UN Envoy Accuses Vietnam of ‘Serious Violations’ of Religious Freedom

RFA 2014-07-31

A special U.N. envoy on a mission to Vietnam has accused the authoritarian government of “serious violations” of religious freedom and said the country’s police harassed and intimidated people he had wanted to meet in the course of his investigations.

Heiner Bielefeldt, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion, acknowledged that the one-party communist government was increasing efforts to improve freedom of religion but said he observed during his 11-day visit that “serious violations of freedom of religion or belief are a reality in Vietnam.”

He said the violations affected independent groups of Buddhists, including Hoa Hao-Buddhists, and of the Cao Dai religion, some Protestant communities and activists within the Catholic Church.

Hanoi officially recognizes nearly a dozen religions in a country of 90 million, but those not sanctioned are banned

Bielefeldt said religious communities in Vietnam should be able to operate also outside of the officially established channels for religious practice.

Besides, official registration status with the government “is no guarantee that freedom of religion or belief is fully respected,” he said at the end of his visit aimed at assessing the level of freedom of religion in the mainly Buddhist nation.

“Granting autonomy for religious communities to function independently would be a litmus test for the development of freedom of religion or belief in Vietnam,” he said. “In the current situation, their ability to operate as independent communities is unsafe and restricted.”

“Freedom of religion or belief has the status of universal human rights to be respected prior to, and independent of, any particular acts of administrative approval,” he stressed.

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