In memoriam: Vo Van Ai
The Community of Democracies Civil Society Pillar are deeply grieved to announce that due to complications from a cardiac surgery, tireless human rights defender Vo Van Ai passed away at the age of 88 on 26th January in Paris.
The poet, writer, human rights and Buddhist defender and religious freedom expert, Vo Van Ai, was known for helping to initiate a campaign to launch the “Ile de Lumiere”, the first rescue boat that, in the late 1970s, saved the lives of Vietnamese refugees who fled by sea after the war, the so-called “Boat People”.
Vo Van Ai was born on 19th October, 1935 in Vietnam. He grew up in Hué, the former imperial capital of central Vietnam, where his family originated. At the age of 11, when he was involved in a Buddhist youth movement that supports Vietnamese self-determination, he was capture, a victim and witness to the torture of men and women by the authorities. In 1955, he went to Paris and studied medicine but later enrolled to study literature. From this European country he continued to actively support the non-violent Buddhist movement for democracy and peace, and to play his key role in calling world attention to human rights violations under the communist regime. In 1963 he founded the Vietnamese Buddhist Association, and in 1964, he became the Overseas Spokesperson of the independent Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV).
In 1976 he founded the Vietnam Human Rights Committee and Quê Ma: Action for Democracy in Vietnam , two Paris-based organizations that promoted democratic freedoms and human rights in Vietnam. In 1985, Von Van Ai spoke and reported, for the first time, the human rights violations before the UN Human Rights Council in New York. In 500 pages, he detailed the violations that took place during the Vietnamese regime. Since then, his efforts before international bodies have been unceasing. Moreover, he actively promoted the Buddhist non-violent peace movement, leaving a legacy and inspiring new generations of civil society activists.