Greater local-level autonomy in Viet Nam would be ‘litmus test’ for religious freedom – UN expert

Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Heiner Bielefeldt. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

31 July 2014 – During his recent visit to Viet Nam, the United Nations independent expert on religious freedom, Heiner Bielefeldt, stressed the need for religious communities in the country to be able to operate also outside of the officially established channels for religious practice.

Wrapping up a 10-day visit, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief expressed his concerns and hopes regarding the current situation in Viet Nam, where the right of religious communities to independently operate is often restricted and unsafe.

He noted that there are many serious violations of freedom of religion or belief, in particular affecting independent religious groups from Buddhist and Protestant communities, and activists within the Catholic Church.

“Granting autonomy for religious communities to function independently would be a litmus test for the development of freedom of religion or belief in Viet Nam,” Mr. Bielefeldt said.

He expressed appreciation towards the Government`s effort to improve freedom of religion or belief via legal instruments.

However, he also underlined the need for long-lasting improvement. “Official registration status with the Government is no guarantee that freedom of religion or belief is fully respected,” Mr. Bielefeldt said.

In this respect, Mr. Bielefeld particularly underlined the need for the new Government legislations on religious affairs to extend existing norms and practices to everyone’s right of freedom of religion or belief.

“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.

During his recent visit to the country, which began on 21 July and ended today, the Special Rapporteur met with various Government officials and local authorities to discuss issues related to his mandate. In his effort to meet recognized and unrecognized religious or belief communities and civil society organisations, however, Mr. Bielefeldt encountered many people under “heavy” surveillance by the police.

“I received credible information that some individuals with whom I wanted to meet had been under heavy surveillance, warned, intimidated, harassed or prevented from travelling by the police,” he noted.

Mr. Bielefeldt is currently working on his conclusions and recommendations report regarding the current situation of freedom of religion or belief in Viet Nam, which will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in 2015.


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