Oct 30, 2020

UN Special Rapporteurs Send Joint Allegation Letter to Lao Government Raising Issue of ChaoFa Hmong

The United Nations has made public a joint allegation letter submitted by ten UN Special Rapporteurs to the Lao Government raising the issue of state-sponsored persecution of the ChaoFa Hmong. The letter was based on Information received concerning the alarming situation of the Hmong indigenous community located in the Phou Bia region (referred to as the “ChaoFa Hmong”), including the indiscriminate attacks against the community, enforced and involuntary disappearances, denying access to food and lacking health care and access to safe and drinking water. The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) has been campaigning for years to have the international community recognize the crimes being committed against the ChoaFa Hmong, and we are extremely thankful to the UN Special Rapporteurs who have taken up this largely unknown case. We urge the entire international community to pressure the government of Laos to respond appropriately to this letter and to cease the crimes being committed in the Phou Bia region.

The special procedures of the Human Rights Council are independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advice on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. The endorsers of the allegation letter on the case of the Chaofa Hmong are: 

  • Special Rapporteur on the right to food 
  • Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
  • Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment  
  • Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions 
  • Special Rapporteur on the right to health 
  • Special Rapporteur on the the right to adequate housing
  • Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people
  • Special Rapporteur on Minorities issues 
  • Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights 
  • Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation

The Hmong are an indigenous group originally from the mountainous regions of southern China, Viet Nam, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. Up to 600.000 Hmong are estimated to live in Northern Laos, mostly in the Phou Bia area, a resource rich remote region covered of jungle. They distinguish themselves from the general Laotian population because of their ethnicity, written and spoken language, culture and religion. According to the latest national census, they constitute about 10 percent of the Lao People's Democratic Republic (LPDR), which makes them the third largest minority. Despite this, the government refuses to acknowledge the Hmong as an indigenous group, leaving the community without access to legal protection under international law that would accompany such status. In line with that, Lao is the sole language of instruction, which puts Hmong children and other ethnic minorities at an early disadvantage in the Laotian society.

Since the establishment of the Lao People's Democratic Republic (LPDR) in 1975, the Hmong communities have experienced violent attacks from the Lao People’s Army (LPA), which continue till this day. The Hmong suffer from discrimination, uncompensated land confiscation, arbitrary arrests, violations of their cultural and religious rights, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, abject poverty, inequalities, a lack of access to health and education, persecution and military violence. As a result, the daily social life and economic sufficiency of the Hmong indigenous communities is continuously being destroyed, resulting in hunger, diseases, undernutrition and lack of medicaments. Explicit recognition of the Hmong would provide additional mechanisms to address some of the aforementioned abuses, considering that the LDPR signed article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and voted in favor of the 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Under the 1991 Constitution, the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party was designated as the one and only legal political party in the country. Accordingly, the rule of law is undermined by political interference and endemic corruption. Government opponents, human rights activists and ethnic and religious minorities are often detained without valid legal justifications. There have been numerous cases of individuals who became victims of enforced disappearances after they had been arrested by the Laotian authorities. Laos signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and therefore the government is committed not to arbitrarily arrest anyone. Sombath Somphone, a prominent social and environmental activist, was abducted at a police checkpoint in 2012. For the past eight years, the Laotian government has failed to provide any relevant information about investigations into Mr Somphone’s fate or whereabouts. The enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, however, is not an isolated case. On 12 March 2020 a group of Hmong individuals composed by an elderly man (80 years old) and three young girls (18, 17 and 15 years old) disappeared when crossing the Paksan checkpoint, in western Laos. They were trying to flee the extreme situation and the constant military attacks allegedly perpetrated by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP). To this day, their location is still unknown.

During the Vietnam War, the Hmong were recruited by the American Forces in an attempt to counter the Vietnamese invasion of Northern Laos. At the end of the conflict, when the communists took control of the area, the Americans ceased to actively support them. Since then, the government has targeted and discriminated the Hmong people. Due to the persecution and military violence against them, many Hmong have attempted to seek refuge in neighboring countries, but in recent years it has become increasingly dangerous as Vietnam and Thailand have standing collaboration efforts with the Laotian government to aid in the forceful repatriation of Hmong refugees. Others, have gone into hiding in the remote Laotian jungle for fear of government retaliation. This particular group has been referred as to ‘ChaoFa Hmong’ and its population is estimated to be between 2.000 and 4.000 people.

According to the CWHP’s contacts in the jungle, the Laotian Security forces have fired indiscriminately heavy artillery into the areas the ‘ChaoFa Hmong’ hide, despite being aware that there are civilians, including very small children, in these communities. Reports and evidence received from these settlements indicate that they are constantly being chased and attacked and have to move weekly in order to sustain its peace and security. They have been targeted by the Laotian government by mean of a violent military campaign that effectively seeks to eradicate these Hmong groups from the territory.

The ‘ChaoFa Hmong’ fear they will be executed if they surrender and leave the jungle. Reports suggest that hundreds of Hmong have been lured from the jungle by the prospect of amnesty, but many of them have been met with retaliation instead. Hmong communities living in remote rural areas are the most affected by food insecurity and do not have access to basic services such as health care facilities. Hmong in the bush often survive on roots they must dig up from several feet underground. Since they face frequent military attacks, they rarely remain in one place for longer than three weeks, which is not enough time to grow their own food. Consequently, many are suffering from severe starvation. On 18 October 2016, it was reported that groups of starving ‘ChaoFa Hmong’ were persuaded into a killing site after food and supplies were offered to them by the Laotian military.  They also have very little access to safe drinking water for the same reasons mentioned above.

In addition to heavy artillery, the Laotian military has been allegedly making use of chemicals against ‘ChaoFa Hmong’ communities. During September and October 2016, several infants died of violent coughing following military attacks, who were likely making use of rockets allegedly loaded with a toxic gas. Similar cases continued to be reported throughout 2018 and the first half of 2019.

In addition to historical reasons such as the Hmong involvement in the Vietnam War, we have strong reasons to believe that the increasing attacks since 2016 by the Laotian military against the ‘ChaoFa’ still on the jungle are motivated by economic purposes. Several areas in the North of Laos have been designated by the government as ‘specific economic zones’. In other words, the State has selected these territories for the development of large-scale industrial projects and the attraction of foreign investment. This situation has allowed for several foreign firms to gain land concessions with a validity of 99 years, which has led to the immigration of foreign workers to tap the rubber. The allocation of land has involved land-grabbing practices that have forced many Hmong communities to relocate and deprived them of their subsistence means. Moreover, they face extensive environmental problems. The construction of hydroelectric dams along the Nam Ngum River, as well as gold and silver mining and illegal wood logging have seriously affected the environment in the Phou Bia area.

The situation is urgent, as military violence has surged in the past couple of years and the Hmong fear the military is building up to a final eradication effort that could see the last remaining Hmong in the jungle wiped out. The Lao Government does not ensure basic human rights to these Hmong, committing war crimes by allegedly using chemical weapons. Some even speak of genocide, since all the human rights violations stated here seem to indicate that the Government of Laos shows a specific intent to make the Hmong people of the jungle disappear.