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Indigenous Peoples Standup for Their Rights in Vietnam

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Vietnam has been recognized as one of the countries in Southeast Asia with the impressive progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations by 2015. However, more than half of the Indigenous Peoples in Vietnam currently still live below the poverty line. Instead of trying to improve the standard living for the Indigenous Peoples, the Vietnamese government confiscates their ancestral farm lands. When they speak up for their land rights, the Vietnamese government labels them as “separatists” or “try to disturb the society”. With those alleged crimes, the Vietnamese government can send them to the prison without a fair trial.

On February 2008, the Indigenous Khmer-Krom farmers in Tri Ton district, An Giang province organized a peaceful protest to demand returning their confiscated farmland. The Vietnamese government used armed forces to disperse the protest. Many Khmer-Krom farmers were injured. Neang Phuong, Mr. Chau Hen’s wife, was shot in her leg and was refused for treatment at the Vietnamese hospital in Triton district. Mr. Chau Hen and his family escaped their beloved hometown to seek refugee status in Thailand.

Neang Phuong was shot at her leg by the Vietnamese police.

The UNHCR staff in Bangkok refused to grant Mr. Chau Hen’s family refugee status and asked them to go back to Vietnam because they believed that the Vietnamese government would not do any harm to them. On December 17, 2010, leaving behind their children in Bangkok, only Mr. Chau Hen and his wife went back to find out if the Vietnamese government would not do any harm to them as the UNHCR staff in Bangkok said or not. Unfortunately, when they got back to their village for about two hours, the Vietnamese government in Tri Ton district sent the Vietnamese polices to arrest Mr. Chau Hen.

On March 31, 2011, the Vietnamese court of Tri Ton district brought Mr. Chau Hen for a trial even he was very sick and could not speak to defend for himself. He was sentenced for two years in prison with the alleged crime of inciting the Khmer-Krom farmers to demand returning their confiscated farmlands and caused the public disturbance.

Since April 20, 2011, Mr. Chau Hen’s wife has urged the Vietnamese government to allow her to visit him, but the Vietnamese government keeps denying and made her suspected that if Mr. Chau Hen is actually alive or not. The Vietnamese polices promised her that she will be allowed to visit him on May 10, 2011. Hopefully, Mr. Chau Hen is still alive.

Mr. Chau Hen's Sons urged the UNHCR in Bangkok to grant them refugee status in April, 2011 after their father is imprisoned in Vietnam.

The human rights violations committed by the Vietnamese government against the Indigenous Peoples do not happen only in the Mekong Delta, but it is all over the country. The Degar (Montagnard) people in the central highland of Vietnam have been harshly persecuted when they stood up to demand for their fundamental rights, such as: land rights and religious freedom.

According the 46-page report, “Montagnard Christians in Vietnam: A Case Study in Religious Repression” by Human Rights Watch in March 2011, stated that “more than 250 Montagnards in prison or awaiting trial are charged with national security crimes such as "undermining national solidarity." Many former Montagnard political prisoners and detainees report that they were severely beaten or tortured in police custody and pre-trial detention. Since 2001, at least 25 Montagnards have died in prisons, jails, or police lock-ups after beatings or illnesses sustained while in custody, or shortly after being prematurely released by prison authorities to a hospital or home.”

In Muong Nhe, Dien Bien province of North Vietnam, near the border with Laos, since April 30, 2011, thousands of the Indigenous Hmong Peoples have protested to demand for their fundamental rights. According to the U.S. –based Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA), 28 protesters were killed and hundreds are missing after the military moved to suppress the protests. At this time, the Vietnamese government has surrounded this area and forbid any foreigners to visit this area.

The Tenth Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will be held at the United Nation Headquarter in New York City from May 16-27. The Vietnamese government and the organizations that represent for the Indigenous Peoples in Vietnam will attend this forum. In previous years, the Vietnamese government representatives always claimed that Vietnam does not violate Human Rights and always respect the rights of all people in Vietnam including the ethnic minorities. Vietnam does not recognize the existence of the Indigenous Peoples in its country. With the human rights violation records that the world is condemning Vietnam to respect the Human Rights of the people in Vietnam, especially the rights of the Indigenous Peoples, it would be hard to believe if Vietnam still sings the same old song at the forum this year.

It is time for Vietnam to open its heart and mind to have a constructive dialog with the Indigenous Peoples to solve the issues in a peaceful and respective way. If Vietnam keeps using the oppressive strategies to imprison and kill the Indigenous Peoples, then Vietnam will never gain the respect from the other countries. Moreover, it might lead to the human rights revolutions as in North Africa and Middle East.

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