Apr 23, 2021

Hmong in Isolation: Atrocities against the Hmong in Laos

The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) has released a report documenting an increase in military attacks and repression of the Hmong community indigenous to the Xaisomboun region of Laos. Driven by animosity and distrust of the Hmong and foreign investment projects in the mining, timber and tourism sectors, the government has, over the past two years, stepped up its campaign to eliminate the Hmong from the region or force them into military-controlled settlements. This culminated in March with the total sealing off of the area around the Phou Bia mountain, Loas' biggest mountain and a home to the Hmong, for all but military personnel, to enable a final push to remove the Hmong from the area.

On 15 February 2019, the provincial authorities in Xaisomboun Province – a natural resource rich, mountainous region of Laos inhabited by the indigenous ChaoFa Hmong community – signed a deal with a private company to explore of developing the region around the Phou Bia mountain, Lao’s biggest mountain, for tourism. That agreement has kick-started a further round of repression of the indigenous Hmong, threatening their existence.

Military attacks and persecution in the region are not new. The Hmong have, for decades, endured militarized occupation in aid of extractive industries. Since 2015, as more foreign investment has poured into Laos, they have witnessed attacks increasing and ever more people forced to leave their lands for militarized settlements. There they have limited employment, no rights to an education in their own language, and little in the way of humanitarian assistance.

Over the past two years, the plight of the Hmong has been coming to the attention of the UN’s various human rights expert bodies. In 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty was permitted a visit to Laos; though not to Xaisomboun Province. He found systemic policies of discrimination against rural, ethnic minority and indigenous communities.

In 2020, nine UN Special Rapporteurs and the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances wrote a Letter of Allegation to the government of Laos, expressing deep concern with the attacks on the ChaoFa Hmong community and their dire humanitarian situation.

In March 2021, the UN’s academic partner in its genocide early warning mechanism upgraded the risk level in Laos, citing specifically the military's targeting and persecution of the Hmong as a primary indicator of potential future mass atrocities.

Yet, despite these developments, the government has over these past two years ramped up its efforts to clear the region of the Hmong. In March 2021, just as the risk-level for mass atrocities in Laos was increased, the military sealed off the Phou Bia region completely and began a final push to clear the area for the tourism project it agreed to in 2019.

This report argues that the international community must act urgently to protect the Hmong in the Xaisomboun Province, not only for the sake of the Hmong there, but also to ensure that the government’s policies there do not spread to all rural ethnic minority and indigenous communities across Laos.

Photo: David Kovyeej Her