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Vo Van Ai to receive 2011 “International Special Award to Freedom”

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PARIS, 22 June 2011 (VCHR) – Mr. Vo Van Ai, President of Quê Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam & Vietnam Committee on Human Rights will receive the “9th International Special Award to Freedom” at a ceremony in Lucca, Italy on Friday 24, June 2011 for his lifelong service to the cause of freedom and human rights.

The International Award to Freedom was created in 2003 by the Società Libera (Society of Liberty) under the high patronage of the President of the Italian Republic and in partnership with the RAI, the Italian National Television, to honour “Italian or international personalities or institutions that have proved to excel, each one it is own field, in promoting the ideals of freedom”. The award covers several categories including culture, scientific research, economics, journalism and governance, with a Special Award (the highest category) to Freedom. Previous recipients of the Special Award include former Polish President Lech Walesa (2006) and World Uyghur Congress leader Rebiya Kadeer (2010).

Many international personalities have sent messages to Vo Van Ai* welcoming the award. We include some extracts below:

Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Ireland:

“I have great pleasure in congratulating Vo Van Ai on the occasion of his being awarded the “International Award to Freedom” from the Società Libera in Italy. This award is richly deserved, as Vo Van Ai has dedicated his life in courageous, loving and persevering service for human rights and democracy for the people of Vietnam. I join my voice with his many friends in Vietnam and around the world in congratulating and thanking Vo Van Ai, for his inspirational life and work for Vietnam and humanity.”

Carl Gershman, President, National Endowment for Democracy, USA:

“Vo Van Ai is a true champion of the cause of freedom. During the long, dark years since the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, he has never let the world forget the plight of the Vietnamese people and the steadfast refusal of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam to submit to totalitarian control. He has always spoken and acted with quiet dignity, but he is unyielding in his determination to defend the political and religious rights of the Vietnamese people. He has the courage of his convictions and a will of iron. He is held in the highest regard by everyone associated with the World Movement for Democracy, and speaking on behalf of the National Endowment for Democracy, I am delighted to salute him and to congratulate him upon receiving the International Freedom Prize. No one is more deserving of such an honor”.

Thor Halvorssen, Founder and CEO of the Oslo Freedom Forum,
President, Human Rights Foundation, New York:

“Vo Van Ai has devoted his life to the peaceful struggle for democracy and individual rights in Vietnam. As one of the most outspoken and determined leaders of the freedom movement for his country, Vo Van Ai was the first to draw the world’s attention to the more than one-million people arbitrarily sent to Vietnamese “re-education camps.” With an unshakable commitment to justice, he is an inspiration to those fighting for human rights across the globe. This award is fully deserved and reveals the wisdom of those who chose him. I join you in celebrating Vo Van Ai–a pillar in the fight for human dignity–and hope that his courageous colleagues inside Vietnam take heart that their plight under that cruel dictatorship is increasingly recognized around the world as intolerable.”

Souhayr Belhassen, President, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Paris:

“On behalf of the FIDH, I congratulate you for being awarded the 9th International Special Prize for Freedom by the Italian organisation Società Libera. It has been our honour to have worked with the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights under your leadership to advance internationally recognised human rights in Viet Nam. The struggle for greater freedom in Viet Nam continues. The Vietnamese authorities take severe measures to prevent the emergence of independent civil society and those calling for human rights and democracy have been swiftly stifled, persecuted, intimidated or imprisoned. In light of the silence enforced by the Government of Viet Nam, it is ever more important that independent Vietnamese human rights defenders can have their voice heard nationally, regionally and internationally. The Prize is thus a deserving recognition of your tireless efforts to demand greater respect and protection of human rights and to lend a strong voice to the silent majority in Viet Nam where the mere exercise of, and aspirations for, fundamental freedoms entail great personal risks”.

Robert LaGamma, President, Council for a Community of Democracies, USA:

“I [am] delighted to that you are to be awarded the Italian “International Freedom Prize” for a life devoted to advancing the cause of human rights. I speak for all your colleagues on the International Non-governmental Steering Committee of the Community of Democracies in saying how very proud we are to be associated with you at a time in which you are justly recognized for your many contributions. We can only imagine how difficult it is to struggle for so many years on behalf of an oppressed people. Your struggle has been heroic which contrasts with your own modesty and self-effacement. This recognition for your indomitable commitment should send a signal of encouragement to all those who support the rights of ordinary people everywhere”.

Therese Jebsen, Rafto Foundation, Bergen, Norway:

“On behalf of the Rafto Foundation, we wish to express our heartfelt congratulations to Vo Van Ai. It is extremely well deserved that he is presented with the 2011 “International Award to Freedom”. Through many years, the Rafto Foundation has followed and supported Vo Van Ai’s tireless and self sacrificing work for religious freedom and human rights in Vietnam. By his high moral standard, competence, persistence and courage, Vo Van Ai has made a deep impression on us, and we are honored and proud to be able to salute him on this special occasion.”

World Forum for Democratization in Asia, Taiwan:

“The World Forum for Democratization in Asia (WFDA) warmly congratulates Dr. Vo Van Ai on receiving the 2011 “International Award to Freedom” … We believe this award is a fitting tribute to Dr. Vo Van Ai’s decades of selfless service to the cause of freedom, democracy, and peace in his home country and throughout the region. We hope that it will serve to raise international awareness about the grim human rights situation that continues in Vietnam and to enhance global solidarity among human rights defenders and freedom fighters”.

Hon. Matteo Mecacci MP, Italy, Rapporteur for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly
on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs:

“Bravo! I can tell you that you have been our inspiration for a long time. Your resilience in the struggle for freedom, through nonviolence, despite all difficulties and the acceptance by the “free world” of Vietnam as a strategic partner for economic development must be acknowledged, and be remembered for the day when freedom will come to Vietnam. We will be there with you!”

George Matthews, Chairman, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, India:

“Please accept my hearty congratulations. From the day I met you for the first time, I was a great admirer of your relentless struggle for freedom and democracy. This international recognition of your life time achievement makes all of us proud. You are a role model for many those who are struggling for liberty, equality and freedom”.


* VO VAN AI is a Vietnamese human rights defender, writer and poet living in Paris. He is founder and President of Quê Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, Director of the International Buddhist Information Bureau, and Overseas Spokesman of the independent Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) which is currently banned in Vietnam.

Born in Central Vietnam in 1938, he was arrested and tortured at the age of 11 for participating in the resistance movement for the independence of Vietnam. In 1964, he became the UBCV’s representative overseas, and worked actively in the nonviolent Buddhist movement for democracy and peace. After Vietnam was unified in 1975, he played a key role in drawing world attention to human rights abuses under the communist regime, and drew up the first comprehensive map of “re-education camps” (Vietnamese laogai) with 150 camps and over 800,000 prisoners. In 1978 he helped initiate a campaign to launch the “Ile de Lumiere”, the first rescue ship to save Vietnamese Boat People fleeing for freedom on the South China seas.

A specialist on human rights and religious freedom issues, he makes regular reports to the United Nations and testifies at the US Congress, the European Parliament and other international forums on the human rights situation in Vietnam.

Vo Van Ai is also well known as a writer and historian. In addition to numerous articles and human rights reports, his written works include 17 books of poetry, essays and philosophy, as well as studies on Buddhism and Vietnamese history. He is currently writing a major work on “The Essence of Vietnamese Buddhism”.

This post is also available in: French Vietnamese

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