Vo Van Ai was born on 19th October 1938 in Central Vietnam. He is a prominent human rights defender, writer and poet who has dedicated his life to the movement for freedom and democracy in Vietnam. In 1964, he became overseas representative of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) and actively promoted the Buddhist nonviolent movement for peace and democracy. It was in those years that he first met with his long-time friend Marco Pannella.
After the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, he founded Quê Mẹ (Homeland), the most prominent samizdat Vietnamese journal circulated clandestinely in Vietnam. He played a key role in drawing the world’s attention to human rights abuses under the communist regime and produced the first comprehensive map of “re-education camps” (Vietnamese laogai) with 150 camps and over 800,000 prisoners. In 1978 he contributed to launch the campaign “Ile de Lumiere”, the first rescue ship to save Vietnamese Boat People fleeing for freedom on the South China seas.
Vo Van Ai is also founder and President of Quê Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, both Paris-based organisations established in 1976 to promote democratic freedoms and human rights in Vietnam. He is also Director of the International Buddhist Information Bureau. Together with Penelope Faulkner, who is Vice-President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, Vo Van Ai is also member of the Nonviolent Radical Party Transnational Transparty.
As human rights defender and specialist in issues related to religious freedom, Vo Van Ai makes regular reports to the United Nations. He has held hearings at the US Congress, at the European Parliament and other international institutions. As a writer and historian, in addition to his countless articles and human rights reports, his written works include 17 books of poetry, essays and philosophy, as well as studies on Buddhism and Vietnamese history. He is a recipient of the 2011 Società Libera “Special Prize for Freedom”, in Italy.