The message at the annual UN Human Rights Council in Geneva this week was clear: Vietnam still struggles to ensure religious freedom for its citizens.
‘Whereas religious life and religious diversity are a reality in Vietnam today, autonomy and activities of independent religious or belief communities – that is, unrecognised communities – remain restricted and unsafe, with the rights to freedom of religion or belief… grossly violated in the face of constant surveillance, intimidation, harassment and persecution,’ said Heiner Bielefeldt, UN Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Religion, who visited the country in July 2014.
In response, the Vietnamese government claims that religious life in the country is ‘vibrant’ and that 95 per cent of its population practises a religion. However, the UN report estimates that just 24 million of the country’s 90 million follow a ‘recognised’ religion, suggesting a disparity either in the number of religious believers in general or, specifically, of those following religions the government acknowledges.
Vietnam’s minority groups, such as the Christian Montagnards – some of whom fled to neighbouring Cambodia, only to be sent back – find it most difficult to freely practise their faith, said Bielefeldt.
According to Radio Free Asia, at least four of the three dozen Montagnards recently sent back to Vietnam are now missing. Wan-Hea Lee, the UN’s Office of the High Commission of Human Rights representative in Cambodia, told RFA a ‘speedy solution is urgently needed’.