May 30, 2023

UNPO and Montagnards Community Report: Land Confiscation and Injustice against K'Ho Indigenous People in K'Ren Hamlet, Lam Dong Province, Vietnam

The Montagnard community of Vietnam and Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) has recently submitted to the UN Special Procedures´s attention a report concerning the negative impacts and rights violations suffered by the K'Ho Indigenous People in relation to the confiscation of land in the Lam Dong Province, Vietnam.

The Lam Dong Authority's confiscation of their lands, which appear to be for the construction of a golf course and holiday resort, raises serious questions about the protection of indigenous rights and equitable land distribution in Vietnam.

The information compiled within the report has been compiled by representatives of the Montagnard community of Vietnam with the support of the UNPO,  focusing on the events leading up to the authorities confiscation of lands in the K’Ren Hamlet, the corporate interests and incentives behind the projects, and impacts on the K’Ho indigenous people, particularly as it relates to the absence of proper resettlement and fair financial compensation. The report aims to provide relevant and up-to-date information,compiled by community representatives impacted by the land confiscation, while also highlighting Vietnam’s failure to protect and uphold the rights of indigenous peoples, and the need to ensure justice for the affected community.

The K'Ho People, Land Confiscation and Hidden Agendas

The K'Ho indigenous people have inhabited the Central Highlands of Vietnam for centuries, with a deep-rooted connection to their ancestral lands. Their livelihoods primarily depend on agriculture, which sustains their communities and cultural practices. The importance of preserving indigenous land rights, as enshrined in international legal frameworks, cannot be overstated.

The Lam Dong Authority, in collaboration with the C47 bidder, orchestrated the confiscation of lands in K'Ren Hamlet on the 20th February 2023 under the pretext of the Ta Hoet water catchment project. However, evidence has surfaced indicating an ulterior motive: the subsequent sale of the seized lands to the Han Viet Company for the construction of a golf course and holiday resort. This raises concerns about corruption, lack of transparency, and the blatant disregard for the rights of the indigenous people.

Violation of Indigenous Rights: Inadequate Compensation and Suppression of Protests

The land confiscation not only infringes upon the K'Ho people's rights to their ancestral lands but also undermines their cultural heritage, traditional practices, and economic sustenance. The indigenous community's plea to halt the corporate invasion and return the taken lands reflects their struggle for survival and preservation of their way of life.

The K'Ho indigenous people, predominantly Evangelists and Catholics, faced significant challenges during the land clearing process. Religious leaders were coerced by the Authority to convince their followers to surrender their lands. Despite opposition from some local religious guilds, the authority persistently pressured the residents through Sunday services. Approximately 110 households were directly affected, with 76 households expected to be impacted later.

Importantly, the K'Ho people, forcibly evicted from their homes and farmlands, have received minimal resettlement assistance and financial compensation.  The compensation offered by the authority was lower than initially claimed, with residents only receiving VND 170 million (approx. 7000USD) per 1000 m2 for residential land and VND 20 million (approx. 800USD) per 1000 m2 for agricultural land. Only 30% of the impacted households have received their compensation so far, and those without proper land documents were only compensated for their agricultural lands. The lack of proper resettlement plans and fair compensation further exacerbates their vulnerabilities, leaving them marginalized and disenfranchised.

Residents who opposed the land confiscation were moreover faced with violence and suppression from the authority. Mobile police officers forcefully dispersed peaceful protests, resulting in casualties among defenseless protesters, including the elderly and children. The violent suppression by the authorities resulted in a number of recorded casualties. For example, Miss K'Bo and Miss K'Vuon, both members of the K'Ho ethnic group, suffered injuries and trauma after being pushed and trampled by plain clothed officers. Injured victims from the protests also report being denied access to inpatient care and medical records, highlighting further racial discrimination against the K'Ho community.

Plea of the K’Ren Hamlet’s Residents

The residents of K'Ren hamlet plead the Vietnamese government to halt the confiscation of their land by corporate entities and authorities, and to restore the land to its rightful owners, enabling them to sustain their livelihoods. The indigenous people of Tay Nguyen Central Highland depend solely on agriculture for their survival, lacking any alternative sources of income.

The international community's intervention is crucial to ensure that the Lam Dong Authority respects the land rights of the K'Ho indigenous people and upholds the principles of justice, equality, and human rights.