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Vietnam Committee urges the EU Commissioner to press for release of Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do during visit to Vietnam

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Vo Van Ai, President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, wrote to European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner this week asking her to place issues of human rights and democratization high on her agenda during her official visit to Vietnam which begins on Friday, in which she will meet Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and foreign minister Nguyen Dy Nien. He specifically urged Ms Ferrero-Waldner, who is the first European Commissioner to visit Vietnam in 10 years, to press for the release of detained Buddhist dissidents Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do, who are held under house arrest without charge in their Monasteries in Binh Dinh and Saigon. Vo Van Ai recalled the European Parliament’s Resolution on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia adopted on 1st December specifically mandating the European Commission to re-examine EU-Vietnam Cooperation in the light of the “human rights clause” in which is systematically violated by Vietnam, and urging Vietnam to “undertake political and institutional reforms leading to democracy and the rule of law”.

In his letter to th EU Commissioner on 19th April 2006, Vo Van Ai noted that Vietnam had opened its economy under the policy of “doi moi”, but regretted that economic opening had “not been matched by political reforms or improvements in the realm of human rights. The fundamental freedoms of expression, religion, the press, assembly and association are restricted by domestic legislation which the United Nations Human Rights Committee has declared to be “incompatible with the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”. Citizens who express opinions at odds with the policies of the one-party State are branded as “hostile elements” (cf Vietnam’s White Paper on Human Rights, Chapter IV, August 2005), and risk harsh prison sentences. Constructive proposals for democratic reform put forward in preparation for the 10th Communist Party Congress have been rejected as “bad intentions” or “distorting the truth”, and banned from congress deliberations.

“I am especially concerned about the plight of two prominent religious prisoners, the Most Venerable Thich Huyen Quang, 86, Patriarch of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and his Deputy, Very Venerable Thich Quang Do, 77, who are currently under effective house arrest in their monasteries in Binh Dinh and Ho Chi Minh City. Both have spent almost 30 years under detention and house arrest for their peaceful advocacy of religious freedom and human rights. The Vietnamese government claims that these prominent Buddhists are free, yet in February 2006, Thich Quang Do was arrested, assaulted by Security Police and forcibly returned to his monastery as he attempted to travel to Binh Dinh to visit the UBCV Patriarch. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention confirmed last year that these men are indeed victims of arbitrary detention, in violation of all legal standards”.

Mr Ai stressed that “The European Parliament shares my concerns on Vietnam’s grave human rights situation”. He recalled the EP Resolution on Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam adopted on 1st December 2005, which, “as well as raising several specific human rights cases, including the detention of Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do,… urged Vietnam to “undertake political and institutional reforms leading to democracy and the rule of law”, and specifically called on “the Council and Commission to make a detailed assessment of the implementation of policies conducted in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam since the signing of the association and cooperation agreements, mindful of Article 1 of these agreements, which reiterates that respect for democratic principles and fundamental rights is an essential element of the agreements, and to report back to Parliament”.

Vo Van Ai commended the EU’s commitment to alleviating poverty in the Asia-Pacific region, but emphasised “the pivotal importance of promoting a process of political reform to support these economic gains. As Venerable Thich Quang Do recently said: “There can be no sustainable development without freedom and democracy in Vietnam”. Mr Ai urged the EU Commissioner to use Europe’s positive relationship with Vietnam to “advance progress towards the respect of human rights, the rule of law and democratic freedoms in Vietnam”.

The EU is Vietnam’s foremost economic partner with two-way trade worth 7.4 billion euros in 2005 and an aggregate utilized EU investment in the country of US$4 billion. The EU was the biggest donor of grant development aid to Vietnam in 2004 and 2005. It also helps Vietnam with 40 million euros annually for basic education and health.

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