Hmong community to petition UN Special Rapporteur on desecration of graves.
Family members of Hmong people whose graves were desecrated in Thailand in 2005 will call upon a United Nations official to recognize a violation of human rights in a hearing at the University of Minnesota [on] Wednesday, Dec. 10  [...].
The Dec. 10  hearing will feature testimony from family members, experts on Hmong culture and students who have been working on the grave desecration issue. The Hmong community will petition United Nations Special Rapporteur James Anaya to use his authority to formulate recommendations that will prevent further desecration of indigenous grave sites and remedy the violations against the Hmong community.
As the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Issues, Anaya is visiting the university at the invitation of the U of M's Human Rights Program, and the hearing will coincide with International Human Rights Day.
In fall 2005, more than 900 Hmong graves were disinterred at Wat Tham Krabok, a Buddhist monastery that served for more than a decade as home to thousands of Hmong families fleeing persecution after the communist takeover of Laos in 1975. Hmong graves were exhumed by teams of workers who are shown on videotape dismembering the bodies, removing the bones and throwing the remains into open graves.
The Thai government's response to inquiries from the United Nations, as well as public officials and representatives of the Hmong-American community, was that the bodies were disinterred because of water quality complaints. Representatives of the families reject the government's explanation, citing the government's failure to raise this issue during the 20 years the Hmong lived at the site or to provide proper notification to families about the need to reclaim the remains of their deceased.
For the Hmong people, the burial place is a sacred site; according to their animist religious beliefs, after death the body has spiritual continuity and the spirits of the dead have implications and influence over the living.
Members of the local Hmong community approached the U of M Human Rights Program looking for assistance. Students in the program took statements from 159 different families, wrote letters in English on the families' behalf and sent these statements to the United Nations. This effort formed the basis of the U.N.'s involvement in the Hmong graves desecration case.
In addition, Human Rights Program director Barbara Frey drafted the complaint to the United Nations, on behalf of the Hmong families.
"We believe that an official determination by this U.N. official that the human rights of the Hmong people were violated by the Thai government is the first step to repairing the damage that has been done," said Frey. "We hope that no more Hmong families, or any other cultural or indigenous groups, will have to live with the anguish that results from the desecration of their sacred burial sites."