Nam”.
It is inadmissible that Vietnam, which holds a seat on this Human Rights Council, persists in violating freedom of religion or belief, imposing strict controls on “recognized” religions and repressing “non-recognized” bodies such as the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV). The UBCV is effectively banned and its members are continually subjected to harassments or detention, such as the Patriarch Thich Quang Do.
As the Special Rapporteur noted in his preliminary remarks, grave violations of religious freedom are often caused by restrictive vaguely-defined and catch-all legal provisions such as “national security” articles in the Criminal Code or the “abuse of democratic freedoms” (Article 258). Arbitrary recourse to vague pretexts, such as “legitimate interests of the majority” is also used to stifle freedom of religion or belief.
The Special Rapporteur deplored the absence of effective legal recourse against violations of freedom of religion or belief and human rights in general. This absence is not a shortcoming, but the result of a deliberate policy designed to restrict Vietnamese citizens’ enjoyment of human rights, in disregard of binding international obligations. The case of human rights defenders Bui Thi Minh Hang, Nguyen Van Minh and Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh, condemned to prison sentences for “disturbing public order” in August is an illustration of this policy.
We call upon the Council to remind Vietnam that such treatment of a Special Rapporteur is incompatible with the obligations of a Council member. Vietnam should cease all repression against “non-recognized” religions such as the UBCV and grant autonomy to all religious communities as recommended by the Special Rapporteur. Moreover, Vietnam should urgently extend an invitation to the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression.
Thank you Mr. Chairman.