Vietnamese writer and human rights defender Võ Văn Ái has passed away

Vietnamese writer and human rights defender Võ Văn Ái has passed away

Dear friends,

I am so sad to announce that Võ Văn Ái, human rights defender, poet and President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights died on Thursday in Paris after a long illness. He was a great friend of the Transnational Radical Party and honorary member of the Global Committee for the Rule of Law “Marco Pannella”.

Vo Van Ai was a Buddhist, a proponent of nonviolence. From his early childhood, he refused to accept injustice, and took every risk to stand up against oppression. At the age of 11, he was arrested and tortured for his struggle for the independence of Vietnam under colonial rule. During the Vietnam War in the 1960s, he travelled the world to advocate a nonviolent, Buddhist solution to the conflict, so the Vietnamese people could determine their own future, not be subjected to a solution made in Moscow, Beijing, Washington or Paris.  In Italy, he marched for peace from Sicily to Rome with Danilo Dolci and other Italian friends. It was then that he met Marco Pannella, who supported his vision and actions, and would become a very dear friend.

Sadly, when the Vietnam War ended, the worst happened. On 30th April 1975, Hanoi’s tanks rolled into Saigon and the country was united under Communist rule. Over two million people were detained in re-education camps, where hundreds of thousands died of hunger, exhaustion, torture, or were summarily executed. Two million more sought to escape the communist regime and seek freedom by taking to the sea in makeshift crafts – the Boat People. According to the United Nations, at least one million lost their lives in this tragic exodus. In Paris, Vo Van Ai launched a campaign with the support of French intellectuals to charter a rescue ship, the Ile de Lumiere, to rescue those in danger on the South China seas. Thousands of Vietnamese were saved in this effort.

From then on, with the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, in which I was also fully active, we waged tireless international campaigns to denounce human rights violations in Vietnam and seek international pressure for the release of political prisoners and to democratic reforms. Over the years, Members of the European Parliament from the Radical Party, including Marco Pannella, Marco Cappato, Olivier Dupuis and others were always ready to support our actions.

For me, Vo Van Ai was not only the President of our movement, but also my mentor, my inspiration – and eventually my partner in life. I am lost without him. These words from a poem by W. H. Auden best express my feelings :

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

But the struggle goes on. Vietnam is still under a communist dictatorship. Hundreds of young activists are imprisoned because of their opinions or beliefs, and all basic liberties are denied. Our Committee will continue the fight. I hope you will join us to realize Vo Van Ai’s dream – that of building freedom and democracy for Vietnam.

Penelope Faulkner