Lawyer Nguyen Van Dai
On 8th Nov, 2012, the government issued Decree 92/2012 ND-CP to replace Decree 22/2005 ND-CP issued 1st Mar, 2005 to guide the application of certain provisions in the Ordinance on Belief and Religion. Decree 92/2012 ND-CP will be effective 1st Jan, 2013.
Comparing the two documents, one would see that Decree 92/2012 ND-CP does not contain any improvements compared to Decree 22/2005 ND-CP but actually displays a number of serious setbacks as follows:Decree 22/2005 ND-CP stipulates that a religious organization after formation shall register its religious operations (actions). Those that have successfully registered may then conduct religious operations. They would be legally recognized by the government after 20 years of operation if such operation was registered pursuant to the Ordinance on Belief and Religion.
Instead, Decree 92/2012 ND-CP stipulates that a religious organization must have conducted stable religious activities for 20 years since such activities were officially approved by the relevant District People’s Committee in order to register for religious operations. The religious organization may only conduct religious activities, not religious operations.
Article 3 of the Ordinance on Belief and Religion refers only to the concept of religious operations. However, Article 5 of Decree 92/2012 ND-CP stipulates that a religious organization upon formation may only register for religious activities such as worshipping rituals, prayer services and other acts to express faith. This is different from religious operations, which include:
“a) Organize religious events, observe rituals, conduct missionary work, preach at locations already registered for religious activities;
b) Organize general assembly to pass the organization’s charter, regulations and related contents before requesting recognition by the government;
c) Elect, designate leaders of the organization, hold classes to teach doctrines;
d) Fix, renovate, upgrade facilities belonging to the religious organization;
e) Conduct charity and humanitarian operations.”
Under the new decree, religious organizations must wait for 20 years since being approved for religious activities before they may register for religious operations as defined the above.
The right of religious organizations to immediately conduct religious operations after formation conforms to the principles of freedoms of belief and religion as stipulated in Vietnam’s 1992 Constitution and the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. At the same time, it conforms to the reality of religious organizations formed in Vietnam over the past many years.
On the other hand, the stipulations about registration of religious operations in Chapter 3 of Decree 92/2012 ND-CP do not allow religious organizations to conduct religious operations for at least 20 years. This decree prohibits religious organizations from proceeding religious operations as provided for according to the stipulations in Article 7 of Decree 92/2012 ND-CP. These organizations may only register for religious activities.
In reality, in Vietnam there are scores of religious organizations of the different Protestant denominations that have been formed and that have been conducting religious operations for many years. Most of these organizations were formed less than 20 years ago. And only a few of the existing Protestant denominations have registered for religious operations under Decree 22/2005 ND-CP. For years, even though the remaining denominations did not register for religious operations, they have nevertheless conducted religious operations according to the law. Their operations have contributed to stabilizing society, elevating the spiritual life of many people. Their charity operations have helped many people facing hardship.
Almost all Protestant denominations are organized from the federation down to the district, zone, and local ___ levels. Pursuant to Decree 92/2012 ND-CP the organizational structure of Protestant denominations that have not registered their religious operations would be completely abolished.
Therefore, the stipulations regarding registration of religious activities and registration of religious operations do not conform to the freedoms of belief and religion as stipulated in Article 70 of the Constitution and Article 18 of the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, neither are they in accordance with the reality of the religious organizations in Vietnam.
Based on the stipulations of Vietnam’s 1992 Constitution and the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, freedoms of belief and religion of the Vietnamese people must be understood as follows:
First, citizens have the right to freedoms of thoughts, belief, and religion. This does not allow any limitation and these freedoms must be protected unconditionally.
Second, the right to conduct belief-related and religious operations such as performing ceremonies, missionary work, preaching, teaching catechism, or charity work may be conducted individually or collectively, in public areas or in privacy.
All religious activities must be tied to religious operations. That is the essence of freedoms of belief and religion. Separating religious activities from religious operations is not acceptable because that is against the essence of religion.
Religious organizations are formed for the purpose of rallying and uniting people who share the same religious faith to collectively perform religious activities and conduct religious operations. Religious organizations once formed shall be allowed to register for religious operations so that they could fulfill their functions such as to protect the lawful rights and interests of their members; perform religious rituals, missionary work, preaching, teaching and fostering catechism for members; and conduct charity and humanitarian work.
Stipulating that a religious organization after being formed must wait for 20 years before it may register for religious operation is absolutely unreasonable.
Once more, we can ascertain that the stipulations about registration of religious operations in Chapter 3 of Decree 92/2012 ND-CP issued 8th Nov, 2012 is not in accordance with the essence of the right to freedoms of belief and religion as stipulated in Vietnam’s 1992 Constitution and the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The goal of Decree 92/2012 ND-CP is to completely abolish the organizational structure and religious operations of the Protestant denominations that were formed less than 20 years ago and have not been registered according to Decree 22/2005 ND-CP.
This is a step backward in the right to freedoms of belief and religion in Vietnam.
Hanoi, December 18, 2012