March 25, 2008
Area: 48,769 sq. km
UNPO REPRESENTATION: ChaoFa Federated State
The Hmong people are represented at UNPO by the ChaoFa Federated State, which claims self-government of Hmong inhabited territories in Laos. According to their constitution, which was adopted in July 1998, the Hmong ChaoFa Federated State is based on democratic values and principles, transparency, power sharing and non-discrimination. The ChaoFa Federated State, works jointly with the Congress of World Hmong People (CWHP), for international cooperation and the organization of the Hmong people.
The Hmong ChaoFa people are an indigenous group originally from the ChaoFa region of Northern Laos. They distinguish themselves from the Laotian population because of their ethnicity, written and spoken language, culture, and religion. According to government sources, the Hmong ChaoFa constitutes the third largest ethnic group in the Lao’s People Democratic Republic (LPDR), whereas Hmong sources indicate that the Hmong population is in fact the second largest after the Laotian.
The majority of the Hmong population in Laos is situated in the mountainous northern area of Laos. The provinces inhabited by the Hmong Chao Fa include: Houaphanh, Xieng Khouang, Sayaboury, and the city of Luang Prebang along the Mekong River. The total area of the territories is approximately 48,769 sq. kilometres. Some mountain peaks reach above 2,800 metres in the region. Dense forests also cover the Northern and Eastern areas. The Hmong territory borders Vietnam in the East, China in the North, Burma in the Northwest, and Thailand in the West.
Hmong are subjected to; inter alia, discrimination, uncompensated land confiscation, arbitrary arrests and violations of their cultural and religious rights in LPDR.
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 in the LPDR by political interference and endemic corruption. Moreover, widespread restrictions exist with the freedoms of expression and association, political prisoners, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, abject poverty, inequality, and lack of access to health and education. These restrictions are further accompanied by severe limits on cultural and religious freedoms, for ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples, such as the Hmong.
During the Vietnam War, several Hmong were recruited by the American Forces to counter the invasion of Northern Laos by Vietnamese troops, a confrontation that is commonly referred to as “the Secret War”. At the end of the war, the Pathet Lao communist political movement took control of Laos and the American government ceased to actively support the Hmong in the country. Due to their war legacies, however, the Hmong continued to be stereotyped as a dangerous anti-government group, and have thus been systematically targeted and discriminated by the Laotian Government ever since.
Due to this continuing persecution and military violence, thousands of Hmong have gone into hiding in the Laotian jungle, while others have attempted to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. On 6 May 1985, approximately 300 civilians, including children, were captured and put into the cave of Xathonxay Mount Pha Nque, after which three chemical warheads identified as 41mm and 51mm were fired into the cave, leaving only two survivors. Other Hmongs, who were on their way to the Mekong River crossing the border to Thailand, faced mass military ambush which cost the lives of many more civilians. Moreover, those who were left in Laos were sent to re-education camps, where many Hmongs died. An estimated 2000-12000 Hmongs are still displaced in these remote areas due to fear of government retaliation. This shows a steep population decline, as in the 1970s the Hmong population in Laos was estimated to amount between 20 000 to 500 000, depending on the sources.
For the Hmong still living in Laos, the consequences of backing the losing side in the Vietnam War are still apparent, as persecution is a daily reality and many Hmong live in fear of arbitrary arrest and torture while experiencing abject poverty. In addition, areas of the Hmong territory and villages are facing environmental concerns as gold mining, illegal wood logging, and dam building have reached record numbers, claiming for economic sufficiency and rural development to sustain the country’s poverty reduction propaganda. These developments continue to cause environmental hazards and erosion, the reduction of wildlife and fisheries, the disappearance of the historical wilderness, and above all, the destruction of nature. Ironically, the Hmong are often accused of causing the country’s deforestation problem and thus forced to relocate.
Seeking refuge in other countries has become dangerous; Vietnam and Thailand have standing collaboration efforts with the Laotian government to detain and aid the forceful repatriation of Hmong refugees. Such collaborations have also extended to military campaigns within Laos’ borders to violently target Hmong communities hiding in the jungle. Because the government of Laos does not recognize the Hmong as an indigenous people and has no specific legislation in that regard, they are not eligible for a series of benefits they would otherwise attain. Explicit indigenous recognition would provide additional mechanisms to address uncompensated land confiscation, natural resource exploitation, and abuses to their cultural and religious rights.
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
Since the establishment of the LPDR, Hmong communities have suffered from violent attacks from the Lao People’s Army (LPA), which continue till this day. In 2013, a surge of political and ethnic violence led to the killing of a number of Hmong civilians at the hand of the Laotian security forces. One of these episodes took place on 12 May 2013 at the Nam Seng River Basin canal at the base of Mount Phou Bia (near Moung Saysombune aka Moung Cha) through military cooperation between Vietnam and Laos. The reason behind the deadly attack was four Hmong teachers leaving their village in search of food. Hmong Leaders reported in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and early 2013 that the Lao government continue using unknown chemical agent spry on their regional territories, thus causing the death of wildlife, children and elderly. Even in neighboring regions, Hmong livestock have been affected as the wind carries chemical poisons into ground as well.
Reports and evidence received from the Hmong indigenous communities indicate that the community in the Phou Bia is constantly being chased and attacked, and has to move weekly in order to sustain its peace and security.
The Lao LPDR military closely monitors the Hmong indigenous communities. Their daily social life and economic sufficiency are continuously being destroyed, resulting in hunger, diseases, malnutrition, and lack of medication. The region is tightly controlled by the LPDR military. These are clear violations of the right to life and security of the person.
As a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Laotian government is committed to respect its citizens’ freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention (art.9, ICCPR). Yet, government opponents, human rights activists, and ethnic and religious minorities are often detained without valid legal justifications. National security of the LPDR arrests members of minority communities, and particularly Hmong individuals, who are commonly stereotyped as untrustworthy anti-government forces.
Sombath Somphone, a prominent social and environmental activist was abducted at a police checkpoint in 2012. The enforced disappearance of Sombath Somphone, however, is not an isolated case. For instance on 25 August 2007, three young Hmong Americans (Yang Neng, Yang Hakit, and Yang Congshineng) were detained and disappeared. In 2009 and 2010, several Hmong refugees in Thailand were forcefully repatriated to Laos, and some of them disappeared after their arrival in the country. Despite pressure on the Laotian government from family members, international organizations, and foreign governments to release information about their whereabouts, the cases of these disappeared Hmong remain unresolved until today.
Refugees and Returnees
Since the end of 2009, almost 4500 Hmong refugees living in Thailand were forcefully repatriated as a consequence of an agreement between the Thai and the Laotian Governments. While the Laotian government had promised to assist returnees to reintegrate into society, the great majority of them have been living in refugee camps until today. One of the biggest camps is the Phonekham village (Borikhamxay province), where returnees endure difficult living conditions and severe restrictions of their freedoms, including their liberty of movement. Refugees living in Phonekham have reported that they are not allowed to move beyond a five kilometre radius from the camp.
Since early December 2006, a group of 153 Lao Hmong have been jailed in a detention centre in Thailand under inhumane conditions. There are 153 refugees in the centre according to UNHCR and 90 of them are children.
Futhermore, it is reported that there are approximately 7,500 Hmong living in confinement in a camp in Huai Nam Khao, while awaiting their repatriation to Laos, following a bilateral agreement between the Thai and Laotian governments. The Thai government refuses to recognize the Hmong people in Huai Nam Khao camp as refugees or people of concern, and considers them illegal immigrants.
Several areas in the North of Laos, where most Hmong live, have been designated by the government as “special economic zones” or “specific economic zones”, i.e. areas selected by the government for the development of industrial projects and the attraction of foreign investment. These zones are established by the government on the basis of a 2009 law on investment promotion, which does not include any provision for the protection of local inhabitants. Among other projects, this law has allowed for several Chinese firms to gain land concessions with a validity of 99 years. These lands include rubber plantations covering 30 000 hectares in the Northern Province of Oudomxay, and has led to the immigration of Chinese workers to tap the rubber and, in turn, to further displacement of the local Hmong inhabitants.
Given the aforementioned violations of the human rights of the Hmong, UNPO strongly condemns the military violence against the ChoaFa Indigenous civilians in the Xaysombune Special Zone as well as the intimidation, harassment and persecution of human rights defenders, journalists, and members of minority communities through arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances. Moreover, UNPO believes that developing a legal framework is necessary to protect local inhabitants from land grabbing and forced relocation, as these practices significantly affect the economic activities of Hmong people depriving them from their own means of subsistence.