For Immediate Release Palais des Nations, Geneva,
April 13th 1999

At the 55th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva : Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and 46 international NGOs support the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance and denounce harassment of UBCV leaders Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do - UN Rapporteur calls for amnesty of prisoners of conscience in Vietnam 

UBCV Buddist monks meet UN High Commissioner Mrs Mary Robinson

- Speaking at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Mr Vo Van Ai, Vice- Chairman of the Paris-based International Federaton of Human Rights and President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, commended the Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance, Mr Abdelfattah Amor on his visit to Vietnam which was presented to the UN Commission on Monday evening, 12th April, whilst strongly condemning Vietnam for its virulent and injustified declarations against the UN Special Rapporteur. "Vietnam's inadmissible attitude not only violates its binding commitments as a State Party to the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but also constitutes a grave threat to all other UN mechanisms of human rights protection". 

Mr Ai called the Commission's attention to a recent clamp-down against Buddhists of the Unified Budhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) since the publication of Mr Amor's report. Two prominent UBCV leaders, Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do, were arrested and interrogated by Police in Quang Ngai on November 22nd 1999 and accused of founding an "illegal organisation". Thich Hai Tang and four other UBCV monks were also detained for questioning and are now under virtual house arrest, denied all freedom of movement and held under constant Police surveillance. These increased controls are extended to UBCV Buddhists all over the country. 

Mr Ai called on the UN Commission to ensure that Vietnam ceases all further harassment of UBCV Buddhists. and takes concrete steps to implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur.

- Presenting his report to the Commission, Mr Amor, strongly advised on Vietnam to bring all religious legislation into line with international law, and called on the Government to "amnesty to all prisoners detained for the peaceful expression of their religious beliefs". 

- On Monday 12 April, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights also led a delegation of prominent UBCV dignitaries to meet Mrs Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Venerable Thich Ho Giac, President of the UBCV Overseas Executive Office and Venerable Thich Minh Tam, President of the UBCV in Europe, expressed their concern on religious repression in Vietnam. 

Vietnam Committee President Vo Van Ai handed Mrs Robinson a file of documents, report and letters sent clandestinely from Vietnam by religious dissident prevented from meeting Mr Amor during his visit to Vietnam. These documents record persecution against all religious communities in Vietnam (Buddhist, Catholic, Cao Dai, Hoa Hao,
Protestants...). The file included letters from UBCV dignitaries Thich Quang Do and Thich Tri Tuu, Superior monk of Linh Mu Pagoda, now detained under house arrest.

- Mr Vo Van Ai also presented the UN High Commissioner Mrs Mary Robinson with a common Appeal signed by 46 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from all over the world supporting the UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance and calling on Vietnam to implement the recommendations of his Report (see list below). Mrs Robinson promised to take action on this in concert with the UN Special Rapporteur.

The 46 NGOs denounced the Vietnam's attacks on Mr Amor in the officialpress (Nhan Dan, 21.3.99) which accuse his report of being "groundless and biased", and assimilating Mr Amor with the "hostile forces" seeking to"distort the truth" and "sabotage Vietnam". 

They condemned the Vietnamese Government's declaration that it "will not accept any individual or organisation asking to come to Vietnam with the intention to conduct investigations on human rights or religious freedom" , recalling that "States acceding to UN human rights instruments not only pledge to respect human rights, but also recognize that human rights cannot be perceived as a matter of "internal affairs". Vietnam should not "attempt to manipulate
international human rights mechanisms (...) or  use them as tools for the sole purpose of propaganda". In conclusion, the signatories called on Vietnam to implement the recommendations of Mr Amor's Report, notably by: 

 - Relaxing the strict system of control over the population (i.e. all-powerful Religious Affairs Bureau, Sector Security Police, the obligatory residence permit and curriculum vitae for clergy) in order to guarantee full religious freedom, and revising the Government and party's policy to prevent the emergence of any organization perceived to threaten their authority

- Ensuring that all existing and future religious legislation conforms with international law, notably by revising Article 4 of the Constitution which affirms the political monopoly of Marxist-Leninism and by eliminating the vague and "catch-all" notions of "natlternative Asean Network on Burma (Burma), Asian Buddhist Conference for Peace, Association Africaine de Défense des Droits de l'Homme (Congo-Kinshasa), Avocats Sans Frontières/Congo (Congo-Kinshasa), Burma UN Service Office (Burma),  Christian Solidarity Worldwide (UK), Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Bahrain (Bahrain), Conseil pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme de Pristina (Kosovo), Democratic Voice of Burma (Burma)ional security" which are used to stifle freedom of expression and belief.

List of NGO signatories :
A Federacion de Asociacion de Defensa y Promocion de los Derechos Humanos (Spain), 
Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l'Homme (FIDH - France), 
Free China Movement (China), 
Freedom House (USA), Hong Kong 
Human Rights Monitor (Hong Kong), 
Human Rights in China (China),
Images Asia (Thailand), 
Indonesia's Forum for Human Dignity (Indonesia),
Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI) (Indonesia),
International Indian Treaty Council (USA), 
International League for Human Rights (Malaysia), 
International Association for Religious Freedom (UK),
International Fellowship Of  Reconciliation (IFOR - Belgium), 
Japan Federation of Publishing Worker's Union (Japan), 
Japanese Association for Human Rights of Korean in Japan (Japan), 
Jubilee Campaign (UK), 
La Voix des Sans-Voix (Congo-Kinshasa), 
Liga Mexicana por la Defensa de Los Derechos
Humanos (Mexico), 
Ligue des Electeurs (Congo-Kinshasa), 
Minbyun Lawyers for
a Democratic Society (South Korea), 
National Commission for Justice and Peace, 
National Coalition Governement of the Union of Burma (Burma), 
Nepal Council of World Affairs (Nepal), 
Observatoire International des Prisons (OIP - France), 
People Forum for Human Rights and Development (Buthan),
Promotion de la Femme Rurale (Congo-Kinshasa), 
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial
Center for Human Rights (USA), 
South Asia Human Rights Documentation Center (India), 
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM - Malaysia), 
Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (Philippines), 
The Society for Threatened Peoples (USA),
Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD - Tibet), 
Tibetan Young Buddhist Association (Tibet), 
Toronto Association for Democracy in China (Chine), 
Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (Vietnam), 
War Resister's International (WRI - UK), 
West Papuan People's Front (Papuasia).