From Lord Avebury
May 6, 2008
On 13-17 May 2008, your government will host the 5th United Nations’ Day of the Vesak in Hanoi. This should be a happy occasion, a day to remember Buddha’s message of tolerance and peace, and to inspire all people, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, to work together towards mutual understanding and harmonious coexistence in our world.
However, we are deeply disturbed by recent reports of grave repression against Buddhism, the very faith you claim to celebrate. Only the State-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, controlled by the Communist Party’s Fatherland Front, will attend these celebrations, whilst the independent, traditional Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) remains banned and its leaders are prisoners in their own pagodas.
In the run-up to the Vesak, Police have seized UBCV pagodas to use for State-sponsored events, evicted and harassed UBCV monks, nuns and lay-followers in Lam Dong, Hue, Quang Tri and elsewhere. On 2nd May 2008, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expressed deep concern on “significant official harassment of monks, nuns and youth leaders associated with the UBCV”, including the long-term house arrest of UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang, 88 and his Deputy Thich Quang Do, 80, a 2008 Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Both monks have spent over 26 years in detention for their peaceful advocacy of religious freedom, democracy and human rights. Moreover, in the light of grave abuses against Buddhists, Protestants, Catholics, Hoa Hao, Cao Dai and other religious communities, the USCIRF recommended that Vietnam be re-designated in 2008 as a “Country of Particular Concern”.
We appreciate the progress you have made in certain domains, but this progress remains uneven. As a member of the World Trade Organization, non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, and a signatory to key UN human rights treaties, Vietnam has a binding obligation to uphold all internationally-recognised human rights. This entails respect for the mother of all freedoms – the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief.
In the occasion of the UN Day of Vesak, we urge you to release Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and Most Venerable Thich Quang Do and restore the UBCV’s legitimate status. By this gesture, you will restore true significance to the UN Day of the Vesak, and honour the 2,000 year heritage of Buddhism in Vietnam.
H.E. Nguyen Minh Triet, President, Socialist Republic of Vietnam
H.E. Nguyen Tan Dung, Prime Minister
H.E. Nong Duc Manh, Secretary General, Communist Party of Vietnam
H.E. Nguyen Phu Trong, President of the National Assembly