Apr 05, 2011

Degar-Montagnards: Money First, Human Rights Last

During the Vietnam War, the Montagnards -- Vietnam’s Central Highlands hill people, a distinct ethnic and cultural group different from the majority lowland Vietnamese – became strong allies in fighting against the communists. They had long wanted autonomy within Vietnam, and seeking their support Saigon granted them many of their requests.


Below is an article published by: Family Security Matters.

The newfound fervor for human rights among liberal supporters of President Obama’s “kinetic” enterprise in Libya might be better turned to Vietnam. Instead, ignoring the persecution of minorities there and ongoing – indeed, increasing – repression of dissent, they fall into line with US businesses profiting from cheap Vietnamese labor to look away. We ally with Middle East foes of freedom and abandon real seekers of freedom in Vietnam.
During the Vietnam War, the Montagnards -- Vietnam’s Central Highlands hill people, a distinct ethnic and cultural group different from the majority lowland Vietnamese – became strong allies in fighting against the communists. They had long wanted autonomy within Vietnam, and seeking their support Saigon granted them many of their requests.
Since 1975, the communist government of Vietnam has ruthlessly persecuted the Montagnards, imprisoning, torturing, murdering many and taking their lands for roads, plantations and mines, denuding the forests for valuable woods, moving the Montagnards from poverty to rootless impoverishment and loss of culture. Together with many within the government, those with connections and Chinese state businesses profit.

Many Montagnards are devout Protestants, Degar, whose churches are not recognized by the state and whose members come in for particularly harsh punishments. The Montagnard Foundation is their voice in the West, documenting and exposing their persecution. Few listen and fewer care, least of all the US government. Under both presidents Bush and Obama, the US government has looked away, with the myth that somehow Vietnam would be a counterweight to China but actually favoring US businesses that also profit from trade with Vietnam.
I’ve frequently written about this. (See, for example, these at a previous website.) My friend Scott Johnson is a lawyer, writer and human rights activist focusing on tribal peoples from South East Asia. His latest article, awaiting publication, focuses on cables from our ambassador to Vietnam that came to light in the WikiLeaks.  The cables in question are from US Ambassador to Vietnam Michael Michalak titled, Vietnam Religious Freedom Update. “Essentially the leaked confidential cables are a testament of betrayal as they blatantly fail to mention the hundreds of tribal Christian Montagnards or Degar people imprisoned in Vietnam….It’s as if the hundreds of Montagnard prisoners never existed….”
The leaked cables also makes numerous mention of “significant gains” Vietnam is making on religious freedom with references to “registration of scores of new religions” and the “training of hundreds of new Protestant and Catholic clergy”. ”Registration” and “training” are in reality codewords for control enforced by brutal security forces. The new religions are in fact government implemented programs designed to control religion and Hanoi has merely changed its tactics in persecuting Christians since being dropped from the CPC designation. Ever since, thousands of Montagnard Christians have been arrested, tortured and released in a deliberate policy to repress house churches from expanding membership.

Over the past decade Protestant congregations have grown 600% in Vietnam, a statistic that has alarmed communist officials. Thus control mechanisms, namely, torture, beatings, imprisonment and even killings have become integral to Vietnam’s policy to control religion through “training” and “registration” of government Churches, such as the Southern Evangelical Church of Vietnam. By mentioning the successful expansion of these government approved Churches the State Department merely legitimises Vietnam’s oppressive police state. In other words – the US government is saying, “yes you can be a Christian, but you must be a Christian controlled by the Vietnamese communist party”.
To its credit, Human Rights Watch has not abandoned the Montagnards. In report after report, HRW has documented and decried their ruthless treatment by Hanoi. HRW’s latest report is covered in the New York Times:
“The United States government should recognize this and should clearly designate Vietnam as a country of particular concern for violations of religious freedom,” Mr. Robertson said. “I think the facts demand it. The situation with the Montagnards is one of the most egregious violations of religious freedom in Vietnam.”
The Central Highlands are mostly off limits to journalists and independent rights groups. The report said much of its information came from the official news media as well as from asylum seekers who had fled through the mountains to neighboring Cambodia and from overseas Montagnard advocacy groups.
Hanoi hasn’t only been persecuting Montagnards. Any who challenge or are feared to challenge the government’s corruption and oppression are arrested, often tortured, and imprisoned. The latest instance, in another report by the New York Times, “Case of Activist With Deep Roots in Vietnam Draws Unusually Wide Public Support.”
Mr. Vu, who holds a law degree from the Sorbonne in Paris, has impeccable revolutionary and cultural credentials. His father was a prominent poet who was a colleague of Ho Chi Minh. His mother was a personal nurse for Ho Chi Minh….
Mr. Vu is the latest of dozens of Vietnamese lawyers and activists arrested over the past five years for challenging the government. His case, along with the continued detention of many other dissidents, suggests that a crackdown many analysts had seen as a prelude to a Communist Party congress in January may not have eased.
Mr. Vu’s case “may well evolve into one of the most important cases involving a political dissident in the recent history of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Saturday.
The case pits an unusually well-connected legal activist against highly placed political figures, and it touches on a variety of human rights issues including police misconduct, arbitrary detention, violations of privacy, land grabbing, neglect of due process and repression of freedom of expression, the report said.
The case has spread across the Internet, drawing support from political bloggers, academics, journalists, Communist Party members and the general public….
His arrest appeared to be part of a tightening of controls throughout 2010 on freedom of expression, including the harassment and arrest of writers, political activists, lawyers and bloggers. Dissident Web sites were disabled by digital attacks, and new regulations restricted the use of public Internet cafes. Public protests over evictions and the confiscation of church property were put down by force.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton very occasionally mouths concern about abuses of human rights in Vietnam but she and the Obama administration continue headlong as a priority to curry favor with Hanoi, seldom reciprocated in any world forum or conflict of interests.
The aimlessness of liberals, self-serving by US businesses, and the confused policies of the Bush and Obama administrations in Vietnam continues, while true friends of freedom suffer.