Documentation - Documents
REPRESSION OF MONTAGNARDS
over Land and Religion in
's Central Highlands
Human Rights Watch
Copyright © April 2002 by Human Rights Watch.
All rights reserved.
Printed in the
United States of America
Library of Congress Control Number: 2002104126
Summary and Recommendations
A History of Resistance to Central Government Control
Dega People-An Oral History
of Autonomy: The French
of Autonomy: Hanoi
1958 Bajaraka Movement
Second Indochina War: 1960-1975
FULRO Rebellions: 1964-1965
of Tensions in the mid-1960s
Highlands After 1975
Government Policies Toward Ethnic Minorities
Respect, Participation, and Equal Rights"
Fields, Fixed Settlements
the Barren Hills
Population Explosion: The Impact of Migration
Population: The Example of Dak Lak
The 1990s: Escalation in Land Conflicts
of Land Security
Confiscation of Land
Plea for Help"
of Government Action
Response after Five Years: The Conflict in D Village
of Land Conflicts and Religious Persecution
Tensions over Land
Day We Will be the Ones in Charge"
Repression of Ethnic Minority Protestants
in the Highlands
Statistics: Protestantism in the Central Highlands (1975-2000)
House Church Movement
Directives to Suppress Minority Christians
on House Churches
Fines and Forced Labor
to Limit Family Size
The Movement for Land Rights and Religious Freedom
Run-up to the Protests
January 2001 Crackdown
February 2001 Demonstrations
3: Buon Ma Thuot
Between Police and Protesters
5-6: Ea H'leo
or Willing Participants?
Government Response: The Initial Reaction
Immediate Response: Arrests and Police Sweeps
Increasing the Pressure
Restrictions and Increased Surveillance
on Diplomatic and Media Access
Repression of Christians
Interpreting the Unrest
June 2001 Party Advisory
Refugee Flight to Cambodia
to Cambodia: Arrest, Mistreatment and Forced Return
CASE STUDY: The Church Burning and Killing by Security Forces in Plei
Church at Plei Lao
CASE STUDY: The Goat's Blood Oath Ceremonies in Ea H'leo
CASE STUDY: Arrest and Torture of Highlanders Deported from Cambodia
Ea Sup: Why People Fled
A: The Land Conflict in D Village:First Complaint, 1995
B: The Land Conflict in D Village: Second Complaint, 2000
C: The Interrogation of a Protestant Church Leader, Dak Lak, July 2001
D: Complaint from Buon Don District Villagers to Bureau of Religious
E: Employment Discrimination Against Minority Christians
F: Citizen Petition: "A Report on the Cruel Action Against the
Tribal People in the Highlands"
G: "Official Pledge" Read During the Goat's Blood Ceremonies
H: March 26, 2001 Deportations, Document 1
I: March 26, 2001 Deportations, Document 2
I. SUMMARY AND
God gave birth to the world we ethnic minorities have always been in the
same place. Since antiquity, our ancestors have always told us that this
is our land. The Vietnamese never lived here. What we learned from our
grandparents is that Vietnam started invading our land in 1930 ...
Especially since 1975, the Montagnards and the Vietnamese have not been
happy together...The life of Vietnamese and Montagnards together is like
dogs biting each other; never easy.
Mnong man from Dak Lak province,
February 2001 mass protests took place in
that were among the largest since the reunification of
in 1975. Several thousand members of indigenous minorities from the
country's Central Highlands – often collectively known as Montagnards
– held a series of peaceful demonstrations calling for independence,
return of ancestral lands, and religious freedom.
authorities, who had long been closely monitoring political developments
in the region, responded aggressively. Announcing that they had "battle
plans" ready, authorities brought in thousands of police and
soldiers to disperse the protesters. In the weeks and months following
the demonstrations, authorities arrested hundreds of highlanders,
sometimes using torture to elicit confessions and public statements of
remorse by protest organizers. Local religious and political leaders
were sentenced to prison terms ranging up to twelve years.
A number of key historical, demographic and political factors
contributed to a climate of intense frustration that had been building
for years: longstanding hopes of independence among the highlanders; the
steadily increasing presence of ethnic Vietnamese in what used to be
almost exclusively the home of minority highlanders, and resulting
disputes over land; the recent upsurge in adherence to Protestant
evangelical Christianity among minority highlanders; and the Vietnamese
government's stance that the highlanders' desire to differentiate
themselves politically and religiously from the majority population
represented a threat to national unity.
That perception of a threat to national unity has been fueled by the
link between some advocates of independence in the highlands and former
members of a pro-United States (
) Montagnard resistance army that effectively died out in 1992. That
army was known as FULRO (Front Unifié de Lutte des Race Opprimées, or
the United Struggle Front for the Oppressed Races). Former FULRO members,
led by U.S.-based Jarai-American Kok Ksor, have been among those accused
by the Vietnamese Communist Party of organizing the February 2001
demonstrations. Although it appears that groups based in the
may have encouraged Montagnard protests in the Central Highlands, there
is no evidence that they advocated violence. With or without external
support, the Central Highlands was a powder keg ready to explode by the
end of the 1990s.
February 2001 eruption in the Central Highlands represented the
convergence of multiple grievances among the highlanders: religious
repression, ethnic persecution, among the highest poverty and illiteracy
, and most importantly, the struggle over increasingly scarce land.
Government-organized resettlement schemes as well as spontaneous
migration had quadrupled the population density of ethnic
Vietnamese and other migrants in parts of the highlands since 1975,
creating intense pressure on land and natural resources. Lacking
official land use certificates, the highlanders were increasingly
squeezed off their land. At the same time, the economic base of the
highlands, centered on coffee production, was dealt a strong blow by the
global plummet in coffee prices over the two years preceding the
outbreak of unrest.
In this report, Human Rights Watch analyzes the antecedents to the
February 2001 demonstrations, the protests themselves, and their
aftermath. It finds that the government violated fundamental human
rights in the course of suppressing the protests, and that those
violations were continuing as of February 2002. Major violations
Arbitrary arrest, detention or interrogation of hundreds of highlanders
suspected of participating in, or helping to organize, the February 2001
· Police torture of people in detention or during interrogation,
including beating, kicking, and shocking with electric batons.
· Violations of the right to freedom of religion including destruction
and closure of ethnic minority Protestant churches, and official
pressure on Christians to abandon their religion under threat of legal
action or imprisonment.
· Excessive use of force by security forces during a confrontation with
ethnic Jarai villagers in Plei Lao, Gia Lai on March 10.
· Bans on public gatherings in violation of the right to freedom of
· Restrictions on travel. In some areas authorities were requiring
written permission to be secured in advance of any temporary absence
from the village, making it difficult for farmers to go to work in their
· Arrest and mistreatment of highlanders who fled to
and were then forcibly returned to
report is based on research conducted between February 2001 and February
2002. That research involved detailed interviews with more than one
hundred eyewitnesses to the events in the Central Highlands before and
after February 2001, documents obtained from sources in Gia Lai and Dak
Lak, press accounts from Vietnamese state media and foreign wire
services, and interviews with Montagnard refugees in Cambodia and the
U.S., as well as diplomats, researchers, and nongovernmental
organization (NGO) officials based in Vietnam. The scope of this report
is limited by the fact that access to the Central Highlands is tightly
restricted by the government of
, making it difficult for independent observers such as human rights
monitors and journalists to verify data on conditions in the Central
In its research, Human Rights Watch encountered a widespread perception
among highlanders that Vietnamese government agencies discriminate
against them in education, health, and provision of other social
services. Official confiscation of their land without adequate
compensation or prior notice is another key grievance of the
highlanders. Because the Vietnamese Communist Party prohibits open
expression of political dissent, however, there have been few outlets
for the resulting discontent.
is an international component to the turmoil as well. As of March 2002,
more than 1,000 highlanders who fled the Vietnamese government crackdown
remained in political limbo across the border in
. While plans were drawn up in January 2002 by the U.N. High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), together with the Cambodian and
Vietnamese governments to start a program of repatriation of refugees
back to Vietnam, it was clear that until the situation in the Central
Highlands improved, ethnic minority people from that region would
continue to flee across the border to Cambodia, and many of those
already in refugee camps would resist repatriation.
to the Government of the
Unconditionally release all persons in the Central Highlands who are
being held for the peaceful expression of their political or religious
leaders, land rights activists, and supporters of the highlander
independence movement. Publish in a central register the names of all
highlanders held in pre-trial detention in police stations or prisons,
as well as any charges against them, and make public the names of those
who have been convicted and sentenced.
· Ensure that all persons charged in connection with the protests in
the Central Highlands receive trials that meet the standards set forth
in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights (ICCPR) to which
is a party. The trials should be public, and those accused should have
access to legal counsel of their choosing and the free assistance of an
interpreter, as mandated by both the ICCPR and
· End the arbitrary detention of highlanders who have returned from
either voluntarily or against their will.
· Respect the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association,
and assembly, and amend provisions of
's Criminal Code that restrict such rights, particularly the provisions
on national security. Permit the right to hold and express political
opinions that run counter to state policy, including peaceful advocacy
of autonomy and independence. The ban in some parts of the Central
Highlands on gatherings of more than four people should be ended.
· Repeal the 1997 Administrative Detention Directive 31/CP, which
authorizes detention without trial for up to two years for individuals
deemed to have violated national security laws.
· Cease the repression of ethnic minority Protestants, including bans
on religious gatherings and other meetings, pressure to renounce one's
faith, mandatory participation in non-Christian rituals, destruction of
churches by local authorities and security officials, and abusive police
surveillance of religious leaders. Uphold Article 27 of the ICCPR, which
stipulates that "ethnic...minorities...shall not be denied the
right, in community with other members of their group, to enjoy their
own culture [and] to profess and practice their own religion."
· Invite the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which visited
in 1994, and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance, who
in 1998, for follow-up visits, with unrestricted access to the Central
· Remove restrictions on access to the Central Highlands by the U.N.
High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), journalists, diplomats, and
other independent observers.
· Improve implementation of
's 1993 Land Law, especially articles stipulating that prior to state
appropriation of land, the land user shall be notified of the reasons
why the land is to be recovered, the timeframe, the plan for transfer,
and the methods of compensation. Provincial and district officials
should be directed to promptly investigate and resolve complaints by
highlanders about discriminatory and uncompensated confiscation of land.
· Streamline the process of land allocation and issuing of land use
certificates for highlander families in order to guarantee that they are
able on a non-discriminatory basis to apply for and obtain certificates
that can establish long-term land usage rights. To help ensure land
security for highlanders, launch participatory land use planning and
land allocation programs in all four provinces of the Central Highlands.
· Support development programs for independent NGOs working in the
· Take steps to end all forms of discrimination against indigenous
minorities of the Central Highlands, including discrimination in
education and employment, and by developing channels for dialogue and
participatory decision-making processes involving Montagnard leaders and
the Government of the
Continue to offer temporary asylum and protection to Montagnard refugees
and asylum seekers from
, in accordance with
's obligations as a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention.
· Provide protection to Montagnard refugees inside
and upon arrival at the border. Pushbacks of Montagnards highlanders at
the border violate the fundamental principle of non-refoulement-the
obligation of states parties to the Refugee Convention, and as a matter
of international customary law, not to return any person to a country
where his or her life or freedom may be threatened on account of race,
religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular
· Ensure that officials at all administrative levels are instructed to
provide protection to refugees from the Central Highlands, and that
those instructions are implemented.
the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Suspend repatriation until conditions are appropriate for voluntary
repatriation, and refugees can return in safety and dignity and with
assurances that their human rights will be fully respected. In
particular, more detailed information should be available to UNHCR and
the refugees about the human rights situation in the
, and UNHCR should be able to station monitors in the region. UNHCR
should insist that its staff be able to conduct home visits throughout
the Central Highlands without Vietnamese government monitoring or
interference before, during, and after any repatriation.
· Suspend the screening-out or rejection of asylum seekers in
until more detailed information is available about the situation in the
· Obtain assurances from the Cambodian government that
individual refugees will not be returned to a place where their lives or
freedom is under threat.
· Continue to insist that
uphold its obligations as a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and
make public and private interventions with the Cambodian government if
and when Cambodian security officials expel refugees from
-either once they are within the
or at the border-in violation of non-refoulement obligations.
· Obtain assurances in writing from the Cambodian and Vietnamese
governments that any repatriation program for refugees is on a voluntary
basis and in accordance with international standards, and that the right
of individuals to continue to seek asylum in
· For those highlanders for whom repatriation is not an option, UNHCR
should continue to protect their right to seek and enjoy asylum in
, and to seek a durable solution to their plight, including the
possibility of third-country resettlement.
the International Community
During bilateral discussions with
, senior government officials, especially those from member nations of
the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), should express
concern about ongoing rights violations in the Central Highlands of
· Urge the Vietnamese government to adopt the recommendations made in
Part A, above.
to achieve greater transparency and accountability in its justice and
penal systems and press for the establishment of an independent and
impartial judiciary. Press for access to trials by international
observers and independent monitors.
· Provide technical assistance for legal reform with particular
attention to the criminal justice system.
· Fund development programs for independent NGOs in the
, particularly programs that ensure full participation of ethnic
· Urge the Cambodian government to continue to uphold its obligations
under the 1951 Refugee Convention and make public and private
interventions with the Cambodian government if and when Cambodian
security officials forcibly return refugees from
This report provides the most detailed account to date of unrest that
erupted in the Central Highlandsof
in early 2001 and offers a rare glimpse into Vietnamese political
In February 2001, several thousand members of indigenous minorities,
often known as Montagnards, held a series of demonstrations calling for
independence, return of ancestral land, and religious freedom.
This report, based on eyewitness testimony, case studies, public
andinternal Vietnamese government documents, and petitions from
villagers in the Central Highlands that are published here for the first
time, includes both detailed background information on the grievances
that gave rise to the protests, and an analysis of the human rights
violations that took place in response to them.
violations range from government infringement ofreligious freedom to
torture by police. It is important, however, to understand three factors
that help explain the sequence of events, although they do not justify
the Vietnamese government's response.
The first is the degree to which highlanders have steadily lost land
through the migration of hundreds of thousands of lowland Vietnamese, or
Kinh, to the region. Some of the settlers came on their own
initiative, but many came through state-sponsored transmigration
programs that had both economic development and national security goals.
Highlanders' resentment over the loss of land was compounded by the fact
that they found themselves losing out to the migrants in education,
employment, and other economic opportunities.
second factor is the intertwining of politics and religion in the
Central Highlands. In the early 1990s, many Montagnards became attracted
to a particular type of Christianity practiced in the highlands called Tin
Lanh Dega, or "Dega Protestantism," which brings together
aspirations for independence, cultural pride and evangelism.
For Dega Protestants, prayer and worship services provide space for
Montagnard expression not controlled by government authorities.
Sometimes this expression involves praying for an independent homeland,
or participating in political discussions, often conducted by the same
individuals who lead the religious gatherings.
An independent homeland had been one of the goals of the Montagnard
resistance army known as FULRO (Front Unifié de Lutte des Race Opprimées,
or the United Struggle Front for the Oppressed Races), which fought on
the side of the
during the 1960-1975 war. Though its numbers steadily dwindled and any
real fighting capacity evaporated after the North Vietnamese victory in
1975, FULRO survived as a guerilla organization into the early 1990s.
Many Montagnards converted to Christianity in the early 1990s when they
abandoned armed struggle.
The third factor is the size and nature of the demonstrations in
February 2001. Thousands of people converged on town centers in Pleiku,
Buon Ma Thuot, and Kontum, a potential public order concern even if the
demonstrations had been entirely peaceful. Some of the arrests that
followed, however, were linked to alleged acts of violence. The
government would have been justified in arresting and charging with
appropriate criminal offenses any demonstrators responsible for
vandalism of public buildings, for example, as the police claimed, or
who had used rocks in slingshots against individuals or police cars,
regardless of the provocation.
The heaviest sentences meted out, however, were against organizers of
the protests for the crime of "undermining national security,"
ostensibly because of the demands of the leaders of the protests for an
independent state. Human Rights Watch takes no position on requests by
any group for an independent state, but it supports the right of all
individuals, including those advocating autonomy or independence, to
express their political views peacefully without fear of arrest or other
forms of reprisal.
When the U.S.-based Montagnard Foundation, Inc. (MFI), led by
Jarai-American Kok Ksor, launched a renewed effort to build support for
an independent "Dega" homeland in 2000, it found an extremely
receptive audience. While many MFI members, and highlanders in general,
are former FULRO supporters, there is no indication that there was any
armed component to MFI's efforts and, to Human Right Watch's knowledge,
MFI has never advocated the use of violence as a means of achieving
According to documents obtained by Human Rights Watch and interviews
conducted with MFI members, the political platform propagated by a
handful of MFI organizers in the Central Highlands in 2000 and 2001 was
threefold: independence, non-violence, and redress of longstanding
grievances. MFI sought the return through peaceful struggle of "their
country," currently under Vietnamese control, with Kok Ksor as the
leader. They also sought attention to land issues, the lack of religious
freedom, ethnic discrimination, pressure to join family planning
programs, and lack of educational opportunities.
Vietnamese authorities had reasons to foresee an explosive situation
developing in the Central Highlands: demands for independence from
remnants of the FULRO movement; the growing popularity of evangelical
Christianity; and escalating highlander grievances. The ruling
Vietnamese Communist Party has reacted harshly when religion and
politics have been mixed, particularly if the religion appears to be
drawing a large mass following, and is one whose adherents include
former resistance supporters.
's Penal Code lists numerous "crimes against national security,"
some of which blatantly violate international human rights law. Article
87, "Undermining the unity policy," criminalizes "sowing
divisions" between the people and the government or the military,
between religious and non-religious people, and between religious
followers and the government. Offenders are to be sentenced to between
two and fifteen years of imprisonment. This criminalization of dissent
contradicts the basic right to free expression found in the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, acceded to by
While the Vietnamese authorities in some instances may have been
justified in using force during the February 2001 demonstrations, the
force employed appears to have been disproportionate to the threat posed
by the protesters. In the days and weeks following the demonstrations,
moreover, the authorities committed clear-cut violations of fundamental
rights, including torture; destruction of church buildings; and
intimidation and harassment of members of evangelical Protestant
Many, if not most, of the people who attended the February 2001
demonstrations were villagers who appeared to have little knowledge of
MFI aims but responded positively to MFI's call for demonstrations out
of their own frustration with what they saw as unfair land-grabbing by
the state, discrimination, and religious repression. Interviews with
some of these participants suggested that they saw MFI's advocacy of
independence as equivalent to "getting our land back" in both
the immediate sense of recovering family homesteads and land lost in
recent decades to government plantations, and the more historical sense
of recovering an area, if not a nation, that had belonged to their
for autonomy or independence can pose legitimate national security
concerns, but it is incumbent upon the state to demonstrate that any
particular expression of ethnic nationalism or support for independence
poses a genuine security risk. Article 19 of the International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights allows for restrictions on the right to
freedom of expression only as is necessary for the protection of
national security and public order and as provided by law. National
security restrictions are considered permissible only in serious cases
of political or military threat to the entire nation. The Human Rights
Committee, the international body that monitors compliance with the
Covenant, has been reluctant to permit restrictions on free expression,
particularly in the absence of detailed justifications by the state. The
1995 Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression
and Access to Information, an authoritative but non-binding declaration
of principles based on international human rights standards, evolving
state practice, and the general principles of law, provide that apart
from legitimate state secrets, "expression may be punished as a
threat to national security only if a government can demonstrate that:
a) the expression is intended to incite imminent violence; b) it is
likely to incite such violence; and c) there is a direct and immediate
connection between the expression and the likelihood or occurrence of
There is a gulf between rhetoric and reality in Vietnamese government
policies in the Central Highlands. On the one hand,
's Politburo leaders express pride in the party's policies toward ethnic
minorities and in constitutional provisions guaranteeing minorities the
right to use their own languages, and to preserve and promote local
identity and traditions. On the other hand, government policies are
based largely on perceptions of highlanders as nomadic, in need of
development and stability, and ultimately untrustworthy in the political
sense because of their longstanding desire for independence and the
affiliation of some of them with the
war effort. Despite the rhetoric, the Vietnamese government has not been
able to create real benefits for ethnic minorities, and in fact,
continues to implement repressive policies.
At the Ninth Vietnamese Communist Party Congress in April 2001, Nông Dúc
Manh, an ethnic
, was elected general secretary of the VCP, becoming the first member of
an ethnic minority ever named to the nation's most powerful position.
While this development was groundbreaking, there has been no let up in
the government's repressive policies toward ethnic minorities in the
. In a speech in Buon Ma Thuot in September 2001, the new general
secretary emphasized that
is a "country with many ethnic groups living together in unity."
That same month, fourteen Montagnard leaders who had reportedly
organized the February 2001 protests were sentenced to prison terms of
up to twelve years on charges of disrupting security.
In the course of researching this report, Human Rights Watch came into
possession of more than ninety pages of previously unavailable
government documents and citizen petitions, most of them from 2001 and
early 2002. These documents, together with previously released
confidential government directives from 1999, show that the Vietnamese
government has launched a national campaign to monitor independent
Christian groups in the highlands and shut down minority churches and
other groups deemed to be "inspiring divisions among the various
nationalities" or fueling anti-government sentiment. The documents,
while including some government acknowledgment of policy failures in the
highlands, also show that the government perceives growing resistance
among the Montagnards to be part of a broader conspiracy by outside
agitators and a handful of "evil minded" local leaders and
political "reactionaries" who allegedly are trying to use
democracy, land, and religion to stir up trouble.
This report also found that the government's crackdown on fundamental
freedoms in the
in the year following the protests made a difficult situation worse.
This in turn incited additional highlanders to flee the country to
Cambodia-even some of those who did not participate in the
demonstrations. If the government does not address underlying highlander
grievances and find a way to replace confrontation with dialogue, even
more serious unrest in the
and further flows of refugees can be expected in the future.
III. A HISTORY OF
RESISTANCE TO CENTRAL GOVERNMENT CONTROL
people suffered terribly under the Vietnamese communist regime. They
came and took our land, and made it theirs. They try to erase our
language and force us to speak Vietnamese. They have taken our fertile
land and forced us to the bad land. They say they have come to build
progress for my people, but they have come to kill, arrest, and oppress
FULRO commander before surrendering to U.N. forces in
, in a 1992 interview with the Phnom Penh Post
twentieth century in the Central Highlands was a period of increasing
migration of ethnic Vietnamese, or Kinh, into highland areas. The
political situation in the region today has been decisively shaped by
that demographic trend.
the population of the Central Highlands provinces of Dak Lak, Gia Lai,
Lam Dong and Kontum, is approximately four million, of whom
approximately one-quarter are indigenous highlanders.
Among the highlanders, between 229,000 to 400,000 are thought to follow
evangelical Protestantism. Indigenous minority groups in both the
central and northern highlands are often generically referred to as
Montagnards, a French term meaning "mountain dwellers."
The indigenous minorities of the Central Highlands comprise more than
half a dozen different ethnic groups, primarily from two language
families: the Jarai (320,000), Ede (or Rhade, 258,000), Bahnar
(181,000), Stieng (66,000), Koho (122,000), and Mnong (Bnong, or Pnong,
Many of the politicized highlanders in the
and refugees from there in the
today increasingly refer to themselves as Dega. For them, Dega is
a term not only of cultural pride but one that connotes the particular
type of evangelical Christianity they practice and the name of the
independent homeland they seek. The term "Dega" is also used
by Vietnamese governmental authorities in a derogatory sense, as a
synonym for rebels.
highlanders are farmers who traditionally practiced a form of shifting
cultivation called rotational swiddening, in which new fields are
cleared, cultivated for several years and then allowed to lie fallow for
ten to twenty years before being brought back into cultivation.
As a general rule under the traditional farming systems, for each
hectare of farmland currently under cultivation, another five (for
relatively rich soils) to fifteen hectares must be kept fallow and held
Despite appearances, these forest fallows are not vacant wasteland
available for others to use, but an integral part of the swidden farming
system, with former fallows put back into cultivation after their
fertility has been restored. While pejoratively referred to as
"slash and burn" agriculture, shifting cultivation can be a
sustainable farming system in areas with relatively low population
The influx of settlers to the Central Highlands has increasingly fueled
conflict and competition over scarce farmland, making traditional
agricultural practices more difficult. With less land to farm, fallowing
periods are shorter, which means fallowed plots are put back into
cultivation before the soil has become fertile again. As customary forms
of agriculture become virtually impossible, highlanders find it much
more difficult to make a living. Turning to cash crops such as coffee
can supplement family income even on small plots of a hectare or less.
This can be risky, however, because of market factors (the global
plummet in coffee sales had a drastic effect) and because many
highlanders lack official title to their land, making it liable to
confiscation by the state or companies. In other cases, highlanders who
have gained land use certificates to small plots of land end up selling
their land because they lack the capital and labor to work it profitably.
referred to as nomads, very few highlanders are in fact even quasi-nomadic.
While they may rotate their swidden plots every three to five years
within prescribed village boundaries, the settlements themselves rarely
move unless forced to do so by warfare, disease, or political
developments. Instead most highlanders have traditionally lived in fixed
village sites, rotating their swidden plots within an area that is often
clearly defined by village elders.
The customary lands of the indigenous minorities included paddy rice
fields, swidden plots, graveyards,
and house sites. Traditionally these lands were considered family
property and inherited through the female line.
Families held customary user rights to their swidden plots whether they
were being farmed or fallowed. Collective village lands
included streams, grazing pastures, and drinking water sources. Special
care was taken to preserve nearby forests upon which the indigenous
populations depended for collection of "non-timber" products
such as rattan, bamboo, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and medicinal herbs.
Village boundaries were recognized and allocated by village elders,
guardians of the villages' collective memory.
Dega People-An Oral History
Since God gave birth to the world, we ethnic minorities have always been
in the same place. Since antiquity, our ancestors have always told us
that this is our land. The Vietnamese never lived here. What we learned
from our grandparents is that
started invading our land in
that year, the French started working in Dak Lak, and five Vietnamese
went to work with them as cooks and helpers.
From the time the French left in 1954, bit by bit the Vietnamese
increased their presence until they were all over the place. In 1958
because the Vietnamese were getting stronger and stronger in the Central
Highlands all the ethnic minorities-Ede, Koho, Jarai, Stieng and
Bahnar-stood up to make the first demonstration. All the ethnic
minorities had one idea: we wanted our land back. At that time the
Vietnamese promised to give us our land back so there would be no
conflicts. They were not speaking the truth. Instead they put our
leader, Y Bham Enuol, in jail in
for seven years.
In 1965 when they let Y Bham out of jail the ethnic minorities
started the FULRO movement. It was based here in Mondolkiri [
], right near the spot where we are sitting today. I was twelve years
old and carried a gun that was as long as me. Everyone, young and old,
joined the struggle.
Later, in 1969, Nguyen Van Thieu, the president of
, promised in the "O33" agreement to give us our land back. Y
Bham would be in charge of the Central Highlands and the Vietnamese
would go back to
received foreign aid and used the Dega to fight against
. Thousands of us were killed.
In 1975 the [North] Vietnamese put our leader Nay Luett in prison for ten
years. Vietnamese from both the north and the south took Dega labor to
plant rubber and coffee. When the harvest came, they sent it to the
lowlands. They used all sorts of tricks to destroy the ethnic minorities
and take our land. Many Dega were sent to prison.
Beginning in 1980 they started turning all the land over to the
Vietnamese. Each day more and more Vietnamese arrived, by the truckload.
Especially since 1975, the Montagnards and the Vietnamese have not been
happy together. We conducted a struggle in the forest [FULRO] to oppose
them for many years. The life of Vietnamese and Montagnards together is
like dogs biting each other; never easy.
In 1988 the ethnic minorities started to become Christians. We'd been
Christians for a long time before that but it was in 1988 when all the
ethnic minorities believed; everywhere. Jesus changed our idea [from
armed to peaceful struggle]. If we didn't have Christianity and the holy
spirit within us, we would use violence to oppose the Vietnamese and we
would all be dead.
-Mnong man, from Dak Lak, July 2001
of Autonomy: The French
to Vietnamese central authority is not new among ethnic minorities in
the Central Highlands.
ethnic groups sought and obtained pledges of autonomy not only from the
French colonial government but also from both the North and the South
Vietnamese governments during the Second Indochina War. While the
various promises that these governments made to create such a zone were
largely token gestures to gain the loyalty of the Montagnards, the idea
garnered enthusiastic support among indigenous inhabitants of the
highlands, who long felt persecuted, exploited, and alienated from the
of the current debate over the highlanders' struggle for independence
centers around the question of the legitimacy of
's sovereignty over the Central Highlands. This raises two
questions-prior to French colonial rule, did
maintain political and administrative control over the Central
Highlands, or did the highland groups exist as an independent state or
states? Anthropologist Oscar Salemink argues that in pre-colonial times,
the indigenous groups of the Central Highlands had little political
organization beyond the village level.
However villages clearly made occasional alliances and maintained trade
and political relations, according to Salemink, not only with other
highland groups but with lowland communities, and not only in
as well. Salemink and other historians argue that
's loose administrative control and "nominal overlordship"
over the Central Highlands dissolved in the late 1800s with the
increased French role in the region and encroachment from
. The French assumed official control over the Central Highlands in
claims by highlanders in Vietnam and abroad that both the French
colonial administration and Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai granted
autonomous status to the Montagnards of the Central Highlands appear to
be largely based on two documents. The first is a Federal
Ordinance enacted in 1946 by the French colonial government in
, which created a special administrative commissariat for the highland
populations (les populations Montagnardes) of South Indochina,
separate from the Republic for
This took place at a time of deteriorating relations between France and
Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh. In what some observers perceive was a cynical
move to undermine the authority of Ho Chi Minh over all of Vietnam, the
ordinance was enacted on May 27, 1946, three days before Ho Chi Minh
left Vietnam for negotiations with the French in Paris.
July 1950, the French government issued an order establishing the
Central Highlands as the Pays Montagnard du Sud (PMS) under the
authority of Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai, who the French had installed as
nominal chief of state in 1949 as an alternative to Ho Chi Minh's
Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
Terry Rambo notes:
order to win support from the highlanders, the French employed a
divide-and-rule strategy, establishing Muong and Thai autonomous zones
in the northwestern mountains, and separating the Central Highlands from
Vietnam under the guise of the Pays Montagnard du Sud [PMS], which was
administered as a "crown domain" directly under Emperor Bao
second document often cited by Montagnard autonomy advocates is a 1951
edict signed by Emperor Bao Dai establishing special status for the
indigenous minorities of the Central Highlands (referred to as "des
Populations des Pays Montagnards du Sud," or PMS). Known as the statut
particulier, the edict guaranteed the highlanders all the rights of
Vietnamese citizens as well as the right to "free evolution of
these populations in the respect of their traditions and of their
chiefs, whether hereditary or selected by native populations, would
retain their titles and decision-making powers and customary tribal law
would be retained. Article 7 guaranteed that "The rights acquired
by the natives over landed property are guaranteed them in entirety."
Part of the controversy over these documents revolves around the
translation of the French term "des Populations des Pays
Montagnards du Sud." Montagnard independence advocates translate
this as "the Montagnard Country of the South," whereas some
academics translate it as the "mountainous lands of the South"
or the "lands of the Montagnard people in the south."
French were not the only ones to promise special status to the
highlanders. With the defeat of the French by the Viet Minh in 1954,
several thousand highlanders sympathetic to the Viet Minh went to North
Vietnam as part of the Geneva agreements. Many of them attended the
Southern Ethnic Minorities school at Gia Lam, near
In January 1955 Ho Chi Minh announced plans for several autonomous zones
to be set up in the Northern Highlands.
At the founding meeting in 1960 of the National Liberation Front of
South Vietnam (NLF), more commonly known by the pejorative term Viet
Cong, its political platform included recognition of the right to
autonomy of the national minorities. It called for the establishment of
autonomous regions in minority areas and for the abolition of the "U.S.-Diêm
clique's present policy of ill-treatment and forced assimilation of the
The amended constitution of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam stated:
zones may be established in areas where people of national minorities
live in compact communities. Such autonomous zones are integral and
inalienable parts of the Democratic
the early 1960s the NLF sent agents to the
to conduct propaganda and recruit highlanders. Minority-language
carried pledges of autonomy. During the mid-1960s minority leaders from
the Central Highlands were regularly sent to visit autonomous zones in
, with promises that autonomy would be granted to highlanders in the
south when the country was liberated.
1958 Bajaraka Movement
1955 the Central Highlands became part of the
). Trouble began to brew after President Ngô Dinh Diêm launched
programs in 1956 to resettle ethnic Vietnamese to "land development
centers" in the Central Highlands and assimilate the highlanders
into mainstream Vietnamese society. In addition, thousands of ethnic
minority refugees from the north were resettled in the Central Highlands
According to Hickey, the first "ethnonationalist" groupings in
the Central Highlands started in
Buon Ale-A near Buon Ma Thuot, where the U.S.-based Christian and
Missionary Alliance (CMA) church was located and where several
Montagnard resistance leaders, including Y Thih Eban and Y Bham Enuol,
In March 1955 the first group, a secret organization called Le Front
des Montagnards (the Montagnard Liberation Front), wrote to President Diêm
with a list of demands, including the right of highlanders to fly their
highland resistance movement emerged called Bajaraka, an acronym for the
four main Montagnard groups: Bahnar, Jarai, Rhade (or
) and Koho. In August of that year, Bajaraka leader Y Bham Enuol sent a
letter to some of the main diplomatic missions in
, outlining highlander grievances and their demands for autonomy, and
requesting international intervention. There was no immediate response
but in September 1958 two Bajaraka members were arrested north of Kontum,
prompting Y Bham to send a letter to Diêm to resolve the problem.
Instead, Y Bham and other Bajaraka leaders were arrested, including Y
Thih Eban, Paul Nur, and Nay Luett. They were imprisoned in underground
solitary cells in Dalat for three months.
In a scenario reminiscent of the events of February 2001, one thousand
highlanders signed a petition in 1958 requesting the release of the
minority leaders and organized a demonstration attended by 2,000 people
in Buon Ma Thuot, where a Bajaraka leader addressed the rally and
outlined the highlanders' complaints. The government sent in armored
units from the army's 23rd Division to break up the demonstration.
According to Hickey, Diêm was incensed by the highlanders' call for
autonomy, and immediately closed the Highlander Students' Section of the
National Institute of Administration, relocated the Bureau for Highland
Affairs from Dalat to
, and reassigned highlanders in the civil service from the highlands to
posts in the lowlands. One hundred military officers were sent to
for reeducation and then reassigned to the lowlands. Montagnard army
officers were ordered to take Vietnamese names and Montagnard
traditional weapons such as crossbows were confiscated.
In 1959 Y Bham Enuol and Paul Nur were released from prison. As soon as
Enuol resumed his campaign for the Bajaraka movement he was quickly re-arrested
and taken to police headquarters in Buon Ma Thuot, where he was
reportedly tortured with electric shocks and imprisoned until early
Second Indochina War: 1960-1975
Much of the
bombing campaign and many of the fiercest battles of the Second
Indochina War, also known as the American War, were played out in the
Central Highlands. The
declared many parts of the Central Highlands as "free fire
zones" targeted for aerial bombing raids and the use of chemical
defoliants in order to smoke out North Vietnamese units, whose
transportation corridors-the "Ho Chi Minh Trail"-passed
through the northern part of the Central Highlands en route from
and the North Vietnamese tried to recruit the indigenous minorities to
their side. Repression of the Bajaraka movement by the Diêm
administration in the late 1950s had turned many highlanders towards the
National Liberation Front (NLF). In 1961, minority NLF members led by
former Bajaraka leaders such as Y Bih Aleo, who had escaped arrest by Diêm
and gone underground, formed the NLF's Montagnard Autonomy Movement.
operations organized among indigenous minorities in the
were in part a response to this.
the early 1960s,
forces recruited highlanders for village defense units and
reconnaissance teams to gather intelligence about North Vietnamese
infiltration into the highlands and conduct propaganda in support of the
1961 the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) established the "Village
Defense" programs in Darlac (the former name of Dak Lak), followed
by the "Mountain Scout" program (often called the Commando
program). Highlanders were also trained by U.S. Special Forces
Detachment A-35 to conduct paramilitary operations.
Given the earlier Bajaraka uprising, the Diêm government was uneasy
arming highlanders, particularly under the CIA's Village Defense Program,
in which 18,000 Montagnards were eventually armed.
the overthrow of Diêm in a coup in November 1963, the government of
Nguyen Khanh released some Bajaraka leaders from prison (including Y
Bham Enuol in February 1964) and upgraded the Bureau of Highland Affairs
to a Directorate of Highland Affairs under the Ministry of Defense.
During this time Bajaraka resistance leaders began to link up with
similar ethnonationalist movements brewing in
among ethnic Cham and Khmer Krom,
primarily through Lt. Col. Les Kosem, a Cambodian Cham and Col. Um
Savuth, both officers in the Royal Khmer Army. In July 1964 the three
groupings merged as the Front Unifié de Lutte des Race Opprimées
(FULRO, or the United Struggle Front for the Oppressed Races).
FULRO Rebellions: 1964-1965
first made a name for itself as a militant group in September 1964 when
it organized a rebellion among 3,000 Montagnard combatants in five
special forces camps in the Central Highlands: Buon Sar Pa, Bu Prang,
Ban Don, Buon Mi Ga and Buon Brieng.
Leaflets were distributed in Buon Ma Thuot on the first day of the
rebellion, declaring that the
had been invaded by "expansionist Vietnamese" following a
"systematic genocidal policy." A number of Vietnamese special
forces troops were killed and others taken hostage. After several days
of negotiations between
military advisors and the FULRO militants, and the deployment of
Vietnamese military units near the camps, the rebels surrendered. Y Bham
Enuol and approximately 2,000 FULRO followers fled across the border to
, where they established their headquarters near Camp Le Rolland (present-day
Dak Dam) in Mondolkiri. Y Bham Enuol was to remain in
for most of the next decade.
After the revolt and at the urging of the Americans, the Nguyen Khanh
government organized a conference of highland leaders in Pleiku in
October 1964. Requests put forward by the highlanders included not only
the institution of Bao Dai's statut particulier but economic
development programs, reinstatement of customary highland law, use of
minority languages in the schools, formation of a highland military
force with its own flag, and Montagnard control over and administration
of foreign aid to the highlands. Y Bham Enuol followed up on the demands
in letters sent to the Khanh government as well as the U.S. Embassy,
U.S. President Lyndon Johnson and the Secretary-General of the United
Nations. Khanh reportedly agreed to many of the demands except for
autonomy, highland control over foreign aid, and establishment of a
highland military force.
Virtually none of the pledges were ever fulfilled however, in part
because the Khanh government was overthrown in a coup in 1965. Political
tensions rose again and in December
second FULRO uprising broke out, in which thirty-five Vietnamese,
including civilians, were killed.
The rebellion was put down in a day; four of the FULRO leaders were
condemned to death and publicly executed, and fifteen others were
of Tensions in the mid-1960s
between FULRO and the South Vietnamese government appeared to improve
for a while under the government of Nguyen
, who replaced Khanh after the 1965 coup. The government established a
Directorate-General for Development of Ethnic Minorities, appointed Paul
Nur, an ethnic Bahnar, as a cabinet member, and approved legislation
entitling highlanders to own land.
Six highlanders, including a FULRO member, were elected to the National
Assembly. FULRO forces in
began negotiations with the government about their return to
While 250 FULRO forces agreed to return in October 1966, Y Bham
Enuol-who continued to insist on regional autonomy and an armed
highlander force-was not among them. In 1968 Y Bham Enuol briefly
returned to Buon Ma Thuot at the government's request to conduct
negotiations over FULRO's possible return to
. An agreement reached in December 1968 specified that the
highlanders could form their own political party and fly their own flag.
Y Bham Enuol dropped some of his earlier demands, such as the right of
highlanders to directly receive foreign aid.
In January 1969 more than 1,300 FULRO soldiers and their families
rallied to the South Vietnamese government and left Mondolkiri. They
were welcomed at an official ceremony in Buon Ma Thuot.
Y Bham Enuol, however, did not return with them. Several Cambodian army
battalions surrounded the FULRO headquarters in Mondolkiri and escorted
Enuol to Phnom Penh, where he was kept under virtual house arrest by Les
Kosem and Um Savuth, who wanted to prevent him from leaving and cutting
a deal with the Vietnamese government.
a less militant FULRO faction, led by Y D'he announced that FULRO was
being formally dissolved and replaced with a highlander political party,
the Ethnic Minorities Solidarity Movement, which advocated peaceful
accommodation with the South Vietnamese government.
In 1971 Nay Luett, an ethnic Jarai, was appointed as minister for ethnic
minority development. He and colleagues such as Pierre K'Bruih worked to
make the ministry a center for ethnonationalism, Hickey said, "where
mountain country leaders gathered and participated in planning."
However as the war escalated in
, the struggle for minority rights was overshadowed by the highlanders'
need for simple survival. Hickey estimates that at least 200,000
highlanders were killed during the Second Indochina War, and more than
85 percent of the population forced from their villages and displaced as
refugees. The government relocated thousands of highlanders from their
customary lands, moving them to "strategic hamlets" or
regrouping them along major roads for defense purposes.
On March 10, 1975 North Vietnamese forces occupied Buon Ma Thuot in the
final offensive of the war; a FULRO faction that supported the NLF
agreed not to alert
that North Vietnamese tanks were approaching.
pro-U.S. FULRO group reportedly negotiated an arrangement with
officials to continue guerrilla warfare against the
regime after the North Vietnamese victory. According to former FULRO
members, although the
reneged on promises of covert support, the group continued fighting
the Khmer Rouge invaded
on April 17, 1975, Y Bham Enuol and other FULRO leaders living in
sought refuge in the French Embassy. They were all taken out by the
Khmer Rouge and executed. Many of Enuol's most ardent followers,
guerilla soldiers in the forests of Mondolkiri, were not to learn of his
death for seventeen years.
the reunification of
in 1975, Viet Minh pledges of autonomy never materialized. Instead,
government officials launched programs to settle ethnic Vietnamese in
New Economic Zones in the highlands while aiming to relocate highlanders
to the valleys to grow rice and industrial crops, rather than continuing
their "unstable nomadic life" in the highlands.
Those who had worked with U.S. Special Forces or FULRO were sent to re-education
camps. Hickey described the post-war situation:
however, did not return to the highlands. It soon became apparent that
the oft-promised autonomy for the highlanders was only a propaganda ploy.
immediately began implementing plans to resettle large numbers of
Vietnamese in upland "economic zones." There also were
announcements in rhetoric reminiscent of the Diêm era about programs to
settle the "nomadic" mountain people in "sedentary
villages." At the same time all of the highland leaders from the
ministry and those who had been active in provincial administrations and
programs were captured and incarcerated either in jails or "reeducation
camps." Those leaders who managed to elude captivity along with
young highlanders from the Army, the Special Forces, and other
paramilitary groups, fled into the forest where they organized a
was not long before FULRO forces, many of whom fled to the forests after
the final defeat of
, began to resurrect their guerilla movement. This time FULRO's
resistance was directed against
. The re-emergence of the group was evident as early as the first
session of the National Assembly in
which a parliamentarian referred to the use of "lackeys" by
"imperialist" forces to conduct counter-revolutionary
By 1977 FULRO's primary supporters were the Khmer Rouge in
, with whom they had formed an uneasy alliance. In 1977 the two groups
signed an agreement for the exchange of information and training, and in
FULRO combatant denounced Ho Chi Minh over Radio Phnom Penh.
Ieng Sary, then-Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Khmer Rouge, said in
1979: "The FULRO approached us for cooperation to exchange
intelligence, military experience and get guerrilla warfare
By the early 1980s, FULRO forces numbered approximately 7,000. Forced to
abandon their bases in
, they shifted their operation to Mondolkiri where they carried out
small cross-border attacks against Vietnamese forces in the highlands.
By 1986, however, the Khmer Rouge parted ways with FULRO and stopped
supplying them with arms and provisions. "They had no political
vision," a Khmer Rouge official said in a 1992 interview with the Phnom
Penh Post. "Their fighters are very, very brave, but they had
no support from any leadership, no food, and they did not understand at
all the world around them."
1986 several hundred FULRO soldiers and their families, who had escaped
, were relocated to the
as refugees. The remnants of the army in
fell on especially hard time in the early 1990s. In 1992, demoralized
and lacking food, ammunition and supplies, the remaining 400 FULRO
combatants and their families in Mondolkiri surrendered to troops of the
U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC). A major element in the
combatants' decision to give up their struggle at that time was that
when they asked for help contacting Y Bham Enuol, they learned he had
been executed in 1975. The group received asylum in the
and was resettled in
in late 1992.
the 1990s, land conflicts and religious repression escalated in the
Central Highlands, as described in chapters below. In general, however,
expression of dissent-either through peaceful means or guerilla
movements such as FULRO-was virtually nonexistent until early 2001, when
earlier demands exploded into view again.
POLICIES TOWARD ETHNIC MINORITIES
Vietnamese national ethnic community may constitute, as one Kinh
ethnologist has written, a garden in which a hundred flowers of
different colors and perfume bloom, but the overall plan for the garden
is exclusively determined by the head gardener (i.e., the state).
A. Terry Rambo,
is a significant gap between rhetoric and reality in Vietnamese
government policies towards ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands.
On the one hand, the government is proud of its policies toward ethnic
minorities and of constitutional provisions guaranteeing them the right
to use their own languages, and to preserve and promote local identity
and traditions. On the other hand, government policies are based largely
on perceptions of highlanders as nomadic, in need of development and
stability, and ultimately untrustworthy in the political sense because
of the affiliation of some of them with the
war effort and their longstanding desire for independence.
Historically, Vietnamese government policy toward the country's national
minorities has been one that extols the rich diversity of
's fifty-four officially recognized ethnic groups and proclaims them the
progenitor of the Vietnamese Communist Party, while stressing the
overarching aim that all ethnic groups work together toward the common
goals of national unity, defense, and building the nation.
's long-fought struggle for national unity is proudly and rigorously
defended, with the "crime of undermining the policy of national
unity" bringing prison sentences of up to fifteen years under the
1999 Penal Code.
A 1993 government publication notes:
unity of the Vietnamese nation has been strengthened by the constant
threat of invasion from feudalist or imperialist powers. In view of
geographical position and natural resources,
has throughout its history been a focus of more powerful forces. Once
, the ethnic groups realized the necessity of unity in order to
safeguard the country and their own existence.
to Vietnamese folklore,
's many different nationalities were hatched out of a hundred eggs from
one set of parents, Lac Long Quan and Au Co. Half followed their mother
to the mountains and the rest went with their father to the sea. They
joined hands to build one nation stretching from the high peaks of Lung
Cu in the north, to the hamlet of Rach Tau in the south, and from the
Truong Son range in the west to the Truong Sa archipelago in the east.
The 1992 Constitution affirms the rights of ethnic minorities. Article 5
states that the government forbids all acts of ethnic discrimination and
guarantees the rights of ethnic groups to use their own language and
writing systems, preserve their ethnic identity, and promote their own
traditions and culture. Articles 36 and 39 authorize preferential
treatment for national minorities in education and health care. Article
94 mandates the establishment of the Nationalities Council of the
National Assembly to "supervise and control" the
implementation of policies and programs in regard to ethnic minorities.
Government institutions overseeing minority affairs include the Office
of Mountainous Areas and Ethnic Minorities, established in 1990 and then
upgraded to ministerial status as the state Committee for Ethnic
Minorities and Mountainous Areas (CEMMA) in
addition, policy is formulated and coordinated by the National
Assembly's Council of Nationalities and the
for Social Sciences. Ethnic minorities currently hold
seventy-eight seats, or 17 percent, of the 450-seat National Assembly,
slightly higher than their proportion in the overall population (15
Respect, Participation, and Equal Rights"
has been a party to
the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination (CERD) since 1982. The U.N. Committee on the Elimination
of Racial Discrimination, in its General Recommendation XXIII on
Indigenous Peoples, calls on states parties to:
Recognize and respect indigenous distinct culture, history, language and
way of life as an enrichment of the State's cultural identity and to
promote its preservation;
(b) Ensure that members of indigenous peoples are free and 6equal in
dignity and rights and free from any discrimination, in particular that
based on indigenous origin or identity;
(c) Provide indigenous peoples with conditions allowing for a
sustainable economic and social development compatible with their
(d) Ensure that members of indigenous peoples have equal rights in
respect of effective participation in public life and that no decisions
directly relating to their rights and interests are taken without their
(e) Ensure that indigenous communities can exercise their rights to
practice and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs and to
preserve and to practice their languages.
report submitted by the government of
in 2000 as part of its reporting duties as a state party to CERD stated:
the Vietnamese people, racial discrimination is unfamiliar and does not
exist in the country. In
, all ethnic groups have, from time immemorial, coexisted peacefully
without racial conflicts and discrimination. All ethnic groups in
, regardless of their size, language, culture, history and level of
development, have enjoyed the same rights in all aspects of life.
theory, official government strategy for ethnic minority development is
based on the following elements, as outlined in a 1995 SRV policy
document: a) targeting the poor, since ethnic minorities are
disproportionately represented amongst those living in poverty; b)
active participation of ethnic people in their own development; c)
capacity building within ethnic minority communities; d) sustainable
development; and e) mutual respect and responsibility between the
overall goal is to integrate ethnic minorities into wider society, and
to create the conditions for all citizens, irrespective of ethnic origin
to enjoy equal rights in political economic, cultural and social domains.
practice, Vietnamese government policy has wavered from benevolent
paternalism to repressive implementation of programs that clash with
indigenous religious practices and customary approaches to agriculture
and land use.
In some cases, the problem is poor implementation of national policies
at the local level due to corruption, lack of resources, or poor
communication of official procedures by the central government to the
provincial, district, and commune authorities.
Fields, Fixed Settlements
the late 1960s, the official approach towards ethnic minorities in
has largely centered around having highlanders settle in permanent
settlements and move from shifting or swidden cultivation, to paddy rice
cultivation and cash crops.
The government has attempted to carry out these objectives through a
number of programs that ostensibly bring new expertise and new
population groups to the highlands. These have included the Fixed
Cultivation and Permanent Settlement Program (FCPS, or dinh canh dinh
cu in Vietnamese) and the New Economic Zones (NEZ) Program, which
organized the migration of lowlanders to state-run agricultural farms,
cooperatives and production collectives in the highlands.
Launched in 1968, the FCPS, or "sedentarization," program
sought to address environmental degradation allegedly caused by swidden
cultivation by relocating "nomadic" highlanders to permanent
settlements. The program sought to address twin goals of protecting
watershed forests allegedly at risk of being destroyed by the
highlanders while improving national defense by relocating ethnic
minorities from isolated and sensitive border areas to regions under
In the early 1980s the government initiated transmigration programs to
encourage lowland Vietnamese to resettle in New Economic Zones in the
Central Highlands to address landlessness, overpopulation and high
unemployment rates in others parts of the country, particularly the
coastal areas. The programs also aimed to create a labor force to work
on state agricultural farms and tree plantations (under Decree 82/CP)
and to establish cooperatives and production collectives (under Decree
These programs supported the aim of making
truly uniform, by having ethnic Vietnamese dispersed throughout the
country, including the remote highlands. Migration of ethnic Vietnamese
to restive border regions was seen to support both national defense and
economic development goals. In theory, the underlying approach of the
transmigration programs has been to try to take advantage of some of
's assets: an abundant labor force throughout
' "untapped land potential." Under these schemes, the labor
force would be rationally redistributed according to land availability,
relocating people from overpopulated areas to those with fewer people
and more uncultivated land. The Director of the Department for
Resettlement and Development of New Economic Zones at the Ministry of
Agriculture and Rural Development outlined the official view
of "rural to rural" migration at a 1998 conference:
legacy of history is an uneven distribution of the population from one
area and region to another. While population density tops 1000 people/km2
in some provinces of the Red River Delta, it is only slightly more than
30 people/ km2 in parts of the northern uplands and Central
Highlands....The Red River Delta has 21 percent of the country's
population but only 14 percent of its arable land, while the Mekong
Delta has less than 20 percent of the population but 30 percent of the
order to develop the country's potential and achieve rational
utilization of its resources, the government has formulated a strategy
to redistribute population and labor. Such a reallocation of the forces
of production will allow these resources to be tapped and lead to equal
development among different regions. Rural-rural migration in
is truly the will of the party and the people alike.
the Barren Hills
the 1990s, in part to address massive deforestation, the government
instituted several new policies in regard to ethnic minorities and
upland development. These included the 1992 Program 327 (known as the
"Regreening of the Barren Hills Program"), which aimed to
reforest barren areas, protect and exploit forests and unused land, and
resettle ethnic minority swidden farmers. The 1998 "Five Million
Hectare Reforestation Program" (Decree 661/QD-TTg), similarly aimed
to induce families to reforest areas in exchange for certain user rights.
Both programs aimed to reforest "barren" land by resettling
lowland farmers into the highlands while relocating highland shifting
cultivators to permanent sites to practice fixed cultivation.
In the mid-1990s a number of Vietnamese academics and researchers, such
as those at Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies
(CRES) at Vietnam National University in
, gained the support of progressive local officials and funding from the
and the Ford Foundation as they began to explore ways to promote
sustainable natural resource management among highland communities.
Several pilot projects were launched in the Northern Highlands that
advanced a decentralized approach to sustainable forest use and
protection, customary resource use, and community-based natural resource
innovative initiatives such as these, the overall approach by national
and provincial authorities continues to call for sedentarization of the
highlanders and an end to shifting agriculture and "nomadic
V. POPULATION EXPLOSION: THE IMPACT OF MIGRATION
of the most significant problems is land disputes, since the traditional
living space of local groups is shrinking more and more because of
migration. This is particularly true for spontaneous migrants, who
arbitrarily occupy the fields and forest land of the indigenous peoples.
Thi Xuan, Vice-Chairwoman, Dak Lak Provincial People's Committee, 1998.
the last thirty years migration to the highlands has been both organized
and spontaneous, with the new settlers consisting primarily of ethnic
Vietnamese, or Kinh, but also including ethnic minorities from the
poverty-stricken Northern Highlands, either moving voluntarily in search
of land or to avoid planned hydropower projects.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the population of the four
provinces of the Central Highlands was around 240,000, the vast majority
of which comprised indigenous ethnic minorities. The current population
is now estimated at roughly four million, only 25 percent of which is
impact of both planned and spontaneous migration of ethnic Vietnamese,
who traditionally have lived in the lowlands and the Red River Delta in
the north, has been dramatic. Between 1940 and 1989, the numbers of Kinh
in the Central Highlands rose from 5 percent to 66 percent of the area's
Lowland Vietnamese did not start to move into the region in significant
numbers until the end of the Resistance War against the French
The first to come were refugees from the north, who began to resettle in
the Central Highlands in
the late 1950s the
's Land Development Program aimed to draw people from impoverished and
heavily populated lowland regions, while creating a human buffer against
NLF infiltration at the same time. More than 100,000 people-ethnic
Vietnamese from the lowlands as well as refugees, including some ethnic
minorities, from the north-had been resettled in 117 Land Development
Centers in the Central Highlands by the end of 1962, where they farmed
rubber and other crops.
Since reunification of the country in 1975, the numbers have shot up,
with hundreds of thousands of ethnic Vietnamese from the lowlands, as
well as other minorities from the north, migrating to the Central
Highlands. Much of the early migration (before 1991) was through the
central government programs which established state Forest Enterprises,
NEZs, and state coffee and rubber plantations.
the initiation of doi moi (renovation), the liberalization
process that began in 1986, government-organized transmigration has
decreased while spontaneous migration has shot up. The new settlers
include not only lowland Vietnamese but ethnic minorities such as Tai,
Nung and Dao from the
. The Kinh have flocked to the
both to farm cash crops and to work as traders in timber, forest
products and cash crops; they also dominate the main urban markets.
Northern minority people are moving to the Central Highlands because of
poverty, population pressure, and depleted natural resources in the
Northern Highlands, and the relative abundance of farm and forest land
in the Central Highlands.
1990-1994, some 110,000 spontaneous migrants resettled in Dak Lak, more
Lam Dong, and smaller numbers in Gia Lai and Kontum.
While planned migrants receive some government assistance, virtually
nothing is offered to those who resettle unofficially. "As a result,
settlers have to destroy forest land in order to farm and build,"
noted the deputy people's committee chair of Dak Lak province.
encouraging hundreds of thousands of migrants to settle in the Central
Highlands, the establishment of the New Economic Zones had the opposite
effect in many areas from what had been envisioned. Rather than
promoting economic development by bringing the highlanders into contact
with lowlanders who were considered less "backward," the NEZs
created competition over scarce land and natural resources. For the
highlanders who were resettled from their ancestral lands to other
areas, the resettlement programs often meant the destruction of
traditional longhouses and customary agricultural practices.
Many highlanders who had not been resettled from their traditional lands
were forced by dwindling access to farmland to abandon traditional
Inevitably, the massive influx of new settlers resulted in land
disputes. These included conflicts between migrants and indigenous
residents, between managers of state-owned farms or forests and
residents or migrants who have begun using land zoned for state use, and
between earlier migrants who have staked out a plot of land and
spontaneous migrants who arrived later.
Problems were also caused by unauthorized land sales to new migrants, as
well as clearing of forest land by migrants for new farm plots.
In fact, the end result of many of the government migration programs
was often massive deforestation and clashes over lands
traditionally inhabited by the ethnic minorities. Newcomers also
encroached upon cattle grazing grounds and areas where ethnic minorities
collected non-timber forest products such as bamboo, rattan, and bamboo
In the late 1990s government policy makers began to make occasional
reference to the problems brought about by excessive migration to the
. At a national workshop on the issue of internal migration in
, the Vice-Chair of the Dak Lak People's Committee appealed for an end
to migration to Dak Lak, bluntly stating that the Central Highlands
could not handle any more migrants. Her plea did not fall on deaf ears:
participants made various suggestions for ways to halt or decelerate the
rate of migration and address the existing impacts, including the
titling of ethnic minority lands.
In September 1999, the Chairman of the Nationalities Council of the
National Assembly stated that "the influx of unregistered migrants
has brought many difficulties to local authorities in terms of the
environment, social security, housing management, unemployment, and the
overburdening of infrastructure and urban services."
That same month, the Parliamentary Committee on Social Affairs
acknowledged that rapid population growth among the minorities, coupled
with the migration of several million of the Kinh majority, had resulted
in "severe land shortages" in the highlands and the eruption
of land disputes between the minorities and the newcomers.
In November 1989 the Politburo partially admitted some of the
shortcomings of the New Economic Zones in the highland regions and
advocated that development programs operate on the basis of respect for
local cultures and the "family economy."
No concrete changes were implemented, although the following year the
Council of Ministers passed Decree No 72, which called for land to be
returned to minority families and newer lowland settlers so that all
could benefit from their own production.
With the advent of market reforms in 1986 under doi moi-combined
with the failure of the cooperatives-state enterprises and collectives
were scaled back while the private sector and individual households were
given a greater role in rural development. The VCP's Resolution No. 22
of November 1989 confirmed the importance of ethnic minorities for the
nation and the development potential and strategic importance of the
mountainous areas. It also criticized earlier policies which have failed
to help ethnic minorities, such as the establishment of New Economic
Zones, state farms, and cooperatives.
Contributing to the unrest in the
in 2001 was the fact that many highland farmers, already living below
the poverty line, lost almost everything they had with the global
plummet of coffee prices after 1999.
is the world's largest exporter of robusta coffee. The economic base of
the Central Highlands is centered on coffee production, with Dak Lak
province alone producing nearly 60 percent of the country's output.
During the last six years, low world prices combined with overproduction
in Vietnam caused the domestic price to plunge from 40,000 dong (U.S.
$3) per kilo in 1995 to 12,000 dong (less than U.S. $1) in February
2000, to as low as 4,250 dong (U.S. $0.27) in January 2002.
much as 80 percent of the population in the Central Highlands, both
ethnic Vietnamese and highlanders, are thought to work in the coffee
business, which can range from tending a small half-hectare plot to
operating a state plantation.
Hardest hit by the coffee crisis were ethnic minority farmers, who had
virtually no risk margin when they increasingly turned to farming coffee
as a cash crop over the last decade on small plots of land, as an
alternative to swidden agriculture, which requires more land. With the
downturn in coffee prices, many of these smaller-holding minority coffee
farmers were forced to sell their harvest at a loss or switch to other
private coffee trader in Dak Lak told Reuters in February 2001 that the
plunge in coffee prices had exacerbated ethnic tensions in the region:
once many highlanders realized that they had lost everything they had,
their resentment toward larger growers-who are primarily ethnic
Vietnamese migrants-increased, as did their requests to the government
to return land to them that they had previously farmed before taking up
coffee or being relocated by government programs. "They have been
asking the authorities to return their land as their life has been
miserable in areas they have been moved to," the trader told
The coffee yield for 2001-2002 was expected to be 30 percent lower than
the previous harvest, as farmers held back their harvest as a
speculative measure or switched to other crops.
Eleventh-hour efforts were made to bridge the gap between global supply
and demand. In August 2001, plans were announced for key coffee growers
in Dak Lak and Lam Dong to cut a total of
of coffee trees in order to plant cocoa, cotton, or maize. Nationwide,
the area under coffee cultivation is projected to drop by
between 2000 and 2005.
While this type of large-scale adjustments may improve Vietnam's overall
coffee market in the long term, many ethnic minority farmers need a more
immediate solution to the economic blow they suffered by the downturn in
coffee prices: how are they to make a living on extremely small plots of
Population: The Example of Dak Lak
numbers of Vietnamese started getting bigger in 1990. During the last
year  they came day by day, month by month. There could be 100 new
arrivals in a month,
a month. We can't say how many have come to our area since 1979-perhaps
10,000 people. They come with their families, borrow money from the
government, and try to buy some land from the minorities. They control
the village committee. There's only one
on the committee now.
man from Buon Cuor Knia, Dak Lak, April, 2001
, where the population has more than quadrupled with the absorption of
623,000 new settlers between 1976 and 1998, is one example of
In 1921 the province reportedly had only twenty ethnic Vietnamese
residents. By 1943, the province's population of 80,000 included 4,000
Kinh. During the French and American wars in the 1950s and 1960s there
was a steady flow of Kinh to the province. By the end of war, this had
become a flood; by 1978 Kinh constituted 61 percent of the population of
1976 and 1996, Dak Lak resettled 311,764 planned migrants. Spontaneous
migrants compounded the flow, with approximately 350,000 arriving during
the same interval.
The period of sharpest increase in spontaneous migration was between
1991 and 1995; the numbers subsequently dropped in 1997 as a result of
several government decrees and a message from the prime minister warning
new migrants they would face serious consequences if they destroyed
By 1997, the province's population was close to 1.5 million. Indigenous
minorities such as the
and the Mnong, who had made up 48 percent of Dak Lak's population in
1975, now only comprised 20 percent of the population.
Ethnic Kinh comprised about 70 percent, with miscellaneous others,
including ethnic minorities from the Northern Highlands, making up the
remaining 10 percent.
The government's plan for the period through 2010 is for Dak Lak to
accept another 260,000 people from other parts of the country.
The arrival of an average of 30,000 new migrants a year, together with
economic growth, has necessitated the formation of new districts and
administrative groupings. In 1975, Dak Lak had ninety-six administrative
units (communes or wards) in seven districts and one city. By 1997 the
province had 192 administrative units (towns, communes, wards) in
eighteen districts. Each year the province needs at least 1,000 new
classrooms and thousands of teachers.
Medical facilities and social services are stretched to the limit. While
government authorities credit the arrival of the new migrants with
helping to break up the remnants of FULRO in the early 1990s, provincial
authorities also note that spontaneous migration has caused its own law
and order problems because close to one-quarter of the new migrants are
not officially registered with local authorities.
A 1996 survey in Dak Lak found that planned and spontaneous migrants
occupied an average of
of land per household. At that rate, provincial authorities said, the
new migrants could have destroyed as much as
of forest for agricultural clearing during the prior twenty years.
Land conflicts were inevitable, particularly since most migrants to the
province have settled in upland rural areas where the indigenous ethnic
minorities have traditionally lived.
Jamieson described the impact of migration on Dak Lak:
towns, settlements along major roads, and much of the best land are
dominated by Kinh. As Kinh flowed into the province, the
were even further marginalized. In combination, sixty-four state Farms
and forty-two state Forest Enterprises controlled 86 percent of the land
in Dak Lak, including virtually all of the high quality land, but
encompassed only 20 percent of the population. The remaining 80 percent
of the population, including most of the ethnic minority population, had
to eke out a living on less than 14 percent of the land.
VI. THE 1990S: ESCALATION IN LAND CONFLICTS
authorities confiscate our swidden fields or rice paddies and say it's
the property of the government. Just when our fields are ready for
harvest, they take the land, plowing it over during the night to make
coffee or rubber plantations. Sometimes they even want to demand money
from us after they've taken our land and plowed it over. All we can do
is cry. The Montagnards want to fight back.
man from Gia Lai, March 2001
land in the Central Highlands increasingly became occupied by immigrants
and agribusiness, the question of land use rights became one of the most
pressing problems facing the indigenous highlanders. Most Montagnards
say the land issue emerged around 1975-1977, worsened in the mid-1980s,
and then hit crisis levels during the second half of the 1990s.
A 1957 report by the Agricultural Division of the U.S. Operations
Mission was a harbinger of conflicts to come. It noted that "the
Montagnard tribes by tradition have certain rights to the land...it is
our understanding that such rights have never been formally defined and
recorded." The result could be disastrous if not promptly dealt
with, the report said, offering several recommendations, including
allocation of ownership rights, opening newly-cultivated lands to
highlanders as well as ethnic Vietnamese "in a manner suitable to
their customs," and indigenous language instruction in permanent
The report was virtually ignored by government officials from the
as well as most American advisors in
at the time.
Since 1975 all land was deemed to officially belong to the state.
Agriculture was organized into cooperatives, and forests and plantations
were taken over by state enterprises.
It took at least two years before government land experts from
were able to take that message to the far flung regions of the country.
State cooperatives and enterprises were more fully established in the
highlands in the early 1980s.
the implementation of reforms under doi moi in the late 1980s,
the cooperatives' role in managing and controlling land began to ebb.
Legislation formalizing the movement to "decollectivize" land
ownership was passed, such as Instruction No. 10 of 1988, which provided
for allocation of land to households and enabled individual people to
lease or buy part of the cooperative's land. Within five years the
cooperatives did not really exist except in name; the reality was that
some form of private ownership was possible, particularly for those who
had connections and could pay for it.
of Land Security
According to the 1993 Land Law, while all land still belongs to the
state, individuals can acquire right to use and occupy land and they are
allowed to buy, sell, inherit, and lease land use rights. Farm land can
be leased for twenty years, with an automatic renewal of the lease if
the land user has abided by the land law.
However the legal framework for land usage rights and transactions is
extremely weak and guarantees little security for land users, even if
they hold official land use certificates.
Indigenous minority land remains particularly vulnerable not only
because official policy discourages rotational agriculture, but because
the land law only covers so-called "permanent agriculture" and
not swidden plots left fallow.
Plots of land customarily used by highlanders and left fallow to restore
fertility are difficult to title and instead are often distributed to
addition, the law does not accommodate the customary communal ownership
of land by many highlanders, many of whom are not accustomed to the idea
of applying for title to individual plots of land.
The land law is weighted toward privatized, individual claims rather
than recognition of communal resource management traditionally used by
the indigenous minorities.
Indeed, this may have been a factor in many highlanders selling the
small plots of land to which they were able to establish claims, or
turning those plots themselves into quick-cash crops such as coffee and
pepper. Those crops, while providing needed income, are risky endeavors
because of the vagaries of the international market in such commodities.
In other cases, highlanders who have gained land use certificates to
small plots of land may end up selling their land because they lack the
capital and labor to work in profitably.
Farmers who sell their land may have money in hand for a while, but that
can quickly disappear, leaving nothing to support their livelihood or
for their progeny to inherit.
The land law tends to recognize only one name per household on land use
certificates, which are primarily issued to men, who are usually
classified as head of household. This not only denies women land use
rights but also stands in stark contrast to traditional customs of many
of the highland ethnic groups, in which landowners are always women and
land is inherited through the female line.
Land allocation and the issuance of land use certificates began in the
mid-1990s. Government statistics show that as many as eight million
households have been allocated agricultural land. However, the process
of land allocation in highland areas has been slower and more
problematic, not only because of lack of technical cadastral expertise
but because of difficulties highlanders have in obtaining equitable
access to government departments because of their physical isolation
from provincial towns, lack of money for fees and bribes, language
problems, and discrimination by local authorities.
In the past, many highlanders supported themselves on at least one or
two hectares of land per family, on which they practiced swidden
agriculture. As lowlanders or ethnic minorities from other parts of
began to encroach on their land, or as state plantations displaced them,
such practices became untenable.
man described the situation:
grandfather had more than five hectares of land. The government took the
land and gave only part of it to me-less than a hectare. In the past we
did shifting agriculture, moving our farm plots around. The fallow land
was part of our land. Now we just farm in one place. I have just enough
land to feed my family, but nothing left over.
most highlanders eke out a living by farming rice and perhaps a small
home garden of coffee and peppers on less than a hectare of land, making
ends meet by trading in the market or working as laborers for the
growing population of ethnic Vietnamese in the region.
Any disruption of the household economy-be it a fine imposed for
attending a church service or having a third child, or confiscation of a
portion of a rice field-can have disastrous consequences on a family's
the past ten years, local authorities have acquired vast swathes of
agricultural land for commercial development, sometimes forcing farmers
to sell or buying from indebted peasants at prices far below market
Farmers' loss of livelihood, inadequate payment for land, and
confiscation of property by local authorities have fueled intense anger
by indigenous highlanders, particularly in the last seven to ten years.
Confiscation of Land
As in many countries, land can be confiscated by the state, if it is
deemed necessary for government infrastructure projects such as roads or
state agricultural plantations, although advance notification must be
given to the user of the land, and proper compensation paid. The 1993
Land Law states that the government can "recover possession"
of land if it is needed for purposes of "national defense, security,
national or public interest." The law stipulates that prior to
state appropriation of the land, the land user shall be notified of the
reasons why the land is to be recovered, the timeframe, the plan for
transfer, and the methods of compensation.
The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in its
General Recommendation on Indigenous Peoples, calls upon states parties
and protect the rights of indigenous peoples to own, develop, control
and use their communal lands, territories and resources and, where they
have been deprived of their lands and territories traditionally owned or
otherwise inhabited or used without their free and informed consent, to
take steps to return those lands and territories. Only when this is for
factual reasons not possible, the right to restitution should be
substituted by the right to just, fair and prompt compensation. Such
compensation should as far as possible take the form of lands and
in many cases of state land expropriation or compulsory land sales in
, farmers receive inadequate compensation after local officials have
taken their cut. This has sparked protests, such as in Ea H'leo in Dak
Lak in August 2000,
D hamlet in Buon Ma Thuot City in 1985 and 2000 (see below), and Buon Cuor Knia in Dak Lak in 1993 and again in 1996.
Many highlanders fall into debt, and so are obliged to sell their land,
often at artificially low prices, for short-term economic gain. As
increasing numbers of farmers in the Central Highlands lose their land,
they have little choice but to work as tenant farmers or occasional
hired labor for more wealthy ethnic Vietnamese landowners, with no labor
rights or legal associations to represent their interests.
interviews and in complaint petitions to government departments obtained
by Human Rights Watch, highlanders described how local authorities-often
the provincial Education Department-have confiscated their small one
hectare coffee fields, ostensibly to construct schools or other
government buildings, without paying any compensation.
In some cases, as in Dak Doa district of Gia Lai, streams that ethnic
Jarai had used to water their fields were diverted in the early 1980s to
irrigate state tea and coffee plantations, hampering the Jarai's farming.
"In the dry season they redirect the water so it's difficult for us
to grow our crops," said a Jarai man from Dak Doa. "Then right
before the rice is ready for harvest, our fields get completely flooded
out. This has been happening since 1981."
Plea for Help"
In a document obtained by Human Rights Watch from a highland region in
Phu Yen province, which borders Gia Lai and Dak Lak, an ethnic minority
petitioner described how on July 27, 2000, government bulldozers razed
the small plot of land (less than a hectare) he had cleared and farmed
for nine years.
The explanation given by local officials at the time was that the land
was needed for public purposes and that he would be compensated. The
petitioner wrote an official complaint but one year later had received
no response-or compensation.
In a second complaint dated July 25, 2001, entitled "Plea for
Help," the man requested intervention from the provincial bureau of
religious affairs. The complaint is signed not only by the man whose
land was confiscated but by his hamlet chief, who wrote
"Certification of the Chief of [name withheld] Hamlet. All of the
foregoing is true."
the history of the case, the petition stated that in April 2001 the man
was invited to meet village authorities, who said he would be
compensated two million dong (about U.S. $153) for the land that had
been razed the previous year. "I refused, because I had spent more
than seven million dong razing and clearing the land and planting trees
and vegetables, and I was only being offered two million," the man
wrote in his complaint.
A month later, on May 30, village and district policemen stopped by the
man's house and told him to take down his house and move somewhere else.
During the course of that conversation the police reportedly also asked
him why he was a Protestant. The next morning, eighty people-including
village police, district soldiers and local officials, appeared at the
man's house in two vehicles and dozens of motorcycles. The petitioner
described what happened:
were fully equipped with guns and ammunition, a movie camera, and
handcuffs. They ordered me to take the house down. [Name of official
withheld] began, and then all of the soldiers, police and local defense
force joined in. They forced me to help with the work, telling me that
if I didn't, I would go to jail.
government officials accused the man of illegally propagating the
Protestant religion and opposing the Vietnamese Communist Party. He was
told: "This land belongs to the state, gained by the sacrifice of
untold numbers of revolutionaries, and doesn't belong in the slightest
. Here you are practicing an American religion-why should you expect the
state to come up with money for you?"
of Government Action
grievances have to do with the fact that local authorities seldom
respond to written or oral complaints about land conflicts submitted by
ethnic minorities. An ethnic Bahnar described the problem to
anthropologist Oscar Salemink:
authorities do nothing; they put the Kinh in the right. The Kinh are
never punished for their conflicts with the Bahnar, only the Bahnar are
punished. We are very often punished, since 1975 every family in our
village has been fined at least once.
1993 Land Law stipulates that land disputes are to be resolved through
conciliation by the provincial, district, or municipal People's
Committees. If any party disagrees with the decision of the People's
Committees they can appeal to higher government administrative bodies,
or to the courts.
Despite the provisions of the law, it appears that many highlanders –
if they complain at all to local authorities – rarely succeed in
moving beyond the district level People's Committee, which almost never
takes action on the complaints. "They dutifully write down a
report," said an
man from Buon Cuor Knia in Dak Lak. "But the problem
A Jarai from
district in Gia Lai had a similar complaint:
authorities take and sell land to ethnic Vietnamese that is already in
use by the ethnic minorities. The Vietnamese get the land title
documents, and then they evict the highlanders. It is the commune
authorities who are selling land. In other cases, ethnic Vietnamese
occupy land that Jarai have left fallow to let it become fertile again.
When we complain afterwards, we face intimidation from the authorities.
At the same time, there is little point in complaining to the
authorities because they are heavily involved.
Response after Five Years: The Conflict in D Village
documents obtained by Human Rights Watch from the Central Highlands,
including citizen complaint petitions filed with national and local
level government departments, reflect the concerns of many highlanders
about government inaction over confiscation of village lands.
One longstanding conflict dates back to the mid-1980s in D village, a
hamlet of some 113
families (644 people) on the outskirts of Buon Ma Thuot City, which is
recorded in two citizen complaint petitions submitted in 1995 and 2000.
The first document, dated April 27, 1995, was sent to the Nationalities
Council of the National Assembly and copied to the Ministry of Interior
and the district and commune Peoples Committees in Dak Lak province. It
described how in 1985 villagers followed a government relocation order
and moved their village to a new site. At that time, the petitioners
stated, villagers received a pledge from the first secretary of the
Communist Party in their commune that their former village lands were
still theirs to cultivate.
However beginning in 1986 the government began to appropriate the
village land, with much of it going to a state tree nursery operated by
the provincial forestry service. The villagers proposed that the
forestry service enter into a contract in which villagers could plant
trees on the land in order to at least partially support their
livelihood, but the forestry service did not agree.
In 1990, the petitioners stated, the forestry service turned over forty
hectares of land to an ethnic Vietnamese person from another province,
who planted trees and cashews on the land. Additional land was turned
over to the state nursery, leaving less and less for the villagers to
support their livelihoods. In 1995, the petition stated, the forestry
unit employed armed units to further confiscate village land.
The villagers of D hamlet stated in their first petition that they did
not oppose the government's underlying goals in planting nurseries-but
not at the expense of local peoples' livelihoods, and not when
confiscated land was subsequently sold to people from other regions to
plant cash crops. The 1995 petition stated:
far as the nursery goes, we agree with the economic plan of the state as
it was set out in the beginning. But [instead] the trees are being cut
down and the land has been leased out and rent collected on it. In the
meantime we villagers are not allowed to work the land....
we are sending this petition to you and ask you to investigate the
situation and find a resolution that satisfies the hopes of our people.
At present, the forestry service is not using the land for its intended
purpose but rather has sold the land taken from the local people to
people from other regions to plant coffee and sugar cane.
1995 petition ends with a plea for government action: "As a result
of this situation the people in the hamlet of D are in desperate straits,
and before long, deaths are going to result either as a result of
starvation or struggles to make a living."
Apparently there was little, if any, response from government officials.
A second petition from D village obtained by Human Rights Watch, dated
October 24, 2000, noted that "five full years have gone by, and we
have received no reply. Our difficult economic situation has become even
worse. Indeed, we have gotten to the point where we may die of
starvation. We are losing all of our confidence."
of Land Conflicts and Religious Persecution
interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that often those singled out by
the government for confiscation of their land were minority Christian
leaders, and that such discriminatory action has been going on for years.
This is supported by some of the documents obtained by Human Rights
Watch, such as a 1993 order from commune police in Dak Lak confiscating
the property of a church leader on the grounds that she was illegally
In one case from Dak Mil district of Dak Lak, a Mnong named T
told Human Rights Watch that when local authorities bulldozed his small
coffee farm in May 2001, he perceived the act as very much linked to his
role in his village as church leader:
was because I was the leader of the youth religious group that they took
my land. They didn't do this to my followers. The authorities had been
monitoring me for some time.
years T had conducted regular church services in his home as well as a
weekly youth group on Thursday nights in the village church, which was
built by the villagers over the objections of local authorities in 1997.
In May 2001, local authorities announced that they needed T's land to
build a school and confiscated his one-hectare farm. The conflict had
started about a year earlier, when two Vietnamese commune officials –
the same ones who had prepared legal land use documents for T for his
land in 1997 – came several times to inspect and measure his land.
they first came, in 2000, I went to talk with them. They said it was the
land of the government already. I told them not to take my land:
"I'll struggle with you even if I die, because it's my land."
They said, "You can't work it because the district government has
decided already. You have no power to oppose us."
complained verbally and in writing to the district and commune
authorities. While both the district and commune responded in writing,
they did not solve the problem, he said. Instead, on May 8,
Vietnamese worker from the commune office arrived with a tractor and
began to plow over his land:
tried to stop him. I wanted to fight him so he called four others-all
Vietnamese, including one Vietnamese policeman. The policeman came to
watch because we were fighting. I asked him to help me. He said, "I
don't have the ability to help you-I can't help you." The police
and my relatives stopped me from burning the tractor. Everyone in my
village saw this happen.
who had farmed the one-hectare plot since 1997, said the land was unused
when he took it over and cleared it. In 1999, he obtained legal land use
rights for land from the district office, paying a one-time fee of
20,000 dong (about U.S. $1.50) for the land certificate and then 40,000
dong a year in tax.
T explained his understanding of the land use certificate he had
obtained: "It means that my whole life I will have the land."
After the confiscation of his land, T struggled to support his family
and came under increased surveillance and harassment from local
officials for his religious activities. He eventually fled to
, seeking asylum there.
they plowed my land I was devastated. The coffee was to support my life.
When they plowed it, it was like they killed me. They plowed it all-500
coffee plants, one well, and eighty-seven pepper plants. Afterwards, I
had nothing left.
number of people in his village, including T himself, supported the
February 2001 demonstrations, although most were unable to actually
participate because of police barricades along the road to Buon Ma Thuot.
While T's initial calling appears to have been as a church leader, the
confiscation of his land made him a stronger supporter of the land
rights movement: "My understanding of the movement is that it's the
struggle to demand the land of the ethnic minorities and control it
ourselves," he said.
Tensions over Land
the Central Highlands, conflicts over land rose sharply in the mid to
late 1990s, as described by an
woman church leader from Dak Lak:
the Communists came in 1975, they said all land belongs to the state.
There's no land that we can own, even if we have the papers. I had title
to my soybean farm since 2000, but the authorities took it anyway. They
said they had authorization from the province to give my land to the
government. Then they gave it to a Vietnamese family who had resettled
conflicts over land have been strongest since the early 1980s, when
Vietnamese people started moving to my village. Now there are more
Vietnamese than ethnic minorities in my village, or more than 1000.
There are daily arguments between the two groups.
people would forcibly occupy land that ethnic minorities had cleared but
were not yet occupying. They took over our land, bit by bit. The
minorities who had farms told the Vietnamese to go back to their place,
. The conflicts occurred daily.
man said that when conflicts first arise, often it is just a small spat
between a couple of highlanders and ethnic Vietnamese people over a
patch of land. "The next day many more Vietnamese come-how can we
fight with them?" he said. "When we report to the government
authorities they don't do anything. Usually these conflicts are between
four or five of us and twenty or thirty Vietnamese."
Some highlanders described how even village cemeteries had been
confiscated and plowed over for state plantations or private farms, as
described by a Mnong from Dak Mil district:
my village from 1994-2000 the Vietnamese took our land-even plowing over
our cemetery to build their houses. People were very unhappy when they
plowed over the cemetery but did not dare oppose them. The felt the
district officials would do nothing to help.
Mnong asylum seeker in
summarized the land concerns of many of the highlanders:
consider ourselves the owners of the land and natural resources.
Forestry and agricultural enterprises take over an area by official
decree, and then it belongs to the state. The government explains to us
that the Forestry Enterprise is supposed to benefit us-but then we see
Vietnamese buying off the plots. Suddenly agricultural land that used to
belong to us belongs to Vietnamese people who have the proper stamps and
papers. It happens through the administration. We freely withdraw or are
told we can't live there anymore. In the end there are threats: you must
move for development.
Day We Will be the Ones in Charge"
The story of M,
an illiterate Jarai farmer from the Central Highlands who fled to
in June 2001, exemplifies the type of simmering anger that many
's rage exploded, which landed him in prison for two months. He was
arrested after he confronted a local Vietnamese businessman who had
cheated him out of part of his week's wages as a laborer. After clearing
farmland for the businessman for a week, at 15,000 dong (about U.S. $1)
a day, M was furious when the man short-changed him:
got angry with him, and said "Just wait-one day we'll have our own
[Montagnard] country and we will be the ones in charge then."
who was not active in the MFI organization and did not attend the
February 2001 demonstrations, had heard of the land rights movement from
A.S., an MFI organizer who had passed through his district some months
met me in my farm field. I didn't know him before. I don't know what the
movement is called-I only heard "Dega"-the struggle to get our
land back. In my village no one but me followed the movement as far as I
know. As for Kok Ksor, I had only heard of him, but not so clearly-from
A.S. I knew that Kok Ksor was in
and that he would come in the future and help us.
Vietnamese man who had cheated M went to the police, who then
immediately arrested M and took him to jail. He was interrogated and
beaten twice, first during his arrest and then during an interrogation
about a month later. Both times he told the police that he supported the
movement for highlanders "getting their land back."
first time they beat me, they hit me on my back and legs with a long
stick during interrogation. The reason was because I told them I wanted
to protest about the land and wanted to take our land back. There was no
blood, only bruises, which disappeared after two or three days. The
second beating was the same. They asked me if I was going to stop [demanding
land]. I said I will continue. When I said I wanted to struggle against
them, they began beating me. I said one word about that and they beat
me. I told them I would do whatever I could to oppose them; even if it
meant I die, I wasn't afraid. That caused them to hit me even more.
M was by no means an active MFI member, it appears that his one
interaction with a MFI organizer encouraged him to take action to
recover land that he saw as having been unfairly taken away by the
the past, during the time of my grandparents, my family's land was
larger. We had about three hectares. I had that land during the war, and
my grandparents before me. It was enough to support my family, planting
rice. Later, after liberation, they plowed it for rubber. From 1977
until now, they started taking my land. They keep squeezing me. In 1977
they took a little bit and then in 1978 they took the rest. It was for a
state rubber plantation. Since 1978, I've had less than half a hectare.
When we protested about the land problem, the authorities told us to
complain to the province. But we don't know how to write-how can we
protest. Many people in my village have the same problem. Their land has
been taken away. My current plot of land is not enough to support my
family, so I work as a laborer, cutting trees and grass for others.
the Vietnamese businessman cheated him out of his wages, that was the
last straw. M had no prior association with or knowledge of MFI, but his
own frustrations over land made him receptive to the MFI organizer's
message. His confrontation with the authorities landed him two months in
jail before he was able to flee to
VII. REPRESSION OF ETHNIC MINORITY PROTESTANTS
communists will not let us pray. They say that Christianity is an
American and French religion, so we came to live in the jungle. In our
land under the communists, people pray at home secretly or in the rice
fields. They cannot worship together like we do in the jungle. Here we
- FULRO liaison officer in an interview with the Phnom Penh Post, just
before surrendering to U.N. forces in
discontent in the Central Highlands arises not only out of the
encroachment on Montagnard traditional lands but official harassment and
discrimination against ethnic minorities who are evangelical Christians.
For many of the highlanders who participated in the February 2001
protests, both issues-land and religion-are linked to their aspirations
The combination of mounting frustration and tight government controls on
political expression has led to increasing politicization of religion in
the Central Highlands. Protestant prayer and worship services provide a
space for Montagnard expression not controlled by the authorities.
While article 70 of Vietnam's constitution and the ICCPR call for the
right to freedom of religion, Vietnam's overall record on religious
rights is poor.
The government's 1999 decree on religion, while purporting to guarantee
freedom of religion, provides for extensive government regulation of
religious organizations. It requires government approval of religious
seminaries and appointments of religious leaders and bans religious
organizations that conduct activities contrary to "structures
authorized by the prime minister."
The decree calls for punishment of members of any religious organization
that is "used to oppose the State of the Socialist Republic of
Vietnam," as well as those who participate in undefined "superstitious
The government does not allow the existence of independent associations
or nongovernmental organizations, including church groups.
, for worship services to be legal, a religion must be formally approved
by the VCP and its leaders vetted and approved by government authorities.
The VCP-run Vietnamese Fatherland Front officially recognizes only six
religious organizations-one each for Buddhists, Roman Catholics,
followers, and Muslims. Until 2001 the only Protestant churches
recognized by the government were some fifteen churches in northern
that fell under the rubric of the northern branch of the Protestant
evangelical Church, based in
April 2001, the Bureau of Religious Affairs recognized the Evangelical
Church of Vietnam (ECVN) in the south.
One observer described this as a "modest concession after years of
While the decision theoretically extends to all the southern provinces
, including the Central Highlands, it is doubtful that it will legalize
the unregistered Protestant "house churches" in minority areas
or any churches deemed to be Tin Lanh Dega (Dega Protestants).
Religious freedom advocates have expressed concerns that the
decision is another effort by the government to bring more Protestants
under state control, and perhaps to bar minority Protestants from
gathering to worship in house churches.
While the ECVN historically included Montagnard churches in the Central
Highlands as two-thirds of its members, authorities have been very
reluctant to extend this recognition to the Montagnard congregations,
which have exploded in number, and have all been considered illegal. The
February 2001 demonstrations, involving many Christians, made the
authorities even more wary. In late 2001, it appeared the authorities
were going to grant some kind of recognition to a small number of
Montagnard churches, particularly those congregations that were clearly
non-political and which had had permanent church buildings in the past.
However, as of February 2002, there were only two officially-recognized
pastors for a congregation of
In Dak Lak, authorities had recognized only two individual churches as
of March 2002, according to church sources there.
March 1999, the U.N. Special Rapporteur for Religious Intolerance issued
a highly critical report on religious freedom in
, based on his October 1998 visit to the country.
The Vietnamese government subsequently repudiated the findings and
announced it would no longer allow independent human rights monitors to
. The Vietnamese government reacted equally defensively to testimony in
February 2001 by critics alleging religious repression in
before the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which
later concluded that "the Vietnamese government continues to
suppress organized religious activities forcefully and to monitor and
control religious communities."
is said to be the fastest growing religion in
, particularly among ethnic minorities in the Northern and
. The largest concentration of Protestants in
is in the latter.
Prior to the arrival of Christianity in the
, most Montagnards' metaphysical beliefs centered around animism.
Animist Jarai, Mnong, and
call the main spirits that they respect yang, with individual yang
responsible respectively for the village, water, mountains, agricultural
fields, large trees, rocks, and other natural phenomena. These spirits
are believed to hold immense powers and, if properly treated, watch over
the village and can ward off disease, poor crop harvests, or other
calamities. Many highlanders believe that when the spirits are not
treated properly there can be severe consequences to villages and crops
as well as to individuals.
Catholicism took root in the highlands with the establishment of the
French mission at Kontum in 1850. Protestantism started to become
popular in the mid-1950s, when American missionaries affiliated with the
Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA), the Seventh Day Adventists, and
the Summer Institute of Linguistics took up residence to conduct
missionary activities, linguistic studies, and translate the Bible into
After the reunification of
in 1975, the practice of Christianity had initially appeared to wane.
Many Christian churches and religious schools were closed and ethnic
minority pastors imprisoned. Despite these obstacles, the number of
converts steadily rose, in part because of Christian radio programs in
minority languages broadcast from the Far Eastern Broadcasting
Corporation in the
Since 1975, Protestant membership has quadrupled throughout
, to an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 adherents today. The numbers of
Protestants in the Central Highlands is currently estimated at 229,000
to 400,000, with those in Dak Lak province alone increasing from
1975 to as many as 150,000 members today.
Statistics: Protestantism in the Central Highlands (1975-2000)
Prior to 1975
Government Committee for Religious Affairs, VCP Webpage, September 2001.
the past, Montagnard traditional animist religious practices and rituals
were discouraged by the government for being "superstitious"
activities, or removed from the village context and commodified:
costumed minority dancers were put up on stage to perform for visiting
officials from the lowlands or foreign tourists.
Ironically, in recent years highlanders who have converted to
Christianity have complained about local officials forcing them to
reinstall traditional ancestral altars in their homes and take down the
sign of the cross. The "goat's blood ceremonies" employed in
Dak Lak to secure pledges from highlanders not to continue any political
activity consisted of a crude approximation of an animist ceremony (See
Case Study XVI, "The Goat's Blood Oath Ceremonies in Ea H'leo,"
Christianity among highlanders was largely dormant from the installation
of the Communist regime in 1975 until the late 1980s, when reforms were
implemented under doi moi and the FULRO resistance movement
finally fell apart. Many Montagnards turned back towards Protestantism
when they abandoned the armed struggle against the
regime in the early 1990s. "If we didn't have Christianity and the
holy spirit with us, we would still use violence to oppose the
Vietnamese, and we would all be dead," a former FULRO fighter told
Human Rights Watch.
of the appeal of Christianity during its resurgence was that it served
as an underground, alternative outlet for Montagnard political
aspirations and an avenue for protest in a context where all other forms
of dissent were prohibited. Anthropologist Oscar Salemink noted: "Nowadays,
the most conspicuous act of covert resistance is in the field of
religion. With their traditional religious practices branded as
superstition and outlawed, many Montagnards have turned to Christianity
as an act of protest."
restrictions on churches and organizations not recognized by the state
means that despite the large numbers of Christians, there are few
churches in the highlands. Most minority Protestants worship quietly in
small groups in their homes. However, prior to the February 2001
demonstrations, it was not uncommon for minority church leaders to
occasionally organize large religious gatherings in forests or farm
fields, attended by as many as 200 people. Police would often break up
the ceremonies and impose fines or other penalties on the participants,
such as forced labor clearing fields, cutting grass or working on state
Dedication or construction of buildings for use as churches is not only
discouraged, but often actively banned, with reports of local
authorities destroying churches. Human Rights Watch has received a
number of reports of officials destroying Christian churches in the
Central Highlands, such as the 1996 burning of a church in Dak Mil
district, Dak Lak;
the bulldozing of Tanh My church in Lam Dong province in December 1997;
the destruction of a church in December
Dak N'Drung commune, Dak Song district, Dak Lak;
and the burning down of the church in Plei Lao village, Gia Lai in March
(See Case Study XV, "The Church Burning and Killing by Security
Forces in Plei Lao," p. 150.)
Most ethnic minority Christians in the Central Highlands have joined a
nationwide movement to form independent, and thus unregistered
evangelical "house churches," with prayer services held in
private homes. Larger prayer meetings and church services are often held
late at night in people's homes from 2:00 a.m. until dawn- "the
sleeping time for police," as Montagnards call it-to lessen the
chance that authorities will monitor the gatherings.
"All the pastors have to work in homes," said an
woman church leader from Dak Lak. "If you are seen having visitors
to your house you have a problem, even if only two or three people have
house church movement began to gain popularity in 1989, when several
congregations left the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South) after four
popular pastors were expelled or left. It is now estimated that house
churches make up one-fourth of
's evangelical Protestants.
officials in some lowland towns and cities have turned a blind eye to
some ethnic Vietnamese house churches, most in the Central Highlands are
closely monitored. As mentioned above, the government's recognition of
of the South in February 2001 does not appear to apply to ethnic
minority house churches.
since the emergence of an activist Montagnard movement in early 2000,
the practice of Tin Lanh Dega, or "Dega Christianity",
combines aspirations for independence and the particular type of
evangelical Christianity many highlanders practice. Montagnard
preachers often use Biblical stories of the lost tribes of
and the promised land to illustrate the political struggle for
independence, and prayer meetings are often followed by political
discussions. While many minority Christians in the
would reject the label of "Dega Christians," others use the
term with pride. A Jarai village Bible teacher offered this explanation
of the Tin Lanh Dega:
call our church "Dega." The reason we want our own religion is
because in the past there were Vietnamese leaders who controlled the
church. They would come into our villages and take photographs of poor
people in the Central Highlands to raise charity money from abroad. None
of that money ever reached us. We started the Dega religion in 2000. We
wanted to make our own church to contact directly with international
supporters, not through
. The authorities charge that we believe in politics and that it's not
religion we are doing.
woman church leader from Dak Lak summed up "Dega Christianity"
this way: "We want our own religion. It's our culture-if you kill
it, our soul will still live."
all Montagnard Protestants support "Dega Christianity," which
is seen as mixing religion and politics. Two Montagnard pastors who
spoke to a government-sponsored press tour to Pleiku in February 2002
expressed criticism of Protestants who had joined the pro-independence
protests a year earlier. "Many of the protesters were very young
and had not learned the true message of Protestantism," Montagnard
pastor Siu Pek told reporters. "Some people mistakenly associated
Protestantism with politics."
Siu Pek and another pastor, Siu Y Kim, said they believed most minority
Christians in the
belonged to more "orthodox" churches and did not support the
idea of an independent state.
In an interview with the VCP daily, Nhan Dan (The People), Siu Y
Kim said: "In
, there is only one Protestant religion, only one State, the Socialist
Republic of Vietnam. There is no so-called `
' and of course Protestant followers do not recognize the so-called `
Vo Than Tai, the chief of Dak Lak's bureau of religious affairs, put it
more strongly: "Dega Protestantism is not a religion. It is a
political organization," he said. "The abuse of religion that
encroaches [on] the interest of the nation must be dealt with.
While the numbers of Dega Protestants are difficult to determine, it
appears that the religion has grown increasingly popular over the last
several years. Both "Dega Christianity" and the Protestant
house church movement more broadly provide a way for highlanders
themselves to carve out their space in which to develop their own ethnic
and religious identity. This is in defiance of the repressive strictures
of the VCP, which insists that the national minorities and their church
assimilate with lowland Kinh under the rubric of the party. Salemink
summed this up succinctly:
Protestantism does provide...is an organizational and ideological
autonomy which allows space for a separate Montagnard (Jarai,
) ethnic identity in a context of increasing discipline, surveillance
and governmentalization.... By redrawing the boundary between the Yuan
(Kinh) and themselves (Dega, Montagnards) in the one field where
the current regime leaves some space in the form of a theoretical
freedom of religion, Montagnards reclaim some spiritual autonomy after
their political defeat in the construction of a Mon-tagnard homeland
with a fixed territory and statut particulier [i.e. Bao
Dai's 1951 Edict].
prayer and worship services provide a space for Montagnard expression
not controlled by the authorities. In part for this very reason, the
government has become increasingly suspicious of Protestants in the
region, fueling a vicious cycle. To minority Christians, the fact that
the government seeks to monitor and suppress house church services is
proof that the government is not serious about respecting rights to
freedom of religion. To government officials, the fact that highlanders
attending house services sometimes speak about political matters is
proof that the religion is a conduit for political subversion.
Directives to Suppress Minority Christians
growth in Protestantism in the highlands, particularly during the last
decade, is viewed with intense suspicion by the VCP and seen as a major
challenge to the party's authority. The government's actions to suppress
expression of independent political and religious ideas has not been
subtle: it has banned churches in many villages, barred ministers from
preaching, monitored private worship services, required that applicants
abandon their faith as a condition of obtaining government jobs, and
otherwise trampled on ethnic minority religious freedom.
government directives issued between 1999 and 2001 show a centrally
directed national campaign and special bureaucratic infrastructure to
target and suppress Christians in ethnic minority areas in the Northern
In 1999, for example, an official VCP body known as Ban Chi Dao
184, or the Committee for the Guidance of Correct Thought (hereafter
referred to as Committee 184), released internal religious policy
guidelines, which included an analysis of the perceived threat posed by
evangelical Protestants in the highlands. After 1975, Committee 184 said,
Protestantism was "abused by the evil-minded" in the region
when FULRO members exploited religion in an effort to rebuild their
rebellious force. Since 1980, when a number of evangelical pastors and
followers were released from re-education camps, they resumed their
proselytizing activities. Thus evangelical religion continued to grow,
especially after renovation (doi moi), when Protestantism "literally
exploded" in the
administration proposed powerless psychological tools. The evangelical
religion spread from one village to another, people began gathering
together openly-creating a problem for the masses.
response, authorities closed churches and banned religious activities in
some areas; fining, detaining or imprisoning those who persisted.
Committee 184 documents described its successful effort to contain
we pursued and drove away the FULRO and the rebellious groups,
evangelical churches in some places had to be closed...After a few years
of taking measures against Protestantism-such as suspending religious
activities of Protestantism, dismissing the governing board of deacons,
re-educating clergies in detention camps, closing churches, dealing
forcefully with unauthorized religious activities and agitating for the
masses to defect from their own religions-in fact, Protestants
activities have been narrowed and prevented from operating in a normal
184's guidelines stated that Protestant religious activities in the
south were neither officially banned nor recognized. In some areas a
more lenient approach was possible: followers were able to practice
their religion unhindered, allowing the importing of Bibles and
rebuilding of churches.
The 1999 documents acknowledge the problems arising from the fact that
the government lacked a unified policy in regard to Protestantism,
leading some local authorities to crack down on the religion because
they did not distinguish between the motivation of "true
Protestants" and "unauthorized missionary activities as well
as the abuse of Protestant religion by the evil-minded persons."
That confusion, concluded Committee 184, "makes the believers feel
repressed and alienated."
Elements of a propaganda campaign for the
were outlined in the VCP's "Program 184B." Re-education
classes for pastors, evangelists and lay workers were to be organized to
provide information about government policies and the "enemy's"
scheme of "peaceful evolution," a term used to refer to anti-government
forces abroad conspiring with internal dissidents to overthrow the
Plan 184B advised local cadre to categorize religious leaders on the
basis of the potential danger to the state in order to take appropriate
the re-education classes and careful surveillance, put the religious
leaders into appropriate categories, as follows:
Those with a bad political history and who currently are in a resistance
mode-keep track of them and don't let them go out to propagate religion.
· Those who take advantage of religion to go after individuals quietly,
and practice superstition, etc.-ask them to confine their religious
activities to their own home.
· A number who practice pure, orthodox religion, decide clearly how
long, exactly where, and to what extent they may practice religious
Stop all propagation of religion to new areas that do not have
government permission for this...
b. Propagandize and explain so that the citizens can chose for
184B ends with exhortations to "completely stop all the negative
manifestations [of religion], and fight against the bad elements which
are causing unrest..." Finally, in order to "reduce the damage
that comes from abroad and handle in a timely manner any complications
that may come up," the army, security police, government
departments and mass party organizations are to identify cadres to be on
alert, should intervention be needed.
184B details the perceived threat to the regime posed by Protestantism
and mirrors what many minority Protestant have been told by local
authorities in the villages:
to the Christians, if you follow
you get help, the
has collapsed, socialism is about finished-follow the party and the
revolution and you will always be poor. Only by following the Lord can
you escape your poverty. The highland peoples need their own land and
need to establish their own country and resist the invasion of the
Vietnamese, and so on... Because of this, the development of
Christianity in the minority areas seems exploitative and takes on the
appearance of political opposition and is fraught with the danger of
causing social unrest, dividing the peoples, and alienating them far
from our regime. The minority peoples, for a whole variety of reasons,
have followed the Christian religion and don't understand the poisonous
plot of the evil gang...
and other internal VCP documents show that
's leadership is aware of minority grievances in the
but will allow no organized expression thereof. Given the government's
extremely heavy-handed response to the February 2001 demonstrations, it
is ironic that the documents indicate a certain awareness by some in the
party that too much repression can be counterproductive, attracting
people to the forbidden religion:
methods of fighting the contagion of Christianity in the minority areas
(such as using force to make people renounce their religion, fining
people, arresting and confining missionaries to prevent their activities)
has the opposite effect of making the people even more
curious...Actually the numbers grow slowly if we have a relaxed policy,
and if we crack down hard, Christianity grows faster.
on House Churches
Interviews with highlanders and citizen complaint petitions show that
the repression of ethnic minority Christians in the Central Highlands
has been going on for a long time, particularly since the resurgence of
Protestantism after 1992. Catholics have generally been under less
pressure in the Central Highlands. After the February 2001
demonstrations, however, ethnic minority Catholics in Kontum were called
to a number of meetings in which local authorities warned them not to
repeat the mistakes of the "Dega Protestants."
A Jarai from Gia Lai described the atmosphere for minority Protestants:
"When we meet, the police watch and walk around and listen to what
we say. They try to listen to what we're praying for and see if it's
political. They do this all the time, but especially at Christmas."
One Jarai man, who was a Bible teacher for five villages in Ea H'leo
district of Dak Lak, described numerous attempts by officials to
intimidate him since 1993, when police reportedly fired a gun over his
house and detained him at the commune headquarters for a night.
Christians in his village needed to constantly change location of the
house church, out of fear of arrest. In 1996 he was arrested again,
during a prayer service in a house church. Another time he was beaten in
the village. Other times he was threatened, sometimes at gunpoint. In
December 2000 the police tried to break up a Christmas celebration in
his village. "We asked the police why lowland Vietnamese can
celebrate Christmas, but not us," he said. "They didn't arrest
anyone, so after they left, we continued the ceremony."
church leader from a hamlet near Buon Ma Thuot town said that after
being arrested and imprisoned in a dark cell for a year in 1985 for
FULRO activities, she left the armed group and turned towards
Christianity. The official harassment continued:
I was released from prison I started to preach the gospel. The
Communists arrested me and took me to the provincial police station
where I was beaten and put on probation. They say that our religion is
FULRO and not a real religion, and don't allow us to follow it.
church leader described how penalties increase with each infraction
committed by evangelical pastors. For the first offense police impose
fines of 1 million dong (about U.S. $77) and confiscate all documents
and Bibles. The second time, they call the pastor to the commune or
provincial police station and put the pastor on probation, often
accompanied by forced labor cutting grass or clearing fields. After that,
a jail sentence is a definite possibility, she said. She herself was put
on probation and detained at the commune police station for fifteen days
in 1987 and again in 1994, when four truckloads of armed police broke up
a Christmas celebration she was leading. "Every Christmas they
would come," she said. "We would hide the books and hymnals.
They'd ask us why we continued to worship and ask us if we wanted to go
back to jail."
Fines and Forced Labor
addition to fines, many Montagnard Christians have been subjected to
forced labor as penalties for organizing or attending religious
gatherings or refusing to denounce Christianity. "Many of the known
prominent Christians have experienced this in Kontum and Gia Lai,"
said an aid worker.
While the work is relatively mild-having to use a scythe to cut the
grass around provincial buildings or clearing scrubland by hand-the
number of days can be significant, reducing farmers' time in their
fields, and therefore their ability to make a living.
One Jarai man from Gia Lai said that since becoming a Protestant in 1997
he had been called to meet with local authorities more than 100 times in
efforts to pressure him to renounce Christianity. Each time that he did
not agree, he was forced to work. The man had copies of official
citations from the police in his commune showing that he had been forced
to work a total of 129 days from mid-1997 until mid-2001, when he fled
"Each time they asked me if I was still a Protestant, and when I
said yes they made me cut the grass around the People's Committee
building," he said. "I got used to it over the years. They
won't change, and I won't change. It's part of my life."
particular man's case appeared to be unusual. While others who have
converted to Protestantism since 1995 told Human Rights Watch that they
have been exposed to forced labor, most had been forced to work much
less, with many estimating they had worked eight to ten penalty days a
woman church leader, however, described another severe case of forced
labor penalties in Dak Lak:
police came while we were having a religious meeting. Some of the people
ran away. The police asked who the preacher was. I said I was. They gave
me an invitation to the subdistrict office for the next day. There were
lots of questions. I was forced to work for three days to cut grass and
clear the grounds near the police station. The whole congregation came
police let me stay home for two days but then they called me again. They
kept asking me about FULRO and the church. They'd send me home but then
the city and provincial police would call me in. Sometimes they'd just
hit the table and yell at me. One day they took me to a special place
with a flag out front. I thought they'd brought me somewhere to kill me
but they didn't. This happened for three years-every two or three days
they would call me in. They were watching me the whole time.
VIII. ETHNIC DISCRIMINATION
Rights Watch research revealed widespread perceptions among highlanders
that Vietnamese government agencies discriminate against them in
education, health, and the provision of other social services.
Highlanders interviewed by Human Rights Watch claimed they were treated
worse than lowland Vietnamese by government officials and ethnic
Vietnamese civilians in all aspects of their lives-not only access to
land, but education, medical care, government services, and even
allocation of trading stalls in the markets. Christians, they asserted,
face additional discrimination: they are often not considered for
government jobs because their loyalty to the state is questioned, and
local officials often impose arbitrary fines and forced labor on them in
an effort to pressure them to renounce their religion. Many are asked to
renounce their Christian beliefs in order to have their children advance
in school. Some
of the claims-such as widespread allegations of forced sterilization of
Montagnard women in government family planning programs-are difficult to
substantiate. Other complaints are commonly heard elsewhere in
. The fact that ethnic minority people have to pay in advance for
medical care or cover their children's school fees, for example, are the
same for ethnic Vietnamese people in other parts of the country.
"Their isolation, and mistrust of the government, makes them think
many of the policies that make them unhappy apply only to them,"
said a Western development worker with experience in the Central
There is substantial evidence, however, to support some of the
highlanders' claims of unequal treatment.
At a minimum, the highlanders' perceptions of being discriminated
against, combined with their massive mistrust of state authorities, is a
major issue the government must face in its efforts to address the
unrest in the Central Highlands.
annual gross domestic product in
is approximately U.S. $400,
one of the poorest countries in the world. The Central Highlands is
considered to be one of the most impoverished regions in
. While the national economy has grown over the last decade, with the
number of poor households decreasing nationwide, 40 percent of the
minority population in the Central Highlands continues to live below the
In a June 2001 report, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said
that as many as 45 percent of ethnic minority children in the Central
Highlands suffer from malnutrition.
A 1989 study found that the life expectancy of ethnic Jarai in the
Central Highlands was on average fifty-four years, as opposed to
sixty-eight years for ethnic Vietnamese.
Most highlanders support themselves by farming, with many households
holding less than half a hectare of agricultural land. Much of the
farmland is not irrigated and the yield per hectare is low (estimated at
less than one ton of rice per hectare). Many families suffer a food
shortage for three to five months every year.
While the government has policies and programs directed at alleviating
poverty in the
, setting ambitious targets from the national and provincial levels,
implementation is poor.
A national initiative known as Program 135 targets
's 1,700 lowest-income communes nationwide, particularly minority
communities in the highlands.
In 1999 the Vietnamese press began to carry reports of corruption within
CEMMA's administration of Program 135, particularly in the Northern
Highlands, which led to reprimands for CEMMA's director in December 2000
and the dismissal of several provincial officials.
A study conducted in Ea Sol commune of Ea H'leo district of Dak Lak in
1999 found that families' average monthly income ranged between 200,000
to 500,000 dong (U.S. $15-$38) per month, with the first group
considered "poor" and the second group considered "better
off." That annual income is derived from farming, animal husbandry,
collecting forest products, or working as laborers.
The ability to grow rice is often critical, as rice is often used as a
means of exchange in ethnic minority areas. Ethnic minority people earn
15,000-20,000 dong (about U.S. $1) a day for casual labor working on
plantations or clearing fields. The women sometimes sell vegetables in
the market, although they are sometimes chased off by ethnic Vietnamese
"If we have fresh vegetables we want to sell in the market,
individual Vietnamese often smash our produce or overturn our baskets
and don't let us sell," said an Ede woman from Dak Lak. Even on a
good day a woman might make 5,000 to 10,000 dong (less than a U.S.
dollar) in the market.
Poverty combined with political vulnerability has made highlanders
particularly susceptible to extortion and petty corruption. Highlanders
interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that when they complain,
authorities have proven unwilling or unable to stop such practices.
The constant levying of fines adds to the financial burden. Highlanders
claim that they are often fined for violating the local market law when
they bring their vegetables in to sell, or are asked by police to show
their residency cards, which many people do not have. One relatively
educated and articulate
man told Human Rights Watch that it took him two years and 600,000 dong
(U.S. $43) in bribes to obtain his residency card, which is required for
every Vietnamese citizen by law.
Highlanders interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that often they are
stopped by police and fined right before lunchtime. "Are you ready
to denounce your religion?" they are asked. If not, it's a 50,000
dong fine-enough for the policeman's lunch. One informant from Lam Dong
was constantly fined, to the effect of 1.5 million dong (U.S. $104) a
year, equivalent to the cost of keeping three children in elementary
Teenage highlanders said they no longer dared to leave their villages
after dark because often the police stop them, ask them what they are
doing and charge them with violating the law. Their choice is to pay a
50,000 dong (U.S. $3.50) fine the next day at the police station, or
10,000 dong (U.S. $0.69) on the spot. "We have to bow to the
policeman as we hand over the money," one
Such practices can be devastating for Montagnard families, who must be
extremely careful to avoid being fined by the police or incurring extra
medical or school fees, if they want to make ends meet. Most families
can just about survive on the poverty level, said a foreign relief
worker-unless there are any mishaps. "That means, however, that
often there's only one meal a day," he said. "If there are two
or three children who are school age and the family needs to pay school
fees, it's very difficult. Either the children don't go to school, or
there's less to eat. On top of that, any other fines or fees or forced
labor days or travel bans that take a farmer away from his fields or
casual labor job can be catastrophic. You can see why the loss of a
family's rice field – even if it's less than half a hectare – can be
The ethnic minorities of the Central Highlands have among the highest
rates of illiteracy in
. Illiteracy among the Bahnar and Jarai is estimated at 70 to 72 percent
of males and 88 percent of females. The government has sought to address the problem by establishing special
ethnic minority boarding schools. Theoretically ethnic minority students
are entitled to full or partial exemption from school fees, according to
state education policies and the Law on Education.
In practice, school fees are imposed.
The set fees to attend school in
are 300,000 to 500,000 dong (U.S. $23-33) per year per child for
elementary school, 1 million dong (U.S. $66) per child per year for
lower school, and 1.5 million dong (U.S. $100) per child per year for
high school. School supplies such as books, pens and paper are not
included, which can add another 50,000 to 100,000 dong per year. With
annual incomes often considerably less than U.S. $200 a year, such costs
make school attendance prohibitively expensive for many highlanders. As
a result, very few Montagnard children attend school past seventh grade.
A Montagnard woman explained why so many minority children drop out of
school before graduating from twelfth grade:
a student gets to eighth or ninth grade, there's always difficulty
trying to get to a higher level of education. When you're a member of a
different religion, or have a different background, or your father was a
member of FULRO, you're not allowed to go to a higher level of education
because they don't want you to know anything. If you're in a religion
that's not accepted, like Protestantism, it's really difficult. They
line the kids up and ask them what religion they are. They'll find a way
to drop the kid-either by taxing them more or making them pay more
money. The families are already very very poor, so the kids have to drop
schools in the highlands typically close at noon, which means that in
order to get a good education, highlanders would need to pay for extra
classes provided after hours by school teachers, who take on extra jobs
offering tutoring or special classes for extra fees. Tutoring one child
individually can cost 20,000 to 25,000 dong (about U.S. $2) per hour or
30,000 to 35,000 per hour (or about U.S. $2.50 per student) for a group
of five students. For a child attending seventh grade, those figures
suggest that a family could easily spend three to five million dong
(U.S. $200-$380) a year to see that the child gets a reasonable
education. If a family had three or four school-age children, the costs
are prohibitive for all but the wealthiest Montagnard families.
The government is aware of the burden of school costs and has made some
efforts to help alleviate them for minority students-particularly since
the February unrest-but those efforts have not gone nearly far enough.
Despite provisions in the Vietnamese Constitution for instruction in
minority languages (Article 5), the vast majority of primary schools in
the Central Highlands conduct their classes in Vietnamese.
Christians claim that their children are often discriminated against in
school, particularly if it is known that their family supports the
independence movement or formerly supported FULRO. One young
girl was able to make it to the tenth grade because she spoke good
Vietnamese, but she was told she was no longer welcome at school after
she attended the February 2001 demonstration in Buon Ma Thuot.
people interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that even those who are
able to graduate from high school find that government jobs are
unavailable to them because of ethnic discrimination as well as
suspicions that "Dega Protestants," or families of former
FULRO members, would not be loyal to the government.
"Even if we study to grade twelve, we can't work as doctors or
government workers because they say we are following a `
religion' and not real Christianity," an
woman told Human Rights Watch.
Rights Watch has also received reports of highlanders being pressured to
abandon Christianity in order to obtain government jobs. In one document
obtained from Ea H'leo district, a Jarai woman who had undergone teacher
training in Dak Lak was required to sign a pledge that she would not
oppose party policies in order to be considered for employment at an
elementary school. Nonetheless the local People's Committee decided
against approving her hire by the school, stating in an official
memorandum: "If she undertakes in writing to abandon Protestantism,
then the Commune Committee will permit the school to hire her."
to Limit Family Size
Highlanders interviewed by Human Rights Watch claimed that government
family planning programs were particularly coercive in the highlands,
but the evidence is unclear.
's official family planning policy aims to limit families to no more
than two children. The U.S. State Department describes the policy as one
that "emphasizes exhortation rather than coercion," in which
penalties such as fines or denial of promotions to government employees
are rarely imposed.
"exhortation rather than coercion" may be the rule for most of
, fines appear to be common for highlanders who have more than two
children. Out of twenty Ede and Mnong women interviewed by Human Rights
Watch specifically about this issue, those who had had more than two
children had either had their most recent births at home and not in the
hospital to avoid detection, or were forced to pay 600,000 dong (about
U.S. $46) when the third child was born, with fines rising for the
fourth and fifth.
A Mnong woman from Dak Mil said: "They tell us not to have too many
children. They say the ethnic minorities should only have two. They
pressure us to have an operation, or if we have too many children, they
don't get medical treatment." Her third child, which she delivered
despite pressure not to from local health workers, became ill after
being born. She blames the fact that the child is now partially blind
and appears to be developmentally disabled to the fact that local health
workers refused to give her and the baby any postnatal medical treatment.
"I had my third baby at home because I was afraid the authorities
would fine me," another
woman told Human Rights Watch. "I had a friend help me. She's not a
midwife, and we did not have any medicine. I was afraid. There was only
God to help me."
of authorities is so pronounced that many highlanders are convinced that
government family planning programs are designed to reduce the numbers
of highlanders so that ethnic Vietnamese have more land to occupy. A
petition submitted to provincial authorities by villagers from a hamlet
in Dak Lak in December 2000 included the following complaint in regard
to birth control programs:
birth issues: The Hanoi government has used false propaganda in talking
about birth control with the Dega. They strongly encouraged our people
to participate in birth control plans so that they can destroy the life
of the baby and also to exterminate the whole Dega population. By doing
this, they hope that they can have more land to occupy. As a result,
those who participated in birth control program have suffered too much
pain and dizziness. Their bodies no longer functioned normally as they
used to function, and the government did not pay any attention at all to
highlanders in the refugee camps in
, as well as Montagnard advocacy groups in the
, have alleged that the government engages in forced sterilization.
Human Rights Watch, which is unable to conduct investigations in
, has no evidence to support that allegation.
of dozens of highlanders interviewed by Human Rights Watch, none had
been sterilized against their will; most said they were fined, pressured
to join family planning programs, or warned that they would not be
eligible for family medical care if they had more than two children.
A woman from a hamlet near Buon Ma Thuot said that when her younger
sister became pregnant in December 2000, the doctors pressured her to
have an abortion. She did not agree. "When the child was born, the
doctor did not give it proper care. They wanted her to do an operation,
but she refused."
we refuse to have the [sterilization] operation, the medical workers say
if we get sick later, they won't treat us in the hospital," said an
woman from Buon Dha Prong in Dak Lak. "They call us hard headed
Another woman was fined when she went to the hospital to deliver her
third baby. "They wanted to operate on me so I couldn't have more
children, but I didn't agree," she said.
Western observers with long experience in
said they find it highly unlikely that any forced sterilization programs
are going on in
, and especially not any that are targeted specifically at the
. "Since the 1980s there's been mass birth control programs
, and even forced abortion and forced birth control programs, but not
forced sterilization," said one Hanoi-based diplomat. "
isn't sophisticated enough to enact a sterilization program-plus it
lacks the facilities."
However, the Vietnamese government's refusal to allow independent
investigations by human rights organizations or the U.N. makes
assessment of any allegations difficult.
government has, however, set national sterilization target figures as
part of its family planning program that may account for the pressure,
although Human Rights Watch has no data to suggest the campaign is being
directed more against minority women than against ethnic Vietnamese. As
part of the program, the government has hired "birth control
promoters," who receive commissions (about U.S. $3 a piece) for
each individual they recruit to the program. In addition, village
volunteers, officially called "collaborators," monitor married
couples to ensure they do not have more than two children.
, voluntary national sterilization programs such as tubal ligation
procedures and the use of a controversial drug called quinacrine, have
been employed since at least 1993.
Between 1993 and 1999
accelerated the use of sterilization, increasing the numbers of women
who had tubal ligations to approximately 750,000 within that time period.
In addition, an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 women were sterilized through
the use of quinacrine.
The use of quinacrine was discontinued from the national program, in
part because of bad side effects in 1990.
The national program now relies more on the use of condoms and
contraceptive pills, as well as intrauterine devices (IUDs).
Having more than two children can lead to other forms of harassment. An
man who was summoned to district police headquarters in Dak Lak after
participating in the February 2001 demonstrations said that part of his
interrogation revolved around the size of his family:
called me to the district in July. At that time they asked me how many
children I had. I said four. They asked "Why so many?" I
answered that the Bible doesn't forbid us from having many. The
policeman said if I have so many children it makes it difficult for me
to make a living and difficult for my wife. "The reason you have
difficulties in your life is your own fault [not the government's],"
he said. "That's the reason you have organized and joined the
IX. THE MOVEMENT FOR LAND RIGHTS AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
main reason we demonstrated was to demand the land of the Jarai that the
Vietnamese had occupied. We had asked peacefully for our land back for a
long time. The pressure was increasing. We could not live in one group [with
the Vietnamese]. There was increasing repression from the Vietnamese so
we decided to demonstrate.
- Jarai man from Dao Doa district, Gia Lai, March 2001.
February 2001 protests-involving thousands of people from dozens of
villages in three provinces marching for miles to the provincial
towns-were not spontaneous outbursts of peasant dissatisfaction. They
appear to have been planned long in advance by a network of organizers
who built popular support for a peaceful movement to demand minority
lands back from Vietnamese control. The government's security forces
apparently became aware of the movement as much as six months before the
protests, when they began to call in suspected members for questioning.
Run-up to the Protests
the late 1990s, the
region was a powder keg ready to explode. Longstanding Montagnard
grievances over land and unmet political aspirations dating back to the
first and second
wars were fueled by increasing repression of Protestant churches and
confiscation and encroachment on Montagnard lands by new settlers.
Tensions increased in January 2001 with reports that as many as 100,000
more people, mostly ethnic minorities from the North, could be resettled
in Gia Lai and Dak Lak to make way for the Son La hydropower project.
Endemic poverty in the region was worsened by the plummet in the price
of coffee, which had made up much of the economic base of the highlands.
early 2000, members of the Montagnard Foundation, Inc. (MFI), an
indigenous rights organization based in the
led by Jarai-American Kok Ksor, began to recruit supporters in the
Central Highlands to spread the word about a movement to gain
independence. They found a receptive audience in many parts of the
Former FULRO members who had resettled as refugees in the
in the 1980s and 1990s returned to their home villages as tourists,
quietly spreading the word about MFI and Kok Ksor.
Other MFI members in the
contacted a growing network in the highlands through telephone calls,
faxes, and smuggled letters and tape cassettes.
known Kok Ksor since 1978, but he was in the
and I was in the forest," said one former FULRO member who was
recruited in Ia Grai district of Gia Lai in early 2000. "We had
renewed relations with him since 2000."
Starting in the Pleiku area with a meeting in March
local network was set up, which then extended to
and Cheo Reo, and on to Ea H'leo in northern Dak Lak. Further south,
organizers living in hamlets near Buon Ma Thuot began to spread the word
to outlying districts such as Ban Don, Dak Mil and Ea Sup, and further
south to Lam Dong province. Meanwhile the Pleiku activists began to
quietly recruit supporters in neighboring Kontum, to the north.
district, Gia Lai, villagers said they became aware about the movement
for independence-or as they put it, "the struggle to get our lands
back" -in early 2000 when local organizers and church leaders began
to talk about it.
heard about it in church," said one villager from
district. "Ama X told us we have a new leader, named Kok Ksor, the
leader of us all. According to Ama X, we would ask for approval to ask
for our land back. Many people in the village supported that idea."
By mid-2000, meetings had been held in dozens of villages, and an
informal network had been established for communication-both within the
highlands and with supporters abroad. In some areas leaders were
appointed and loose-knit district, commune and village organizations
established. Organizers began to go village by village to disseminate
information about the movement, which consisted of three main points: 1)
Kok Ksor was the Dega president and had supposedly received
international support to lead the new country; 2) the Montagnards living
in "Dega land" should ask that their country, currently under
the "oppressive yoke of the Vietnamese," be returned to them;
and 3) the struggle would be peaceful and eschew violence, which would
diminish respect for the cause.
some areas organizers distributed copies of Ede-language documents on
Montagnard history, the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
and audio cassette recordings of Kok Ksor.
what may have been an unplanned, impromptu clash, several government
officials and policemen were reportedly injured during a confrontation
over land between
and Vietnamese migrants in Ea H'leo district of Dak Lak. That conflict,
which appears to have been small and short lived, received little press
coverage and did not spread beyond Ea H'leo.
At about the same time, movement organizers commenced activities in Ea
were made with supportive church leaders in Lam Dong province in August
2000 as well.
In September and October, organizers from
district of Gia Lai began contacting villages in neighboring Cheo Reo
district, further to the east.
Plans were soon underway to conduct a peaceful mass demonstration, with
target dates set for September or December 2000.
before the February 2001 protests it appears that Vietnamese government
authorities had been able to obtain intelligence about the movement,
most likely through intercepted faxes and telephone calls, as well as
possible infiltration of the group. Beginning in August 2000, local
police began to summon dozens of the suspected members to police
stations for interrogation. In early October, more than twenty-seven MFI
members from many districts in Gia Lai were summoned for questioning by
police in Pleiku.
One member from Gia Lai, a former FULRO member, said he was called in
thirty times by police during 2000 and early 2001. Each time he was
detained for two or three hours, or a half a day. "The high-ranking
police officer would interrogate me, ask me what we were doing. They
didn't beat me but they threatened to kill me," he said.
A supporter in Kontum told Human Rights Watch that he was issued a
written warrant by the police in August 2000. He was summoned again on
January 31, 2001, right before the protests in Pleiku and Buon Ma Thuot,
and again in late February. The police citations he received referred to
both his belief in Christianity and his political work.
In Dak Lak, police called organizers from several districts for
questioning numerous times, as described by a Montagnard from Dak Lak:
government was following me. They started summoning me to the province
in December , when I was called four times, and then twice in
January. Each time they would ask me why I was an opponent of the
government. I told them straight that we wanted our own country. I was
honest. They said if you do this, it's not real, it's a trick [of Kok
Ksor]. I responded that it was not a trick-we were all standing up to
oppose the Vietnamese government in order to have our own government for
the ethnic minorities. The police were angry. They threatened and
intimidated me but didn't beat me.
police surveillance caused the organizers to postpone plans for a
late-2000 demonstration for the time being.
At the end of the year, monitoring of suspected organizers increased. On
December 16, 2000, three people-an
, a Koho from Lam Dong, and a Hmong who was visiting from the north-were
arrested in another organizer's home in Dak Lak. An eyewitness told
Human Rights Watch that at 12:00 a.m. forty provincial police in two
large army trucks arrested the three men, who were kept at the district
for one night, where they were beaten and kicked during interrogation.
They were then sent to the provincial police station for five days and
nights before being released.
On December 19, 2000, police summoned ten people in Lam Dong province
for interrogation. They were released that night but police were
subsequently posted in the home of at least one of the leaders, who was
required to obtain written permission in order to leave his village.
"From December when they arrested me the police were guarding
throughout the province and not allowing us to organize," said the
man. Shortly afterwards telephone service from Lam Dong to other
provinces was terminated.
January 2001 Crackdown
early January 2001 Prime Minister
Phan Van Khai
and VCP Secretary General Le Kha Phieu both made strong statements
attacking "hostile forces" who they alleged were attempting to
destabilize the country and sabotage the regime by taking advantage of
"hot spots" and "complicated issues such as religious and
ethnic issues to cause disturbances." They did not give any details.
Afterwards, police increased the surveillance, interrogation and
detention of highlanders suspected of supporting the independence
movement. On January 8,
Mnong couple from a hamlet near Buon Ma Thuot, who were key MFI
organizers, were arrested. The wife was interrogated and detained for
four nights at the district jail, and the husband was held at the
provincial police station for five nights.
Then, on January 12, 2001, district police in Ea H'leo arrested another
local leader, Siu Un, in Blec village. As a result, 300 people
demonstrated in Ea H'leo district town two days later. That protest,
which did not receive any press coverage at the time, apparently did not
involve any violence by the protesters or police, who released Siu Un
the same day.
Meanwhile, in Lam Dong the local Montagnard leader who was already under
modified house arrest was pressured to renounce his alleged wrongdoings
in front of his whole village on January 15:
didn't sign the documents that the police wanted me to sign. They were
very angry. The police asked me if I wanted to live or die and did I
want to go to jail. I didn't agree to any of their demands.
The February 2001 Demonstrations
much of the impetus for the demonstrations may have come from abroad, it
is clear that by early 2001, the pressures that had built up in the
Central Highlands-over land, livelihoods, and religious freedom-had
become intense. Even without external support and encouragement from
outside, the situation had become explosive, with conflicts over
religious practices and land occurring in many parts of the highlands on
a daily basis.
January 29, 2001 Rahlan Pon and Rahlan Djan, two highlanders from Cu
Prong district in Gia Lai were arrested. In an official statement
released on February 8, the Vietnamese government said that the two men
had violated the law by "instigating some ethnic tribes to use
violence against the local governments and national unity."
Word about the arrests quickly spread through Montagnard networks in Gia
Lai, where organizers decided to seize the opportunity to launch a
public demonstration to call not only for the release of the two men but
also for an independent state and greater religious freedom. On January
31, 2001, approximately 500 villagers marched to the district center in
Cu Prong to demand the release of the two men, while plans were made to
conduct larger demonstrations in Pleiku and Buon Ma Thuot.
The demonstration in Pleiku was planned for February 2. It was clear
that the Vietnamese intelligence service was aware of the plans
beforehand. On February 1, police surrounded the homes of MFI organizers
in Gia Lai, including Bom Jena and Ksor Kroih.
That morning troops were deployed to surround many villages near Pleiku
and put up roadblocks on the roads leading to the provincial town. At
4:00 p.m. that day telephone lines were cut in Pleiku. Despite these
obstacles, a number of activists were able to get word to dozens of
villages the night of February 1, urging them to demonstrate in Pleiku
the next day.
On Friday, February 2, thousands of highlanders from dozens of villages
marched towards the provincial town, where they filled the streets in
front of the provincial offices of the VCP and the People's Committee.
Eight hundred people from four communes in Mang Yang and
districts gathered before dawn on February 2 to march together to Pleiku,
as described by one Jarai eyewitness:
left home at 4:00 a.m., walking for twenty kilometers. We got to the
provincial [People's Committee] hall in Pleiku at 8:30 a.m. Along the
road there were many police, who had put up roadblocks. The city streets
were filled with barbed wire barricades and four fire trucks were parked
in front of the gate to the provincial compound, prepared to use force
against the people. The people fought with the police and tried to climb
the second intersection near the provincial hall, many people were
wounded. As the people approached, the police used lengths of barbed
wire to hit the people, and also hit them with wooden batons and
electric prods, causing many to be injured. The fighting happened at the
barricades and again near the provincial hall. The police started the
fighting and at first the people didn't fight back. We wanted to speak
to the provincial governor. Then more people gathered.
10:00 or 10:30 a.m. there were thousands of people at the provincial
hall, and the police began to beat people. That's when the people fought
back. It was essentially a riot. The Vietnamese police ran off; only
Jarai police were left to fight with the people. Around 11:00 or 12:00
p.m., the provincial leaders came out to hear the concerns of the
people. They met with several of us, with government photographers
crowding around to take our pictures. We presented the proposal for the
independent state and religious freedom. We asked why they had arrested
the two highlanders, and asked for their release.
the plaza in front of the Pleiku People's Committee office, several
highlander leaders spoke over hand-held microphones and bullhorns,
outlining the demands for independence and religious freedom. As the
crowd swelled, a number of government officials came out of the building
to address the crowd. According to Voice of Vietnam radio, the officials
explained government policy in regard to land and listed their "achievements
in consolidating the national unity bloc and boosting socioeconomic
development in not only the province but also the entire Central
signing affidavits admitting their wrongdoings, Rahlan Pon and Rahlan
Djan were released during the demonstration; as of late February 2002,
they were thought to be back in their village.
businessman in Pleiku described the demonstrations in a telephone
interview with Agence France-Presse: "On Friday and again
throughout the weekend, lines of protesters stretching as far as the eye
could see marched along the roads leading into Pleiku...The mood of the
demonstration was strikingly peaceful." He added that some of his
staff had even asked for time off work to take part.
Highlanders from some districts farther from the provincial town were
unable to make it all the way to Pleiku in time for the demonstration. A
district (thirty kilometers from Pleiku), marched with a thousand people
from his district. The group turned back midway to Pleiku when they
realized the demonstration had dispersed:
were police all along the road. They asked why we were there. We said
because two people had been arrested and also because of the land [problems].
They tried to stop the people from going to the demonstration but the
people didn't listen and continued on. We were halfway to Pleiku when we
saw people on bicycles returning from the demonstration. They told us
that the demonstration had happened and that the two people had been
released and the authorities promised to solve our problem. At 4:00 p.m.
we heard the news and turned back.
3: Buon Ma Thuot
forces were well prepared for the February 3 demonstration in Buon Ma
Thuot. On February 2, as protesters were marching on Pleiku, Dak Lak
authorities summoned several prominent Protestant pastors in Buon Ma
Thuot to "help solve a problem" because of their influence
with the population.
That night, police officers surrounded the homes of key MFI organizers
in a hamlet near Dak Lak, escorting them to the district police station
the next morning as a warning for others not to join the protests.
Activists in Ea H'leo district of Dak
Lak, which is approximately halfway between Pleiku and Buon Ma Thuot,
received word on February 2 about the demonstrations that had taken
place that day in Pleiku. At midnight, a group of 200 villagers from Ea
H'leo town started off on Highway 14 for Buon Ma Thuot, some forty
kilometers away. Some walked, others rode bicycles, motorcycles or
motorized carts pulled by farm tractors. A member of that group
described the scene to Human Rights Watch:
police cut the cables on the tractor-pulled trailers that many people
were riding-otherwise there would have been more people. People got off
and walked even without the trailers. When we got to Buon Ho, which is
halfway to Buon Ma Thuot, many trailers were cut so people walked. The
police hit and scuffled with the people but not seriously. At 9:00 a.m.
we got to Buon Ma Thuot. Out of three thousand people [from Ea H'leo],
only 500 were able to enter the town. Near the provincial town, in Dak
Li commune, the police had erected barricades. The people climbed over
them, tore them down, and continued. The police beat one person badly
there and kept many from going on.
participant, traveling from Buon Kdun, a hamlet four kilometers
southwest of Buon Ma Thuot, gave this description:
police blocked the road, but we pushed over the barricades. There were
six places where there were barricades. The police pointed their guns at
us and threw tear gas. We shouted that we want our Dega land back, and
we want independence. We were carrying signs. When we entered town they
fired water cannons at us. I took a stone and threw it at the water
truck. Near the town center they had special police with helmets,
plastic shields and electric batons. They threw tear gas. We had
documents to give to the authorities, who told us to go home, wait
fifteen days, and they would solve the problem.
these impediments, several thousand people, from at least half a dozen
districts, were able to make it to the town center of Buon Ma Thuot. A
pastor, one of the Montagnard church leaders who had been called in by
provincial authorities the night before, spoke to the crowd over a
bullhorn, urging the demonstrators to disperse. An eyewitness described
the protest the Vietnamese took Pastor [name withheld] to come up to
talk to the demonstrators and tell us to stop. He tried to use the
police microphone but we told him to use ours. He told us not to protest
and said he had not been arrested. But the people didn't believe him. We
trust him but think he was coerced.
in Pleiku, a group of protesters was able to meet briefly with local
officials and hand over documents requesting a solution to highlander
land and religion problems and an independent state.
Vietnamese Embassy in
acknowledged in a public statement on February 8 that social unrest
continued from February 3-
Buon Ma Thuot and other parts of Dak Lak:
small, [the incidents] affected security and social order, caused
traffic congestion and hindered children going to school. Most of the
petitioners were minority people misled about the situation in Pleiku
and incited by extremists. Several extremists took the oppor-tunity to
destabilize security and social order and attack those who were on duty.
They damaged administration offices at hamlet, commune and district
levels, causing property losses and destabilizing social order.
between Police and Protesters
press accounts reported that police clashed with protesters and that not
only demonstrators, but also some police officers were injured.
Highlanders who attended the protests told Human Rights Watch that their
intent was to conduct peaceful demonstrations, although some admitted
they fought with police. A protester from a hamlet near Buon Ma Thuot
said that people from his village attacked six police cars and some
people threw stones:
the road the police tried to stop people from coming by hosing them down
with water and beating them with batons. The police fired tear gas and
water cannons. The people got angry and fought back. In the beginning it
was the police who were beating. Protesters who came later in the day
from Gia Lai and Ea H'leo were fighting.
footage on state television in
showed glimpses of protesters in Buon Ma Thuot using slingshots and
featured an interview with one protester who confessed he had destroyed
vehicles of the city's security forces. Had the protesters used serious
violence or weapons, or caused serious injury to police or officials,
the television coverage-carefully produced and edited for national
broadcast more than a month later-would likely have shown this.
For the most part the protests in Pleiku and Buon Ma Thuot appear to
have been peaceful. A Hanoi-based diplomat with long experience in
commented that it was surprising that not more people were hurt by being
crushed or trampled in the crowd, considering the sheer numbers that
gathered in the provincial towns.
At 3:00 p.m. on February 3, three army tanks were sent into Buon Ma
Thuot. After receiving pledges from the authorities that their
complaints would be addressed, the crowds eventually dispersed.
5-6: Ea H'leo
days after the demonstrations in Pleiku and Buon Ma Thuot, several
smaller protests were held in Ea H'leo district in Dak Lak after a
number of local Jarai leaders in Ea H'leo received summonses to report
to the police station. On February 5, approximately one thousand people
gathered at the district police station and People's Committee
There are conflicting accounts about this demonstration. Foreign
reporters, who were not on the scene but filed wire services reports
based on telephone interviews with witnesses, reported clashes between
police and demonstrators. According to these accounts, some protesters
seized truncheons from the police and waved them in the air; they also
reportedly stripped and tied up one of the policemen until security
forces regained control.
The official Viet Nam News Agency stated in an account of the events at
Ea H'leo that "many provocateurs damaged administrative offices and
public property, opposed law enforcement forces, and undermined
political and social order in the locality for several days. The
provocative acts were organized as part of a scheme of `peaceful
evolution' and subversion by hostile and reactionary forces."
State media alleged that two Jarai from Ea H'leo, Nay D'Ruc and Y Phen
Ksor "raided local State offices, opposed State employees and
destroyed public property."
Jarai present at the protests in Ea H'leo, however, told a different
story. They said that on the orders of the deputy chief, police officers
beat the demonstrators and ordered ethnic Vietnamese civilians, who
carried knives, machetes, and hoes, to also attack the crowd. About thirty demonstrators were injured, they said.
On February 6, approximately 2000 people gathered in Ea Hral commune of
Jarai informants said that during that demonstration, the police and
local Vietnamese "did not dare" beat the protesters. A local
official in Ea H'leo told Reuters that protesters attacked the post
office on February 6 but that police and military units had restored
wire services carried additional reports of demonstrations in Ea Sup
district of Dak Lak, Cu Prong district of Gia Lai, and Kontum provincial
town during the ten days following the main protests in Gia Lai and Buon
Despite the crackdown in Gia Lai and Dak Lak after the demonstrations,
MFI organizers were able to conduct a sizable protest in Kontum on
February 14. This received little press coverage, other than a brief
mention in the state People's Police newspaper, which was picked up by
Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that 3,000 to 4,000 people
participated in a one-day demonstration in Kontum on February 14, which
lasted from 3:00 to 8:00 p.m. There was some scuffling between
protesters and police, who used water cannons and electric batons on the
or Willing Participants?
exact numbers of demonstrators at the main protests in Pleiku and Buon
Ma Thuot are difficult to determine, it is clear that the total,
certainly in Pleiku, was in the thousands. Highlanders who attended the
demonstrations said that thousands participated, but they may have been
referring not only to the protesters who reached the provincial towns
but those who tried to attend but were blocked by police along the way,
or who arrived too late. Government officials interviewed by Western
wire service reporters put the numbers at 4,000 highlanders in Pleiku
and several hundred in Buon Ma Thuot. Shopkeepers and local residents
interviewed by telephone shortly after the demonstration estimated the
numbers in Pleiku at 4,000 and in Buon Ma Thuot at 2,000.
Voice of Vietnam radio attributed the protests in Pleiku to "misleading
comments and a lack of information concerning the arrest of two locals
on 29 January." Other sources, such as the state newspaper Lao
Dong (Labor), stated that people had been promised the cost of bus
tickets as an incentive to attend the demonstrations; other government
newspapers alleged that demonstrators were paid the equivalent of U.S.
$5 to join the protests.
In Buon Ma Thuot, the state press reported that some participants joined
the demonstrations because they were under the impression that several
minority pastors-including one who later addressed the crowd over the
bullhorn at the government's request-had been arrested. The Army
Daily quoted an
man from Buon Cuor Knia as saying:
the morning of 3 February, while preparing to go to work, some people
told us that we must go to Buon Ma Thuot to demand the local authorities
to release a priest. When we followed them over there, we found out that
they lied and cheated us. No priest had been arrested. They told us to
demand the establishment of "The Autonomous Government of Dega."
If we had known this, we would not have come. We are religious followers....We
do not want bad people exploiting religion to harm our people and
country. We all see that our government always tries to provide our
people with a prosperous life.
Army Daily quoted another ethnic minority man with a similar
my return from the market, I was asked to join other people in demanding
for the release of Priest [name withheld]. I did not know the priest but
I followed other people anyway. We found out in Buon Ma Thuot that no
priest had been arrested. Some people just cooked up the story to cheat
the local religious followers. Then, my friends and I returned home. We
are regretful and ashamed...
X. GOVERNMENT RESPONSE: THE INITIAL REACTION
troops have been mobilized. We have battle plans. Pleiku is ready for
any military actions if needed.
-Military official in the Gia Lai provincial army base, February
an interview with Deutsche Presse-Agentur
the protests, Vietnamese authorities responded with a mixture of
repression and new policy initiatives, some aimed at addressing
highlander grievances. Their initial reaction was to dispatch thousands
of police and army units to disperse the protesters. Police conducted
village-to-village sweeps and arrested dozens of highlanders, in a
number of cases using torture to elicit confessions and public
statements of remorse or renunciation of Christianity by protest
organizers and church leaders. Those singled out included former FULRO
and church leaders, as well as demonstrators. Authorities also stepped
up surveillance and propaganda activities throughout the Central
Highlands. They banned religious gatherings in many places and tightened
existing controls on association, assembly, and movement. They also
virtually barred outside access to the region, allowing only a few
strictly controlled government tours.
At the same time, the Vietnamese government moved to increase its
minority language broadcasting, although much of this was directed to
programs extolling the virtue of the party and its policies. It pledged
to increase educational opportunities for minorities and initiated a
review of economic development policies in the Central Highlands.
however, continued throughout 2001, with further arrests and the
destruction and closure of minority churches. In June 2001, the party
issued an internal analysis of the causes of the February unrest,
concluding that political enemies were using ethnicity and religion to
weaken national unity. Beginning in September 2001 and continuing
through early 2002, at least thirty-four highlanders were brought to
trial for their role in the protests. As the first anniversary of the
protests approached in February 2002, the presence of security forces in
the region was increased with the deployment of additional 2,300
soldiers to Gia Lai, Dak Lak, and Kontum.
Immediate Response: Arrests and Police Sweeps
Even before the February 2001 demonstrations started, elite military
troops and riot police were sent to Gia Lai and Dak Lak, where police
set up checkpoints along the main roads to block protesters from
entering the provincial towns. At least three tanks were sent into Buon
Ma Thuot on February 3. Immediately following the Buon Ma Thuot
demonstration, four units of troops from
army's 95th Regiment were sent to Dak Lak, and helicopters circled the
area for days.
Despite the troop build-up, it appeared at first as though the
authorities might choose not to take action against the demonstrators.
During and after the demonstrations in Pleiku and Buon Ma Thuot,
provincial authorities met with some of the protest leaders to discuss
their concerns. "They told us to wait fifteen days, go home and
stop demonstrating, and they would decide," said an
man who was in the delegation that met with officials in Buon Ma Thuot.
"We said if the problem isn't solved within fifteen days we will
demonstrate again. They said don't worry."
The demonstrators agreed to disperse, with most returning to their
villages that night. Instead, beginning as early as midnight on February
3, security forces began to arrest suspected movement leaders. Police
began fanning out into hundreds of villages, where they conducted
searches and interrogated villagers. They used photographs of marchers
taken during the demonstrations or at the police barricades erected on
the roads to the provincial towns the day of the protests to identify
suspected organizers. One
man described what happened:
days of our meeting with the People's Committee they started the arrests.
Soldiers and police came to the villages in Russian jeeps with name
lists. Tanks were parked outside the villages.
on the night of February 3-4, three jeeps carrying provincial policemen
entered a hamlet on the outskirts of Buon Ma Thuot. "They
surrounded my house," said one man who was arrested that night.
"My wife was crying. I was wearing only shorts, no shirt. They beat
me and gave me shocks with an electric baton. They tied me up and threw
me in the jeep. They accused me of organizing the demonstrations, and
sent me to the prison in Buon Ma Thuot." He was released three
On the night of February 6-7, tanks moved from the center of Buon Ma
Thuot along the road to Buon Cuor Knea, about fifteen kilometers east of
the provincial town.
Gia Lai, police surrounded and ransacked the homes of suspected leaders
including Bom Jena and Ksor Kroih and took them off in late-night
A Jarai man from Gia Lai described the arrests:
2:00 a.m. on February 6, the police, government cadres and ordinary
Vietnamese beat gongs and drums and surrounded the villages. They
entered the villages, damaged houses, rifled through belongings, and
arrested people. Everyone was really afraid. My own house was destroyed,
and I had to flee.
Dak Lak, sixty police and soldiers stormed Buon Ea Sup village at
midnight on February 6, firing into the air and throwing tear gas
canisters as they entered. They surrounded the homes of people suspected
of leading others to the demonstrations, including Y Nuen Buon Ya (Ama
El) and Y Nong (Ama Cong). The police dragged the two men out of their
homes in their underwear and arrested them.
Several hundred young ethnic Vietnamese teenagers holding burning
torches in their hands accompanied the police and soldiers.
"The Vietnamese were screaming and shouting and threatened to burn
down our houses," said an eyewitness from Buon Ea Sup. "They
were mocking our `stupid' ideas and said, `It is our land, not yours-you
will see. We can kill you all within an hour.'"
At 3:00 a.m. on February 6, police surrounded the homes of several
organizers in neighboring Ea H'leo district of Dak Lak. Many had already
gone into hiding but Siu Un, who had been briefly detained in January,
was again arrested.
The next day the police returned, this time with written arrest warrants
for three people, two of whom had already fled.
At least ten people in Dak Lak were arrested immediately after the
protests, according to Vietnamese officials interviewed by Reuters.
military official at the Gia Lai provincial army base announced that
additional troops had been mobilized and that Pleiku was prepared for
any necessary military action. On February 10, the party newspaper Nhan
Dan (The People) reported that 1,300 military reinforcements had
been sent to the Central Highlands since late January, where authorities
were employing "proper security measures" in order to
"encourage local people to return to their hamlets."
As the arrests were taking place, provincial authorities in Gia Lai
again summoned ethnic minority church leaders on February 6, to remind
them that their role was to promote solidarity and warn them about
attempts by "wicked elements to exploit religion to make propaganda,
distort the situation and sow disunity among local inhabitants."
February 8, the Foreign Ministry announced that twenty people had been
arrested in Gia Lai alone for "provocative acts" and damaging
state property during the demonstrations. "They were people who
caused social instability and damage, destroyed schools and resisted the
authorities," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman
Phan Thuy Thanh
A provincial official in Gia Lai said that the suspects were
former FULRO members who were spreading
Protestantism and advocating autonomy.
least eight people were arrested immediately after the February 14
demonstrations in Kontum provincial town. Some were released from the
provincial prison in August 2001 and placed under house arrest.
arrests continued during the second half of February in Ea H'leo, Krong
Buk, Krong Nang, and Ea Sup districts of Dak Lak. On February 14, forty
police and soldiers entered a village in Ea H'leo in Dak Lak to carry
out arrests. "At my house they beat me on my head and on my back
and arms with a stick," said a man who was arrested. "I passed
out, and they threw me in a vehicle. When I came to I was in the prison
in Buon Ma Thuot. They asked if I wanted to follow Kok Ksor or the
. I said Kok Ksor, and they hit me again." He was released on May
Hearing of the arrests and police sweeps, other Montagnard leaders and
members of the movement immediately went into hiding; some in
underground pits in villages, others in the forest. By mid-February, a
handful had crossed the border from Gia Lai to Ratanakiri in Cambodia,
followed by dozens more in early March who had fled from Dak Lak further
south across to Mondolkiri, Cambodia.
the Central Highlands, highlanders were subjected to surveillance and
interrogation after the February protests. A villager from
district, Gia Lai described the situation there:
the demonstrations there was no freedom in our village. Police went to
each house to interrogate the people and patrolled on the roads near our
homes. At night there were soldiers around the village-some with guns,
others with batons. We were afraid all the time.
and local authorities went village by village to search for suspected
organizers and conduct community meetings to pressure people to sign
loyalty oaths and persuade them not to support independence. A resident
of Ea H'leo described a session that took place in early February:
these meetings, the Vietnamese communist cadre would state: what kind of
person is this Kok Ksor that people would follow him? They said he was a
person who stole villagers' cattle, that he had only finished fourth or
fifth grade, and what right did he have to declare an independent Dega
nation? The world only accepted Ho Chi Minh as the leader of the
Vietnamese nation. By historical tradition the whole world recognized
the nation of
; no one in the world recognized a Dega nation.
Jarai man described the atmosphere in Dak Doa district, Dak Lak:
we saw others arrested, many people went into hiding. The government and
police forced families of those who had fled to turn in their husbands.
They took pictures of the houses of the men who had fled and of their
wives. They searched and ransacked the houses. Then they called village
meetings, in which they included children and youth. The government
asked, who do you want to follow: Ho Chi Minh or Kok Ksor? They made the
people sign and thumbprint statements and forced the people not to
follow Kok Ksor. In my commune the chief of commune called adults and
teenagers alike and told them not to follow Kok Ksor. The youth did not
know why they were called.
man from Ia Grai district in Gia Lai said:
the demonstrations there was a lot of pressure and intimidation. People
didn't dare go to their fields alone. The police were everywhere. They
called meetings every day, telling people not to follow Kok Ksor. Before
the demonstrations there were no soldiers in my village; afterwards,
they guarded everywhere. If we went to see the water level in our rice
field the soldiers wouldn't let us go after dark but told us to wait
until morning. If I left my home, soldiers watched my house to see if
members of FULRO came in for particular scrutiny. They were subject to
police interrogation and monitoring regardless of whether they had
participated in the protests.
An eighty-nine-year old Mnong man from Dak Lak who had left the FULRO
movement in 1992 described the situation:
the demonstrations three policemen and about twenty soldiers entered my
village to investigate people, especially former FULRO. I fled to my
farm field. Three policemen came to my house looking for me. They
questioned my neighbors as well but they were especially looking for me.
They knew I'd been a FULRO member three times [in the late 1950s,
mid-1960s, and from 1975-92] so they were really interested in finding
me. The police came six or seven times to my house. Finally in June I
was able to escape to
Montagnard from Dak Lak who had been a FULRO member until his arrest and
imprisonment in 1985 said that government officials were searching for
former FULRO both before and after the demonstrations:
summoned me six times to the police station, beginning in December 2000.
Each time I didn't agree with their demands to join with them. My
neighbors and relatives warned me that the government was getting ready
to arrest me and send me to prison or secretly kill me because I'd been
a member of FULRO in the past. When I joined Kok Ksor's organization in
2000, I already had a name as an opponent of the government.
February 8, police summoned forty villagers in Buon Ea Sup in Dak Lak
who were suspected of supporting MFI to the commune police headquarters
for interrogation, but released them that evening. The police sessions
in Buon Ea Sup continued every day, including Sundays, for weeks.
Participants in the demonstrations were pressured to sign written
statements promising to end all contact with MFI and other "foreign
organizations" and to abandon Christianity.
wanted us to say that Vietnamese and ethnic minorities were one people,
not separate," said a villager from Buon Ea Sup. "They also
wanted us to do a special ceremony to seal the pledge, in which we were
to drink wine mixed with goat's blood."
Some people-particularly those suspected of being key supporters of Kok
Ksor-were beaten and tortured during their "working sessions"
with the police, as described by one villager from Buon Ea Sup:
police interrogated me in a room. They asked me whether I had documents
from Kok Ksor and I said no. Then they beat me. They used an electric
baton near my eyes [he has a small scar there still]. I don't know how
many times they shocked me; I lost consciousness. When I came to, I
realized my back and my stomach hurt badly and that I had probably been
kicked many times.
brought me to the police station for such sessions-beating and
interrogation-fifteen times over the next fifteen days. In some of the
sessions the policeman pinched my ears and twisted my eyelids, and
slammed his elbow into my ribs. He was angry that I'd shown other
villagers the map and documents [about the proposed Dega state] and
demanded that I confess.
beat me so badly that I finally gave up the documents to them. They
still continued to pressure me about religion and tried to get me to
sign a document renouncing Christianity. I said I couldn't write. The
policeman took my hand in his and forced my hand. The interrogations
went this way every time, every day, until March 9 when I fled.
Repression of Christians increased throughout the highlands as a result
of the protests. On February 8, the
party secretary in Dak Lak, Y Luyen, reportedly convened a meeting at
the People's Committee office in Cu Jut district in which he announced
that Christian believers in the Central Highlands would be severely
punished. Church services were subsequently closed down in many parts of
the province, including Buon Ea Mhdar (Buon Don District), and Buon Jung
Vi, Buon Pok (Krong Pac District), and in Ea H'leo and Ea Sup districts.
Protestant churches in Ban Don district in Dak Lak were also closed,
with authorities preventing all assembly for worship in many villages
since that time.
Villagers in Ea Sup district of Dak Lak described interrogation sessions
with the police that started on February 8:
asked us questions about Tin Lanh Dega (Dega Protestantism), why
we had gone to the demonstration, why we wanted to make an independent
state, and so on. They told us not to hold any more demonstrations, and
said that it was prohibited to follow our religion. They said "Dega
Protestantism" was not a real religion but something started by the
pressure was brought to bear on minority Christians in Kontum, Lam Dong
and Gia Lai after the demonstrations. In Lam Dong, Christians were not
permitted to gather at the church in Phi Lieng commune, Lam Ha district,
and authorities confiscated all the furniture in the chapel.
district, Gia Lai, local authorities closed down a church in Ea To
commune, which had been open for approximately five years, and banned
house church meetings.
A Bible teacher in
district, Gia Lai, described the situation:
the past they had mistreated Christians, but after the protests in
February 2001 the situation changed, and they made it much more
difficult for us to practice our religion. When we tried to pray, the
police were always close by, watching and listening. They were trying to
find the leaders of the demonstrations, always coming around and
highlanders who did not attend the February demonstrations described
being regarded as subversives by local authorities because Christianity
– particularly "Dega Protestantism" – was regarded as the
underlying source of the February unrest. Suppression of minority
Christians was to continue and intensify during the year following the
INCREASING THE PRESSURE
time my arms got tired and I tried to lower them, the policeman would
say, "Okay – you want to be beaten up? I haven't heard you tell
me who the true Jesus is."
- Jarai man from Kontum, October 2001
in March 2001, Vietnamese authorities launched a second wave of arrests
and increased the pressure on suspected sympathizers of the movement.
Their actions were based on information gathered from police
interrogation sessions conducted in February, as well as photographs and
video footage of the demonstrations. On March 10, police arrested more
than twenty ethnic Jarai in
district, Gia Lai after a confrontation between villagers and security
forces at Plei Lao.
On March 26, the state newspaper Lao Dong (Labor) reported that
provincial authorities in Kontum had uncovered an underground separatist
network, consisting of a "string of clandestine bases each several
people strong." Some forty ethnic minority "troublemakers"
had surrendered to local authorities, the paper said, and documents
confiscated from the group had enabled local authorities to compile a
"blacklist" of the leaders of the underground network.
Police were deployed in many villages, often posted in individual homes,
and additional military reinforcements were posted at local commune
headquarters throughout the next twelve months. In addition to
"public works" projects-helping families plant gardens and
assisting in village cleanup programs-the main role of the security
forces was to monitor suspected leaders of the demonstrations, thwart
, and guard against any other outbursts of unrest. In mid-March, party
authorities sent more than 500 troops to Kontum and convened a two-day
"awareness" seminar for border guards in Kontum.
In April 2001, the Quan Doi Nhan Dan (People's Army Daily)
announced that thirteen military regiments – expected to be on alert
should a "bad situation occur" – were to be settled in an
"economic defense zone" in Dak Lak and neighboring Binh Phuoc
province, which has a sizable population of Mnong and Stieng Christians.
In July 2001,
's public security minister announced plans to send additional police to
Kontum in order to address "problems at grassroots level" and
prevent "sudden situations and hot spots in rural areas."
Restrictions and Increased Surveillance
the demonstrations and refugee exodus to
, the government began to tightly restrict freedom of movement
throughout the Central Highlands. Montagnards arriving at the UNHCR
reported that strict travel bans had been instituted throughout the
highlands with police posted on the roads to stop movement of people and
in the hamlets to prevent travel and communication between villages.
Highlanders interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported stricter
implementation of household registry regulations. In the wake of the
protests, authorities required highlanders to register with the police
several days in advance of leaving their homes to work in their fields
or to visit another village or district.
In many areas, only women were allowed to freely leave the villages.
pastors and evangelists were barred from traveling in many localities,
making it impossible for them to perform baptisms, marriages, and
funerals as they had in the past.
Police wrote up charges and often imposed fines on pastors who were
caught performing such ceremonies.
Areas from which large numbers of people had attempted to flee to
faced particularly heavy surveillance and extra travel restrictions.
These included Ea Sup, Ea H'leo, and Ban Don districts of Dak Lak, as
well as some districts in Gia Lai, such as Ia Grai and Mang Yang.
woman from Ban Don district, Dak Lak said that police threatened her
with arrest after her husband fled to
questioned me several times and then took me to the district on March
10. They asked me what my problem was and why I had gone to the
demonstration. They said, `We don't see your husband any more-we're
going to put you on jail.' As soon as I could, I escaped to
family is watched and followed everywhere," said a Jarai who fled
from Ia Grai district, Gia Lai in February. "They are not allowed
to travel outside the village. Letters to my family are opened and read."
In one hamlet in Ban Don district of Dak Lak, Human Rights Watch
received reports that security police recruited some villagers to report
on anyone who attended Christian meetings and even those who conducted
family prayers in their own homes. Advance permission was required in
order for people to leave the village to work in their fields.
Highlander children in that hamlet were reportedly prohibited from
attending school unless their families denounced Christianity.
In Ea Sup district of Dak Lak, party cadres and police continued to
reside in individual homes for months after the demonstrations. In June
2001 most of the security forces moved out of the villagers' houses but
remained camped nearby. They continued to enter peoples' homes without
notice, especially those of families with members who were in prison or
who had fled to
. Guests in these homes were monitored and family members wanting to
leave the village to go to their fields were required to report their
exact hours of departure and return. If they were late coming home they
were questioned at length and not permitted to leave the village.
Pressure was exerted on suspected MFI supporters in Lam Dong province as
well. In April 2001 authorities tried to force one of the leaders of the
land rights movement in Lam Dong to make a public pledge to abandon the
police pressured me to make a public pronouncement but I refused.
Instead in front of my whole village, I said I would continue my work. A
high-ranking police official from the province then entered my house. He
tried to offer me money and his hand. I refused to take either. I said I
would not abandon the movement – I want freedom for the ethnic
minorities, the same as for the Vietnamese. The police saw that I wasn't
going to stop the work and sent many police to monitor me. Some were
armed. If I didn't agree to stop, they said they would kill me secretly.
In May I escaped for my life.
on Diplomatic and Media Access
and after the demonstrations, foreign journalists were denied access to
the Central Highlands, other than a tightly-controlled press tour in
mid-March 2001 and another timed to coincide with the first repatriation
of refugees in February 2002.
access was also restricted, although representatives of the Danish
Embassy flew to Dak Lak in early February 2001 as part of a pre-arranged
trip to visit aid projects there. Other European diplomats based in
were able to briefly visit Gia Lai as part of a four-day tour to five
Ho Chi Minh City
conducted at the end of May 2001. However a request by the
ambassador in March to visit the highlands was not granted until July
In the first days after the protests, police instructed hotels in the
region not to accept tourists for at least two weeks following the
demonstrations, and the region's main tourist attraction,
, was temporarily closed. International aid agencies working in the
Central Highlands, such as the British volunteer organization, Voluntary
Services Overseas (VSO), the Danish Red Cross, and Germany's development
organization Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ),
continued their work as usual, although they reported that local
authorities had told them not to venture out to the districts at night.
was no mention in the state-controlled media about the unrest for
several days following the protests. One February 7, the lead story on
state television was a piece praising economic development policies in
. It featured footage of beaming minorities working in coffee
plantations in Gia Lai.
Such coverage was to continue for months.
The first official mention in the Vietnamese press about the
demonstrations ran on February
report by the Vietnam News Agency, which was carried in Quan Doi Nhan
Dan (The People's Army Daily), the English-language Vietnam News,
and on national television, acknowledged that protests had occurred in
Pleiku and Buon Ma Thuot. The reports attributed the unrest to the work
of "bad elements" and "extremists," but said the
situation had been brought under control.
The same day a Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman told foreign journalists in
a press conference that twenty people had been arrested in Gia Lai for
"provocative acts." She attributed the Buon Ma Thuot
demonstrations to local people receiving "bad information"
about the events in Pleiku.
On March 15, Quan Doi Nhan Dan ran a long piece featuring
biographies and interviews with several Kok Ksor supporters, including
Bom Jana, whom the newspaper described as "appearing in an
exhausted condition and with a monotonous and regretful voice."
Jana was quoted as saying:
allow me to apologize to the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam and
please give me leniency so that I can soon be back to my family. I call
on my 'brothers' who had listened to me to join this organization.
Please come to surrender to the administration and enjoy the leniency of
interviewed was Ksor Kroih, who had been arrested on February 6:
more I think about it, the more I see that what Ksor Kok told us was
just distorted propaganda. Before the liberation, we ethnic minority
communities lived in poverty: no schools, backward social life, and no
medicine when we fell sick. Since the country was liberated, the
government built roads, schools and markets.
government has policies to eradicate hunger and alleviate poverty and to
encourage the community activity. Our children can go to school without
having to pay school fees. Our people do not have to pay for hospitals
when they get sick. Our livelihoods have been on the rise. In February,
I participated in enticing the people to join demonstrations and threw
rocks. Mr. Kok promised that if we were arrested, he would arrange our
release. Now I regret for what I have done. I beg the administration to
consider with leniency for my wrongdoing.
March 16, 2001, after several delays, the Hanoi-based foreign press
corps was taken on a four-day guided tour of Dak Lak and Gia Lai.
Reporters were not granted promised interviews with highlanders who had
participated in the demonstrations but instead were taken to a coffee
factory, a highlander cultural show,
, and an ethnic Lao village where no one had participated in the
In Pleiku the journalists were brought to a large stadium to witness a
Vietnamese military parade in commemoration of the twenty-sixth
anniversary of Pleiku's liberation, a ceremony that is not usually
observed in Pleiku.
Pleiku, Provincial People's Committee chairman Nguyen Vy Ha told the
journalists that the demonstrations were caused by misinformation and
agitation by outside "reactionaries."
"Religion had no connection with what happened, but a group has
abused religion to agitate people," he said. Ha said that minority
people had heard rumors that they would receive land, houses and money
if they marched on the provincial capital.
was not until late March 2001 that the first video footage of the
demonstrations appeared on Vietnam Television (VTV), the
state-controlled national television network. A two-part series on March
27-28 showed large crowds standing in front of the Provincial People's
Committee buildings in Pleiku and Buon Ma Thuot, with fleeting glimpses
of young men using slingshots in Buon Ma Thuot. The fifteen-minute
program featured interviews with four protesters and Kok Ksor's brother,
all expressing contrition for their involvement with Kok Ksor, and an
interview in a Buon Ma Thuot church with one of the minority pastors who
had addressed the crowd in Buon Ma Thuot at the government's request.
The VTV narrator said: "Life has returned to normal in the Central
Highlands, but the situation remains complicated...It's necessary to
expose the wicked schemes of hostile forces in exile headed by Kok Ksor,
aimed at sowing divisions in national unity."
Repression of Christians
Those suspected of being "Dega Christians" faced ongoing
persecution. Special ceremonies were conducted to extract loyalty oaths
from people who had attended the demonstrations (See Case Study XVI,
"The Goat's Blood Oath Ceremonies in Ea H'leo," p. 163.) In
addition, officials convened public meetings, which were videotaped and
photographed, at which church elders were publicly harangued in front of
banners reading: "The party punishes the gang which committed the
grievous crime of being Dega Christians."
Places in Dak Lak where such religious denunciation sessions took place
included Buon Nieng, Buon Cuor Knia, Buon Ko Dung, Buon Tong Yu, and
Buon Dha Prong.
some cases the penalties imposed on Christians who refused to denounce
their religion were an attempt to humiliate. In one incident in March
2001, police in Kontum forced a Jarai Christian to stand with his hands
raised above his head for an entire morning. They had summoned him to
the police station for several days in a row to press him to sign a
pledge renouncing Christianity. When he continued to refuse to sign, the
police made him stand with his hands raised from 8:15 a.m. until noon.
He was ordered to stand looking into the eyes of a picture of Ho Chi
Minh in order to "see the real Jesus." Afterwards the man was
allowed to go home, despite not signing the pledge. He described the
time my arms got tired and I tried to lower them, the policeman would
say, `Okay-you want to be beaten up? I haven't heard you tell me who the
true Jesus is.'
actions taken by Vietnamese authorities to break up religious gatherings
or close Protestant churches included the following:
An official citation prepared in Dak Lak on March 18, 2001 recorded the
"illegal meeting to engage in Protestant religious
activities," when a group of fifty-six people from two hamlets
gathered to pray at a private home.
A similar citation prepared by commune police in Dak Lak documented an
illegal, "large meeting" on April 15, when fifteen people
gathered at a private home. The citation referred to
's 1999 Religion Decree and
's Constitution and warned the homeowner that if he continued to hold
illegal meetings he would be punished in accordance with the law. It
stated that advance government permission was required in order to
conduct any meetings.
· On April 6,
village chief in Dak Lak signed a memorandum documenting "the
discovery of 115 people, eight small Bibles, and two large Bibles"
at an "illegal" religious gathering. According to the official
citation, the meeting was shut down, the Bibles confiscated, and the
church leader ordered to report for questioning at the Village People's
Committee at a later date: "We advised [name withheld] that he
could not hold meetings to propagate religion at that time since local
authorities have not given permission....The report was completed on the
same day and read aloud to [name withheld] and the entire group [of
worshippers] present that day."
· In late April 2001, district authorities in Dak Lak forced the
closure of a communal Christian meeting place used by a number of
villages in Cu Mgar district.
· In August 2001, policemen in Sa Thay district, Kontum detained and
interrogated a Montagnard church leader at gunpoint. They turned him
over to provincial police, who tortured him with electric shocks during
· Minority Protestants told Western reporters in February 2002 that
there were only two officially recognized Christian pastors for all of
Gia Lai province, the building of new churches was forbidden, and that
church services outside of the home – and particularly the practice of
"Dega Protestantism" – were forbidden.
were received of interrogation and threats of church leaders in Buon
Drie, Buon Ea Mohar, Buon Ko Dung, and Buon Nieng in Dak Lak. After a
number of church elders from Buon Mohar filed a complaint to the
Provincial Bureau of Religious Affairs and the Provincial Security
Police, the pressure on them lightened somewhat.
In July 2001, police began summoning one church leader in Buon Don
district on a daily basis for weeks in order to conduct intensive
interrogations. He was asked who the leaders of the local church were,
why he was teaching religion when he was not a pastor, and why he
traveled to other hamlets. In fact, he did so to perform funerals and
other religious ceremonies. He was forced to sign a document stating
that he was guilty of eight crimes, including not having an advanced
degree, not having studied in any Bible classes, lacking official
permission from local government to carry out religious activities, and
conducting religious activities in his home and not in the church. The
man who was interrogated submitted a complaint to local authorities in
which he stated:
police chief] was ready to beat me, but he didn't do it. He told me he
would smash my mouth, cut open my head. He said he would keep me coming
back for questioning for six months, and [asked me] who would work my
fields during that time. He said he'd put me in jail, because my eight
crimes really merited execution.
police records and citizen complaint petitions obtained by Human Rights
Watch document other instances of official pressure on whole villages or
large groups of people to renounce Christianity. On August 24, 2001,
police and village officials disrupted a church service in Buon Don
district, photographing the church and the people inside. The officials
organized a meeting to order the community to renounce Protestantism.
They placed the entire village under surveillance and searched the homes
of suspected Christians. A citizen complaint about the incident stated:
pressure us to renounce our religion and sent irregular forces to search
the homes of believers one by one. They follow us everywhere we go. They
know the places where we pray and report them to their superiors. The
authorities arrested five believers and forced them to do self
criticisms; they accuse that we are believers of the crime of illegal
August 2001, twenty households comprising eighty-nine people in two
villages in Dak Lak were forced to sign a pledge to the village People's
Committee that they would cease being Protestants or face legal action.
A written police decision dated August 27, signed by the village police
chief, ordered all households to turn in all Protestant religious
materials in the two villages.
In some areas minority Christians reported increased use of economic
pressure against them after the protests, for example, by being excluded
from government food distribution programs. This occurred reportedly not
only in Gia Lai, but also in Christian minority areas in neighboring
Quang Nai and Phu Yen provinces. Minority Christians in Minh Long district in Quang Nai and in Son Hinh
and Son Nga districts in Phu Yen reported being systematically excluded
from government distribution of relief funds, rice, oil and salt.
Phu Yen province, minority church members filed a petition with the
provincial Bureau of Religious Affairs to protest discriminatory
treatment of minority Christians. A drought and failed harvest had
caused eleven Christian families to face particular hardship but they
were all rejected for government assistance that had been provided to
non-Christians in the same village. The petitioners wrote:
officials in [name of commune withheld] say: these Protestants are the
most stubborn people of all and that Protestantism is an American
religion that opposes the programs of the country. In truth, we have
done nothing to oppose the government, and we are not stubborn either.
The real reason [we were refused drought relief] is that the village
authorities do everything they can to make us renounce our religion, and
when we refuse, they say all sorts of bad things about us.
Soon after the February protests, it was clear that harsh penalties
would be imposed against those found to have organized the
demonstrations. An indicator came in March
the VCP daily, Nhan Dan (The People), which published sections of
the penal code dealing with inciting riots and endangering national
security and stated that the law called for strict criminal penalties.
April, the government's Tin Tuc news agency announced that eleven
"troublemakers" would be prosecuted in Dak Lak province.
Provincial VCP official Y Luyen Niec Dan was quoted as saying that
strong measures needed to be taken against people exploiting
Protestantism to "bend the truth and sabotage the revolution."
"We have to unmask the local and international reactionaries who
have created this bad situation...and at the same time practice clemency
towards all those who have strayed and repented," he said.
In June 2001, the official government legal newspaper, Phap Luat
(The Law) stated that forty-one people would be tried in Gia Lai
province. Seven people had been charged with "damaging national
security," twenty with "opposing public officials," and
fourteen with "disturbing public order." A court
official interviewed by the Associated Press said that defendants had
been involved in two rounds of unrest-in Pleiku on February 2 and in
district on March 10. The official said that the defendants had admitted
to receiving instructions from "overseas counterrevolutionary
elements" to incite unrest.
Between September 2001 and January 2002, at least thirty-five
highlanders were sentenced in a number of trials quietly conducted in
Dak Lak and Gia Lai provinces.
On September 26, 2001, the People's Courts in Dak Lak and Gia Lai
sentenced fourteen highlanders to prison sentences ranging from six to
twelve years on charges of undermining public security (most likely
under article 89 of the Penal Code.)
According to the official state press, the men were accused of forming a
"reactionary organization" in order to establish an
independent state and a separate religion in the
. One defendant was also charged with illegal possession of
military weapons. State media said that Nay D'Ruk (Y Drut Nie) and Y
Phen Ksor from Ea H'leo had raided local government offices and
destroyed public property.
In addition, Bom Jena-identified as the "mastermind" of the
unrest-was found to have chaired a founding ceremony of an "illegal
organization" at co-defendant Ksor Kroih's house in September 2000.
· On October 18, 2001, six highlanders were convicted in courts in Ea
H'leo, Ea Sup and Krong Pak districts of Dak Lak, on charges of
distributing propaganda and inciting social unrest in Buon Ma Thuot in
February 2001. They were given from three years suspended sentences to
five years of imprisonment.
· Also in October, four highlanders were sentenced in Ayun Pa district
court in Gia Lai to sentences ranging from five to eight years
imprisonment. A district official told the Associated Press that the
four had detained and beaten the deputy police chief and his nephew on
February 4, after the latter barred villagers from attending the
demonstrations in Pleiku on February 2.
· Two highlanders from Ia Grai district of Gia Lai were reportedly
tried in October, sentenced to prison terms of four and five years
· On November 19, 2001, five highlanders from Ea Sup district of Dak
Lak were reportedly tried and sentenced to between five and seven years
On January 25, 2002, four highlanders in
district, Gia Lai, were sentenced to prison terms of up to six and a
half years for "organizing illegal migrations." The official
Vietnamese News Agency reported that Cambodian officials arrested and
deported the four men in April and May 2001, along with groups of
highlanders who had fled to
of the trial dates were announced in advance, and no diplomats or
foreign correspondents were allowed to attend. It is doubtful that the
defendants were allowed access to any legal representation, which is in
contravention of article 132 of the Vietnamese constitution.
The only official press coverage, if any, was the announcements of the
verdicts after the trials were over. After the September 26 trial in Dak
Lak, the government radio station stated that all the people present at
the trial and in Dak Lak province supported the sentences: "The
trial has not only punished the criminals but also educated the entire
's Penal Code, as
amended in 1999, lists numerous "crimes against national
security," some of which contain provisions, which are contrary to
international law or are so vaguely worded that they invite abusive
application. For example, article 88, "Conducting propaganda against the
Socialist Republic of Vietnam," criminalizes the mere act of
expressing a disfavored political opinion, or possessing or circulating
material that does the same. It carries sentences of between three and
twenty years of imprisonment. Article 87, "Undermining the unity
policy," criminalizes "sowing divisions" between the
people and the government or the military, between religious and
non-religious people, and between religious followers and the
government. Offenders are to be sentenced to between two and fifteen
years of imprisonment.
One national security offense that is regularly lodged against peaceful
critics of the party and government is article 79, "Carrying out
activities aimed at overthrowing the people's administration;"
punishment for this offense can include the death penalty. Among the
actions that have triggered prosecutions under this provision are
issuing manifestos or newsletters promoting peaceful political reforms
and respect for human rights.
In addition, as the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention noted in
its 1995 report on Vietnam, the Penal Code's characterizations of
national security crimes does not distinguish between the use or nonuse
of violence or of incitement or nonincitement to violence. This means
that penalties can be imposed on persons who have merely exercised
peacefully their legitimate rights to freedom of opinion or expression.
XII. INTERPRETING THE
strategy consists of taking advantage of the concepts of freedom and
democracy and exaggerating a number of our difficulties and shortcomings
during the cultural and economic development process, which aims at the
unity of the people and the party. They have made the people lose their
confidence in the party and the authorities.
VCP advisory issued to cadre in the Central Highlands, June 2001
the year following the turmoil in the highlands, the Vietnamese
government made numerous attempts to placate the highlanders, at least
on the surface. These public efforts ranged from pledges of assistance
by the Vietnamese Red Cross in February 2001 for disadvantaged minority
families, to provision of free medical check-ups for 6,000 highlanders
in April, to expansion of additional minority language radio broadcasts
On the one hand, such efforts appeared to acknowledge that genuine
grievances existed. On the other, as leaked party documents make clear,
the government's official interpretation of the unrest was that it was
caused by enemies of the party who used religion as their instrument.
With the first anniversary of the demonstrations, government
surveillance of highlander villages increased, security measures
tightened, and repression of minority Christians intensified.
party documents as well as public statements by Politburo members
indicated an awareness that the leadership was out of touch with rural
minority communities in the Central Highlands. On February 22, 2001, the
state media reported that 10 percent of Gia Lai's administrative
officials would be stationed in minority hamlets to resolve conflicts.
In addition the government established "working teams"
composed of government officials in Dak Lak to address public disputes,
in particular those related to land and forestry.
Additional party cadres were dispatched to minority villages in Dak Lak
from March 15 to December 15 to "develop production and consolidate
social order and security."
Many of the public pronouncements and pledges from
, however, did not filter down to administrators at the provincial and
district levels, where repression and rights violations continued into
the year 2002.
the February 2001 protests, a succession of high-ranking officials
toured the Central Highlands. Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung
visited on February 9, followed by Politburo member Pham The Duyet in
March, and Prime Minister
Phan Van Khai
and National Police Chief Le Minh Huong in July.
his March visit, Prime Minister
Phan Van Khai
attended a three-day conference on socioeconomic development in Buon Ma
Thuot, where plans were unveiled for new electricity projects, an
agricultural university, and a modern regional hospital. The Prime
Minister called on government authorities to address the land problem by
allocating unused land to ethnic minority families, and solicit input
from grassroots officials to work out new and more effective approaches
to the region's development.
In other pledges by officials to address the land problem, Dak Lak
province in August 2001 reportedly set aside some
of land for ethnic minority families who had less than the average
; the land was reportedly obtained from state farms and forest
enterprises or purchased from private plantations.
In addition, in October 2001 provincial officials in Dak Lak and Lam
Dong announced they would reallocate unused state farm land to minority
in Dak Lak and
in Lam Dong.
September 2001, VCP General Secretary Nông Dúc Manh, himself a member
of an ethnic minority, made a visit to the region. He urged minority
elders and commune chiefs to be vigilant against the efforts of
"hostile forces" that he said were seeking to take advantage
of the region's temporary socioeconomic difficulties in order to
undermine national unity or incite people to flee abroad. In Kontum, Manh urged soldiers to build a "fighting position in the
people's hearts" in the Central Highlands.
As part of a stepped-up propaganda campaign in the highlands, beginning
in February 2001 the government increased its minority-language radio
and television broadcasts and in March the government allocated 300
million dong (U.S. $20,700) to each province in the Central Highlands to
cover the printing and distribution of pictures of Ho Chi Minh as well
as books and audiotapes extolling the party and its policies toward
In Lam Dong village chiefs received radios in order to be able to
receive and disseminate "accurate information" about party
guidelines and policies. In April, the government distributed one million pamphlets and 1,800
audiotapes in Jarai and Bahnar languages to fifty-seven villages in Gia
Lai. The materials included information about the penal code, land law,
the decree on religious activities, and the constitution.
By the end of June 2001, the government had expanded minority-language
television broadcasts from one language (
) to five (adding Jarai, Koho, Mnong and Sedang). New television
transmitters were constructed in Dak Lak and Kontum, and Gia Lai
launched the publication of a trilingual magazine (Jarai, Bahnar and
were made to enhance educational opportunities for minorities in the
Central Highlands, including the planned expansion of
in Buon Ma Thuot, announced in May. In August, Gia Lai authorities
donated 30,000 dong (U.S. $2) per student per month and "ethnic
costumes" to 2,000 ethnic minority boarding school students, on top
of previous monthly allowances of 120,000 dong (U.S. $9). Similar
assistance was provided in Dak Lak.
Plans were also announced in August for a pilot bilingual education
for third graders in forty-five schools in Dak Lak during the 2001-02
2001 the party convened a number of meetings in the highlands for
provincial administrators, party cadres and leaders of the mass
organizations, such as for youth and women. The aim was to discuss
economic development in the highlands, national security, and political
education, and to instruct cadres, including minority cadres, in the
party line. As the first anniversary of the protests neared in January
2002, the government convened a three-day meeting in Buon Ma Thuot to
implement a Politburo Resolution linking socioeconomic development with
national defence and maintenance of security in the Central Highlands.
June 2001 Party Advisory
June 2001, the Vietnamese Communist Party issued an internal advisory,
specifically directing party cadre how to interpret the ethnic unrest in
the Central Highlands. The twenty-two page document, a copy of which was
obtained by Human Rights Watch, carries the official seal of the VCP and
is entitled "Mobilization to Strengthen the Masses and the
Traditional Life, the Revolution, and the Solidarity among all Ethnic
Peoples and Oppose the Forces who are Active in Order to Destroy the
Progressive Forces and the Protection of our Fatherland, the Socialist
Republic of Vietnam."
document analyzes the 2001 uprising and its purported relationship to
the Protestant movement:
illegal religious activities of a complex nature have been taking place,
in certain places with a clearly political character, especially those
involving reactionaries who are taking advantage of Protestants,
inspiring divisions among the various nationalities, concentrated among
the mountain tribes, especially in the
. For this reason our province has not yet permitted Protestants to
practice their religion in a normal way.
advisory mentions the government's recognition in February 2001 of the
of the South but states that full participation of Protestant churches
in the highlands will have to be a step-by-step process, especially
given the political instability in the region and the intentions of
"bad elements" who were exploiting religion to oppose the
our area we will by gradual steps allow the various Protestant churches
to operate normally when the political situation is stable. ...Thus the
reason we do not allow the Protestant religion to operate normally is
because reactionaries are using religion to promote
The June 2001 advisory shows that the party links the highlanders'
escalating demands for land rights, religious freedom, and even
independence with the growing popularity of evangelical Protestantism.
Illustrating the extent to which the government is concerned about its
loss of control, the document asserts that the "enemy" had
taken advantage of ethnicity and religion in order to create fissures in
These subversive groups, it contends, are misusing religion to cause the
masses to lose faith in the party and the government in order to
"overthrow the legal government":
have gathered a number of bad elements and dragged them into illegal
religious activities. They have encouraged them to demand land, to build
churches and places of worship and [conduct] other illegal religious
gatherings. They have propagated that our local authorities do not pay
due attention to the freedom of religious belief.
or "Dega Protestantism," is described as targeting minority
Protestants to isolate them from mainstream society and lure them into
political activities in order to demand an independent state.
"Artificial" demands for land and the right to freedom of
religion are said to be part of an overall strategy to destabilize
society and carry out uprisings against the revolution:
main purpose of the enemy is to take advantage of ethnicity and religion
to launch activities aimed at the minorities in the
and combine politics and psychological warfare in order to overthrow the
legal government. The purpose is to establish the independent state of
Dega, which is also supported from outside, in order to invade our
is clear that the emergence of political activism in the highlands
calling not only for independence, but also for land and religious
rights, touched a sensitive nerve. The advisory charges that the party's
enemies are working to "encourage and spread discontent among our
minorities to act illegally to demand land" and to oppose state
policies in regard to family planning, migration, and the building of
socialist culture. These "hostile forces" are held to be
challenging government policies that encourage the development of New
Economic Zones and migration by other population groups to more equally
distribute the population:
have taken advantage of our difficulties and shortcomings during the
process of [the government] solving the land issue in order to stir up
the people to demand land, create difficulties during the implementation
of our development policies in the New Economic Zones with the purpose
to develop the economy and the society in the Central Highlands. They
have created opposition against migration during a time that the
authorities aimed at an equal sharing [of land and resources] between
Vietnamese and the [indigenous] minorities and other minorities
migrating into the area from the
June 2001 advisory charges that both FULRO and the United States-which
is identified as the main culprit in bringing Christianity to the
highlands-have created much of the problem in the Central Highlands, by
"forming a human resource to oppose the Socialist government"
and inciting the people to rebel.
The advisory alleges that enemies of the party had targeted the
, taking advantage of "the concepts of freedom and democracy,"
as well as the low educational level of the minority groups, in order to
highlight social and economic difficulties in the region. The advisory
concludes frankly, "They have made the people lose their confidence
in the party and the authorities."
XIII. REFUGEE FLIGHT
my heart I didn't want to run to
and abandon my family. I was in the forest before with FULRO in 1990 and
know how difficult it is. All I want is a place that's safe. If the
Vietnamese catch me, they will chop me up like chopped fish. Our group
needs to stay together; live together and die together. If the U.N.
wants to meet me to ask about our problem I will meet them. But I will
not abandon my group.
- Jarai man who fled to
in February 2001
days of the government crackdown in the Central Highlands in February
2001, small numbers of highlanders from Dak Lak and Gia Lai had fled
from their villages and began to cross the border to Cambodia, where
they hid in the forests of Ratanakiri and Mondolkiri provinces. In March
2001, provincial officials in Mondolkiri arrested twenty-four ethnic
, who were escorted on March
military helicopters to
, where they were detained at the national Gendarmerie headquarters.
Under considerable pressure from
, Cambodian officials initially announced that they planned to deport
the highlanders as illegal immigrants and barred access to the group by
officials from UNHCR.
Then in an unusual reversal, Prime Minister Hun Sen defied his long-time
allies on March 31, when he agreed to allow UNHCR to interview the
group. In a move that infuriated
, the group of twenty-four were identified as refugees in need of
protection and were resettled to the
in early April, along with fourteen ethnic Jarai, who had managed to
make contact with UNHCR as well.
The Vietnamese government charged that the
was interfering in
's internal affairs and its bilateral relations with
, as well as encouraging illegal departures of Vietnamese people. In a
statement defending his decision, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said:
"I think that what the
is doing on this issue is not an intervention in anybody's internal
affairs, but they are fulfilling a humanitarian obligation ...
should examine its humanitarian obligations too."
to the highlanders' departure from
, the Vietnamese government went to great lengths to press
to turn over custody of the refugees.
On April 9, the Vietnamese Red Cross requested that the Cambodian Red
Cross intervene and immediately repatriate the highlanders, an appeal
that Cambodian Red Cross President Bun Rany (Hun Sen's wife) rejected.
A delegation that included the deputy chief of mission from the
Vietnamese Embassy in
, Vietnamese Red Cross representatives, and Vietnamese intelligence
agents met the refugees when they were in detention in
The Vietnamese Red Cross attempted to show the refugees videotapes of
their families in
, pleading for them to return.
One of the refugees described the situation:
were questioned several times by Vietnamese people when we were in
. Vietnamese people also took videotapes of us there. The Vietnamese Red
Cross person tried to force us to take letters and watch a videotape. He
argued in English with an American man about this. We all stuck our
fingers in our ears and lowered our heads when they put on the video. We
refused to take the letters.
refugee recognized one of the Vietnamese men who questioned the group
when they were in
had seen him before-at the demonstration in Buon Ma Thuot. He was
watching us and talking to the police, but dressed in civilian clothes.
He was staring at me during the demonstration and asked me to stop
he met me in
, he asked me if I would go back to
. I said not until we get land for our people. He asked where I lived. I
told him it wasn't his business. He told me my family was waiting for
me. I said fine, but we need land. He tried to scare me.
were three Vietnamese there and one Cambodian guard. I`m pretty sure two
. They had a camera and took photographs of us. I asked them where they
were from and they said
. I said I guess that you're from
. They got angry and said how did I know. [They spoke the northern
accent]. They looked like strangers, talked very angrily with me, blamed
me for causing others to leave
. They said these people look to you. If those people go back, they will
go with you. I said I don't want to see your face.
next day the Vietnamese called me again for questioning. They asked us
to return to
. I said not until we have land for our people. They asked if we'd done
the paperwork [to get land title.] I said we tried hundreds of times;
your heart is hard. They said if I returned to
, there will be no problem but if you go far away there will be big
April 2001, the increasingly repressive environment in the highlands
caused more highlanders to flee to
, where approximately 150
and Mnong hid in the forests of Mondolkiri for weeks. A local villager
who supplied them with food and rice told the Cambodia Daily that he
advised the group to remain in hiding after hearing that Vietnamese
agents were offering bounties for returned refugees, as well as reports
that nineteen ethnic Jarai had been arrested and forcibly repatriated in
told them they should not come [out of hiding], as they will be
arrested. I talked with them for one hour and I gave them twenty kilos
of rice...They cried and I cried. They blamed me, saying that they came
here and I can't help them. They said that if they go back they will be
killed, and they can't stay in the forest.
March until May 2001, prior to the establishment of UNHCR refugee camps
's border provinces, Cambodian authorities forcibly repatriated more
than one hundred refugees back to
A Cambodian district official in Mondolkiri stated that Cambodian police
were escorting Vietnamese police in Mondolkiri in order to search for
refugees, and there were reports that bounties had been offered for each
Montagnard refugee deported to
(See section on deportations, below.)
On May 11, 2001, after a family of seven Mnong under U.N. protection was
forcibly returned to
, UNHCR staff escorted approximately 150 ethnic minority refugees
(thirty families) from several hiding places in the forest in Mondolkiri
to an encampment in the provincial capital of Sen Monorum.
The forced repatriation of two large groups of highlanders by Cambodian
provincial authorities on May 15 was put in motion the same day that
UNHCR Regional Representative Jahanshah Assadi met with Hok Lundy,
director general of the Cambodian National Police. At that meeting Hok
Lundy assured Assadi that Vietnamese refugees would be protected. That
night Cambodian police officials in Ratanakiri transported sixty-three
ethnic Jarai in two groups to the
border, from where they were forcibly returned to
On May 17, UNHCR finally secured Cambodian government approval to
establish two camps for refugees, one in Mondolkiri and one in
Ratanakiri-which sheltered close to 400 highlanders by the end of May.
Several human rights group issued statements condemning the forced
repatriations as a violation of the fundamental principle of
non-refoulement-Cambodia's obligation under the Refugee Convention not
to return any person to a country where his or her life or freedom may
On May 22, UNHCR issued a statement expressing concern about the fact
that more than one hundred highlanders may have been deported from
, including "individuals who claimed to be fleeing for political
reasons," and called for a proper review of asylum claims before
people were forced back to their country of origin.
Most of the first wave of highlanders to flee from
, from March through May 2001, fled because of fear of arrest or other
reprisals because of their participation in the February demonstrations.
A Jarai man who was a leader in the land rights movement in his
district, described why he fled to
fled from my village after I saw forty police ransack my neighbor's
house and take him away to jail. I escaped to
but in my heart I didn't want to come here. I felt I was abandoning the
people in Vietnam-not only my wife and children, but also the movement.
I didn't come here in order to resettle elsewhere but to get information
to our leader so that he could find a way to solve the problem.
I got here I realized that I couldn't return to
or I'd be arrested. The situation hiding in the forest was also very
difficult. Police were hunting for us on both sides of the border. We
ran out of food, we had no shelter from the rain, and some of us fell
ill from malaria. Soon we realized we couldn't stay in
and we couldn't go back to
. We asked the U.N. to help us; otherwise we would have been arrested.
Now all I wonder is, what about my wife and children in
-I've had no news about what happened to them after I left.
in June 2001, some highlanders who had not attended the demonstrations
or even heard about them before they took place, began to cross the
border. In interviews with Human Rights Watch, members of this group
stated they fled to
because of longstanding grievances about land, religious repression, or
political pressure as former FULRO members. For many in this second
wave, the government's crackdown was the impetus to flee
, whether or not they had been active with MFI or joined the protests.
Once they heard that the U.N. had set up secure sites for refugees in
, where they might obtain help and protection, dozens began to cross the
A Jarai man who did not attend the demonstrations said he fled after the
protests because there were so many police and military in his village,
and also because he had been arrested and threatened three times by
local authorities in 2000 and 2001 because of his role as a church
leader. "After the demonstrations there was no peace or freedom in
my village," he said. "When I woke up one morning, the place
was full of soldiers, who'd come at night. There were many police and
more than twenty soldiers, who entered each house."
Others who fled to
had heard from family members or MFI organizers abroad that the U.N.
would help the highlanders establish an independent state.
Representative of this group was an
man, who was tortured and imprisoned for several months in Buon Ma Thuot
prison after the protests. After release from prison, he escaped to
as soon as he was strong enough to travel. His aim in fleeing was to
obtain an independent state:
to meet the upper levels-the international community and the U.N.-to
solve the problem of land. I don't ever want to see Vietnamese [people]
again, until this problem is solved. I abandoned my wife, my house, my
children. I fled to
to show the U.N. about our struggle for the
. I want the U.N. to [delineate] clearly the map: which is the area of
the ethnic minorities, and which is the area of the Vietnamese. I want
the international community to understand clearly that I didn't come
here to get rich or to resettle abroad. We just want our land. When we
have our land, we can support our families and live freely. We want the
world to know that we want justice. We want our own country.
most of the highlanders fleeing to
expressed little interest in resettlement abroad; instead, they said
they had fled in search of a secure place, or in hopes that the U.N.
would offer political support for the independence movement. Beginning
in June 2001, groups of highlanders fled to
in hopes of resettlement abroad. Some of the earlier arrivals in the
camps eventually began to consider resettlement as well, particularly
once they learned from UNHCR staff that the U.N. would not be assisting
them in establishing an independent state. Most of those who arrived
during the month of July – more than one hundred total – had not
attended the demonstrations, but had numerous longstanding complaints
about conditions in the highlands and hopes for an independent state or
A third wave of highlanders fled to
in late August and during September, with more than one hundred arriving
the last week in August alone.
Large groups of Jarai from Ea Sup and Ea H'leo districts of Dak Lak fled
at that time in order to avoid repressive tactics such as forced
oath-swearing procedures such as the "goat's blood ceremonies"
and other repressive tactics by the authorities. Dozens of others from
Gia Lai arrived around the same time, reporting that they had been in
since just after the protests-either in the forest or in pits under
people's houses in the villages-until they were able to escape. At the
end of September, a first group of refugees from Kontum was able to make
it across to refugee camps in Ratanakiri. Others, who were in prison
from February through May escaped as soon as they were strong enough to
make the journey to
Highlanders who fled from Dak Lak at the end of November 2001 reported
that the travel restrictions and increased presence of security
forces-intended to hamper political or religious activities and refugee
flows-was also interfering with normal economic activities such as
farming or selling goods. By the end of the year, some highlanders were
not only because of fear of arrest or religious and political
repression, but also because it was becoming increasingly difficult for
many to make a living.
the end of 2001, groups of highlanders arrived in
with reports that repression of Christians had worsened further. In
December 2001, dozens of Montagnard Christians were rounded up and
detained while trying to organize Christmas ceremonies and prayer
services. Additional arrests of church leaders were reported in Gia Lai
and Dak Lak in January and February 2002, prompting more villagers to
In late 2001 and early 2002, the UNHCR sites began to see a new (albeit
small) flow of highlanders. These fled because of reprisals or threats
of arrest from Vietnamese authorities because they had served as guides
for others attempting to flee to
or they had helped people hiding in the forest in
by giving them food or medicine.
As the one-year anniversary of the unrest in the highlands neared, the
heavy-handed approach of the Vietnamese authorities in the Central
Highlands appeared to be having the opposite effect to that intended.
The more closely villagers were monitored to prevent their leaving
, the greater the impetus to escape an increasingly unbearable
situation. Tightening controls at the village level backfired in many
instances; it was just this sort of repression that the highlanders had
been protesting since February 2001. Nonetheless, by February 2002 the
refugee flow came to a virtual standstill when
implemented a new policy of deporting all new refugees.
The resettlement of the thirty-eight highlanders to the
in April 2001 infuriated the Vietnamese government, which in turn put
immense pressure on UNHCR in a meeting in
later that same month. After a meeting with the diplomatic community in
on April 24, 2001, UNHCR Regional Representative Jahanshah Assadi
announced that protection of first asylum rights and voluntary
repatriation would take precedence over third-country resettlement for
the time being.
On May 17, after discussions between Assadi and Cambodian Deputy Prime
Minister Sarkheng in
, UNHCR secured official Cambodian approval to grant temporary asylum to
Montagnard refugees currently in
On July 26, 2001, talks opened between
, and UNHCR in
, to discuss the fate of more than 300 Montagnard refugees who were then
under U.N. protection at the two sites in
. A primary subject of the talks was the potential for a voluntary
repatriation program for the highlanders. The talks broke down after
refused to allow the U.N. to have unrestricted access to the Central
Highlands to monitor the repatriation. The Vietnamese delegation also
questioned the need for any repatriation program to be voluntary,
charging instead that the Montagnard refugees were illegal immigrants in
However, after a second round of talks in
on January 21, 2002,
and UNHCR reached a tripartite agreement on repatriation. The agreement
made no mention of the fact that, under international law, any return of
must be voluntary and that the right of individuals to continue to seek
must be respected.
In addition, the agreement contained few specifications about
post-return monitoring and required UNHCR to obtain permission from
Vietnamese authorities before each visit to the
. Most importantly, while Vietnamese authorities made numerous public
assurances that refugees repatriated to Vietnam would not be punished
for having left the country, the agreement carried no protections for
Evangelical Christians, and in particular, for leaders of the "Tin
Lanh Dega" religion or the movement for land rights and
Within days of signing the agreement,
announced that it had tried and convicted four highlanders who had been
sent back from
in the late April and mid-May 2001 deportations. In addition, Vietnamese
state media reported that Cambodian authorities had forcibly returned
eighty-one highlanders from
. The Vietnamese government made it clear in dozens of press statements
that it did not perceive the highlanders in
as legitimate asylum seekers or refugees, and instead used the word
"illegal migrants" or even "illegal escapees" to
refer to them.
Gia Lai provincial governor Nguyen Van Ha told reporters in February
2002: "They are not asylum seekers or refugees, because we did not
do anything to force them to flee...All of them...illegally crossed the
statement issued by the Vietnamese Embassy in
on February 8, 2002 summed up the stance of the Vietnamese government:
a clear future, these Vietnamese citizens who were deceived and enticed
to make their illegal border crossing are under miserable living
conditions in tents temporarily set up by UNHCR inside Cambodia,
experiencing shortages, diseases and sickness. They are not refugees
because they have never been suppressed, persecuted or discriminated in
. Moreover, their families living in
are longing for their return.
VCP daily, Nhan Dan (The People) offered a description of prison-like
conditions in refugee camps in
. It was based on an interview with a village chief in Dak Mil, who was
escorted to the Mondolkiri UNHCR site by Cambodian and Vietnamese police
to visit refugees there on January 28, 2002:
saw them live a miserable life. They do not have enough rice to eat.
Most of them are suffering from dropsy and malaria. They are kept under
surveillance, so many people want to return home but they cannot escape.
Some families who went there with all their family members could not
escape now because, if only one member of their families escapes, their
relatives will be beaten. The people there will die because of hunger or
disease if they do not return soon.
the signing of the tripartite agreement,
increased its pressure on
and UNHCR to immediately repatriate all of the Vietnamese highlanders in
, who numbered well over 1,000 at that time. As UNHCR made preparations
for a first group of fifteen refugees to voluntarily return to
on February 19, 2002 the tripartite agreement began to crumble, with
demanding an expedited timetable, obstructing UNHCR's pre-return home
visits, and insisting that the repatriation program did not need to be
On February 21, during a visit to
by the Vietnamese deputy prime minister,
reached an agreement in which the two countries agreed to bilaterally
implement the repatriation agreement-with or without UNHCR
involvement-and return all of the highlanders to
by April 30. The following day, Hok Lundy, the director general of the
Cambodian National Police, accompanied the governor of Dak Lak province
and the Vietnamese ambassador to
to the Mondolkiri UNHCR site.
Accompanied by fifty policemen and a fire engine, the delegation entered
the camp, which was surrounded on the periphery by armed Cambodian
soldiers. Using a bullhorn the police summoned the residents of the camp
to meet in a barn usually used for church services. The majority of the
camp population-approximately 400 people-attended the meeting. The
governor of Dak Lak announced that it was time for everyone to return to
, telling them that they had no choice. People should not be afraid, he
said, because they had been tricked by hostile foreign forces into
. As he spoke, the camp population began to chant "Lies,
lies!" The Governor then asked the group, "Who wants to go
back, and who wants to stay?" At that, everyone in the hall rose to
their feet and shouted that they wanted to stay. Cambodian police in
white helmets descended on the crowd, and one officer began to beat
people with an electric truncheon. He had hit five people by the time he
was physically removed from the hall by a UNHCR staff person and
It took twenty minutes to restore order. After several more speeches, in
which Hok Lundy made it clear that there would be no third country
resettlement of anyone from the camps and that people should start
preparing themselves to return to Vietnam, the delegation left the site.
In a subsequent meeting with UNHCR, Hok Lundy reportedly said that there
were going to be some changes in the way the tripartite agreement was to
be implemented. When questioned as to whether setting a deadline for the
return of all Montagnard refugees to
contravened the spirit of the agreement, the Vietnamese ambassador
reportedly said: "Show me the word `voluntary' in that
In a statement on February 23, 2001, UNHCR expressed concerns about the
incident at the Mondolkiri site, the fact that its monitoring team in
the Central Highlands had been refused permission to visit villages of
potential returnees on February 21, and the imposition of a deadline by
for the return of all highlanders from
. "The introduction of a deadline clearly undermines the voluntary
nature of return," UNHCR stated. "In general, UNHCR opposes
visits to refugee camps by officials from the countries they have
fled." For all intents and purposes, the repatriation program was
suspended, for the time being, as
's policy shifted from accepting new refugees to forcibly deporting all
On March 2, the tripartite agreement appeared to be further
deteriorating, when a group of sixty-one highlanders in UNHCR's
Ratanakiri site, who had expressed interest in voluntary repatriation,
were escorted back to Vietnam in a bilateral operation conducted by
Cambodian and Vietnamese authorities without the involvement of UNHCR.
That same day, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sarkheng defended
national-level instructions to Ratanakiri provincial authorities to
deport a second group of sixty-three refugees, who had just arrived in
Ratanakiri. "We did not violate any agreement with UNHCR," he
said. "They are illegal immigrants, we must send them back. Every
country in the world sends back illegal immigrants who cross their
borders. This country belongs to
, not to UNHCR."
The final blow to the tripartite agreement came on March 21, 2002. Over
the objections of UNHCR field staff, Vietnamese authorities transported
a delegation of more than 400 people in twelve tour buses from
to the Mondolkiri UNHCR site to pressure the refugees to return to
. While many of the visitors were relatives of the refugees, UNHCR
officials estimated that as many as one hundred were Vietnamese
officials. Several dozen armed Cambodian policemen accompanied the
delegation, which was allowed to seek out individual refugees and make
searches of their huts. Cambodian police brought out their guns and
electric batons, but did not use them, as delegation members threatened
and manhandled UNHCR staffpersons and refugees. In response to the
incident, on March 22 UNHCR announced its withdrawal from the tripartite
agreement and formally terminated its involvement with the repatriation
: Arrest, Mistreatment and Forced Return
than 500 Montagnard refugees who fled to
in the year following the February 2001 protests were forcibly returned
. Human Rights Watch received reports that some of the
returnees-particularly those who led others to flee-were beaten and
imprisoned upon return to
who were forcibly returned were allowed to return to their homes, but
placed under heavy surveillance or house arrest. Some were forced to
tell others in their villages not to go to
and to say that conditions in the UNHCR camps were very poor.
The families of those who have fled were placed under intense pressure,
as described by a Mnong man from Dak Lak:
police are watching our families and constantly asking where we are,
pressing our families to get us to return and report on us to the
police. There are many police and soldiers in our villages-they've
established a police post in our village.
in October and November 2001 described being shown a video, allegedly of
the UNHCR sites in
, at public meetings organized by local authorities. The video showed
thin, sickly refugees and stated that there was inadequate food, medical
care and shelter at the camps.
In many cases, there was evident close cooperation between Cambodian and
Vietnamese authorities in deporting and persecuting refugees, with fees
paid on occasion to Cambodian civilians or policemen who turned over
refugees to Vietnamese authorities. A partial list of forced returns
or arrests in
of highlanders seeking to flee since February 2001 includes the
On March 26, 2001, the first deputy police commissioner of Mondolkiri
province, accompanied by the commander of the provincial Gendarmerie,
transported nineteen ethnic Jarai men to the Vietnamese border. The
Cambodian authorities then signed documents, together with their
Vietnamese counterparts, authorizing the transfer. The group was
arrested by Vietnamese police, beaten and detained in the provincial
police station and then imprisoned in Chi Hoa prison in
Ho Chi Minh City
for a week before being released to their villages, where they were
placed under heavy surveillance.
· On April 25, 2001 twenty-four
from Buon Dha Prong in Dak Lak were arrested in
while trying to flee to
. Members of the group were beaten, kicked, handcuffed, and jailed for a
week at the district police station. Afterwards nine were sent to the
provincial prisons in Pleiku and Buon Ma Thuot; the rest were placed
under surveillance and prohibited from leaving their villages.
· On April 30, 2001, thirty-two Ede and Jarai from
district, Gia Lai and Buon Dha Ea Bong, Dak Lak were forcibly returned
from Cambodia to Vietnam. Nine members of the group were reportedly
imprisoned. In February 2002, two members of the group-Siu Beng and Siu
Be-were sentenced to six and a half years and three and a half years of
imprisonment respectively, on charges of "organizing illegal
migrations." The fact that the group was forced back by Cambodian
police, the dates of the return, and the number of returnees was
confirmed in a January 2002 article in the Vietnamese government daily,
Nhan Dan (The People).
· On May 8, Y Lim (also known as Dien Y Lien), his wife Maria Nam Linh
and their five children-ethnic Mnong refugees who had received official
UNHCR protection documents on April 25-were loaded onto a truck in
Mondolkiri by Cambodian police and sent back to Vietnam. On April 26,
May 1 and again on May 2, UNHCR met with Mondolkiri provincial
authorities to secure assurances that persons seeking asylum would not
be forcibly returned. The day before the family of seven was forcibly
returned, Director General of the National Police Hok Lundy met with
U.S. Ambassador Kent Wiedemann and assured him that no deportations
would take place.
· On May 10, 2001, thirty-two highlanders were forced back from Koh
Nhek district, Mondolkiri. After being handed over to Vietnamese
authorities, the refugees were detained for one night at the border,
where they were interrogated intensively about their reasons for trying
and their involvement with the demonstrations. Some were slapped during
the questioning. They were then transported to the prison in Buon Ma
Thuot, where they were held for five nights and questioned further. The
group was then sent to T-20 prison in Pleiku. Some were released after
several days, while others were held up to one month. Three members of
the group who were perceived to be most politically active remained in
prison as of November, 2001.
· On May 15, 2001, Cambodian district and provincial police in
Ratanakiri province accompanied three vehicles carrying sixty-three
highlanders to the Vietnamese border, where the group was deported.
Vietnamese officials detained them for one night at the border, where
they were interrogated and some members of the group were beaten. The
entire group was then transported to T-20 prison in Pleiku, where
members of the group were held for different lengths of time. In January
2002, two members of the group-Kpa Hling and Hnoch-were tried and
convicted of organizing illegal migrations and sentenced to five and a
half years of imprisonment.
· On May 31,
group of seven Jarai were arrested in
three kilometers from the Ratanakiri border when they became afraid and
scattered. Two made it to
but five were arrested by Vietnamese authorities.
As of November 2001 at least one of the five was still in prison; it was
expected that he could be held for a long time.
· In June 2001, nineteen highlanders were reportedly imprisoned in Dak
Lak after being returned from
. Their current location is unknown.
· In July 2001, six
from Buon Sup, who had fled to
, were sent back to Dak Lak. At first they were allowed to return to
their homes in Dak Lak but later they were apprehended during the night
and imprisoned in a "dark place."
· On August 3, 2001, three
men from Buon Cuor Knia who tried to escape to
in July were beaten severely by public security officers. Two of the men
subsequently went missing on August 8; their whereabouts as of March
2002 were unknown. The remaining six were reportedly fearful for their
· In late August 2001, fifty people who fled Krong Pac district in Dak
Lak were reportedly returned to Vietnam by Cambodian authorities. As of
early September, these fifty people were being held incommunicado at an
There was no further information by March 2002.
· On September 24,
large group of ethnic Jarai who were attempting to flee from Gia Lai and
Kontum provinces to
were intercepted by Cambodian border police in Ratanakiri. The Cambodian
police fired over the group's heads. Most of the group managed to
escape, but eight were arrested, beaten and handed over to Vietnamese
police in exchange for U.S. $300. The eight were then sent back to
; their whereabouts as of February 2002 were unknown. Ironically, the
next morning another group of Cambodian border police escorted the
remaining sixty-eight members of the group of refugees to the UNHCR site
in Ratanakiri provincial town.
· On December 28, 2001, Cambodian authorities in Mondolkiri province
forced back 167 highlanders, who had fled across the border from
after dozens of Montagnard Christians were rounded up and detained in
while trying to organize Christmas ceremonies and prayer services.
While some of the women in the group forced back to
subsequently returned to their villages, a number of the men were still
missing as of March 2002.
· In March 2002, there were unconfirmed reports that eighty-one
highlanders had fled into
, where they were arrested and forced back to
. The official Vietnamese army newspaper, Quan Doi Nhan Dan, carried an
article on February
which the reporter said he had met members of the group of eighty-one
highlanders deported from Cambodia, some who had returned voluntarily
and others "who had been sent back by Cambodian border guards or
been saved by Vietnamese forces."
· On March 2, 2002 Ratanakiri provincial police stated they were
following orders from National Police headquarters when they forced back
a group of sixty-three refugees to
over the objections of UNHCR, which was denied access to the group.
· On March 15, 2002, thirty-five highlanders were deported from
Mondolkiri province to
. The VCP daily, Nhan Dan (The People) reported that Mondolkiri
provincial authorities returned the group to the Cambodia-Vietnam
border, where they were "welcomed at the border gate by Gia Lai
provincial authorities before they rejoined their families."441
authorities are suspicious of many people, but mainly of Christian
pastors, evangelists and church elders in all villages where there are
Christian believers. They accused pastors and church leaders of planning
Christmas celebrations in order to organize escapes to
. Then, since December they have seized many people in an extra-legal
manner, coming under cover of darkness, without arrest warrants. Some
people, after being beaten are interrogated non-stop for two or three
days straight and then sent home.... Others, such as A.T., who was
seized on February 6-until now his family has no idea where he is.
Protestant church leader, Dak Lak, February 23, 2002
the end of
response to increasing numbers of highlanders fleeing to U.N. refugee
, the Vietnamese authorities began an organized effort to increase
pressure on villagers to swear loyalty to the government and renounce
their religion and politics.
Periodic detention or placement of people under house arrest continued
to be reported in the highlands from September 2001 through early 2002.
This often consisted of the temporary detention of large groups of
refugees who had been forcibly deported from
, with the leaders or guides of the groups singled out for longer prison
terms. Many evangelical Protestant leaders and church elders continued
to be summoned throughout the year for interrogation or "working
sessions" with the police, where they were questioned about their
religious and political activities and ordered not to organize
gatherings for religious services.
During and after the visit of Party Secretary Nông Dúc Manh to Gia Lai
and Dak Lak in September 2001, eight Jarai were reportedly arrested in
district, Gia Lai. As of March 2002, their whereabouts were unknown.
Human Rights Watch received reports of additional arrests in September
in Mang Yang district, Dak Lak, where local authorities arrested
fifty-eight highlanders. They sent thirty-four to the district jail and
the rest to the commune police headquarters, where they were ordered to
perform labor and sign documents pledging to cease all activities with
Kok Ksor and renouncing evangelical Christianity. As of March 2002 some
of the detainees had not returned to their villages.
Another round of arrests was reported in October and November 2001, when
ten highlanders were detained in Dak Doa and
districts of Gia Lai, and in Dak Mil and Krong Pac districts, Dak Lak.
Their whereabouts as of March 2002 were unknown.
In late January and early February 2002, Human Rights Watch received
reports of numerous arrests. These included the detention of at least
seven church leaders in Dak Doa district of Gia Lai and Cu Ebur, Buon
Don, Krong Buk, and Cu Mgar districts of Dak Lak. Another eight
highlanders were arrested on February
Ea H'leo. As of the end of February, two had returned to their villages
but the whereabouts of the rest was unknown.
Human Rights Watch received reports through March 2002 that the
Vietnamese authorities were continuing to ban large religious gatherings
and pressure Christians to renounce their religion in many places,
including Ea H'leo, Cu Mgar, Buon Don, Mdrak and Ea Sup districts of Dak
Lak; Ayun Pa, Phu Thien, An Khe districts of Gia Lai; Dak Ha and Sa Thay
districts of Kontum; and Lam Ha and Lac Duong districts of Lam Dong.
As more highlanders fled to
, in September 2001 Vietnamese authorities started a new campaign,
forcing the heads of households in many villages to sign documents to
guarantee that their family members would not attempt to flee to
or participate in political organizing.
In December 2001, MFI announced that thousands of highlanders would be
conducting Christmas prayer vigils on December 24-25. On December 10,
twenty minority church leaders from the Central Highlands were summoned
, where they were warned against using religion to undermine national
unity. The minority pastors were asked to publicly express support for
the VCP's policies on religion and call for the maintenance of social
During the third week of December, dozens of local "house
church" leaders were rounded up and detained throughout the Central
Highlands to prevent them from conducting Christmas services. More than
160 highlanders attempting to flee to
at that time were arrested and deported back to
While many of the women subsequently returned to their villages, the
whereabouts of some of the men was still unknown as of late March 2002.
Official efforts to thwart Christmas celebrations included the
On December 22,
Ea H'leo district of Dak Lak, local authorities summoned Protestant
church pastors and elders. They were pressured to sign agreements not to
conduct Christmas celebrations and told that gatherings outside their
homes were illegal. Security police disbanded, disrupted or monitored
Christmas gatherings in Ea Qui, Diai Giang, Ea Drang, and Ea H'leo
· On December
district, Gia Lai, commune and village police and a village chief
apprehended a minority Christian, beat him, and made him do forced labor
at the commune office. On December 24 and 25 the authorities went house
by house to warn people not to gather for Christmas ceremonies outside
their homes. The authorities in one commune summoned minority church
leaders to attend a seminar on Decree No. 26 (concerning religious
activities) on December 24.
· On December 23, soldiers and police burst into a church service in
Phu Thien district, Gia Lai and accused the congregation of being
"Dega Christians." The leader of the service, who was filling
in for a church elder who had been arrested, was detained at the commune
office for two days and interrogated.
· On December 23, security and traffic police and soldiers surrounded
and disbanded a Christmas gathering in An Khe district, Gia Lai.
Afterwards, church leaders were summoned by local authorities, who
accused them of organizing illegal Christmas services. The church
leaders were told that churches could no longer meet each week for
· On December 23, district security police in Dak Ha district, Kontum,
warned local Christians not to observe Christmas in groups. Several
church leaders were summoned to sign pledges not to organize ceremonies.
· On December
Kontum provincial town, police and government officials attempted to
prevent people from entering a church, and videotaped the service. Three
church leaders were summoned over the next two days for videotaped
interrogation sessions with the district secretary and the chairman of
the VCP Fatherland Front.
· On December
Sa Thay district, Kontum, police entered the home of a church leader.
They confiscated his Bible and interrogated and warned him against
organizing any religious gatherings.
· On December
Dakbla commune, Kontum, police and local officials detained a Christian
who was traveling to the next commune. They confiscated his Bible,
hymnbook and motorcycle on charges that he was illegally propagating
religion. That evening police searched the homes of several Christians
in the adjoining commune.
· On December 22, local officials summoned church elders from three
communes in Mdrak district, Dak Lak and told them they were prohibited
from organizing groups of people for Christmas ceremonies or church
meetings. In one commune, church elders were pressured to sign pledges
that they would no longer gather people in groups. On December
the same district, local officials terminated a Christmas service.
· After Christmas 2001, authorities no longer permitted Christians to
gather in a church in Krong No commune, Lak district, Dak Lak.
· In Lam Dong, authorities banned services in churches in three
communes in Lac Duong district after Christmas, and restricted religious
gatherings to no more than ten people. In early February 2002, the
authorities issued a citation for a church meeting in the same district
and confiscated seven Bibles and hymnbooks. The pastor was summoned for
interrogation and church services were terminated from that time.
As February 2002 and the first anniversary of the protests approached,
extra benefits were given out in the highlands to commemorate Tet, the
Vietnamese New Year. Cambodian and Vietnamese officials allowed some
highlanders to freely cross the border to visit their relatives in the
refugee camps at that time, deliver New Year's gifts, and encourage
their relatives to go back to
Despite these gestures, highlanders interviewed by Human Rights Watch
and Western reporters in February 2002 reported that the actual
situation had not improved. They cited ongoing abuses including
harassment of Christians, mistreatment of refugees from
, and a repressive police presence in the villages.
During a government-organized press tour to the
conducted in mid-February 2002, Jarai women wept as they told foreign
journalists about ongoing violations and their fears of further
reprisals by the government. "They follow us and watch us all the
time," a Jarai woman told reporters in
district, Gia Lai on February 19, 2002. She said she feared that her
husband, who fled to
after the protests, would be arrested if he returned to
Another woman told reporters: "We tried to have a Protestant
gathering and the government wouldn't allow it. The government doesn't
accept our religion."
Members of the first group of refugees who returned to Kontum on
February 19 under a UNHCR repatriation program expressed concerns about
their safety after their return.
Another man told reporters that he was arrested and beaten by Vietnamese
border guards and authorities in his village the previous year when he
attempted to flee to
A Jarai man and former FULRO supporter attempted to
on February 14, 2002, together with his wife and four children, acting
on his own, not under U.N. auspices. On his return to
, however, he found such repression in his village in Gia Lai that he
immediately turned around and fled back to
"There were police and soldiers all over the place, and my
relatives told me they had been there the whole past year," he told
Human Rights Watch after reaching
again. The church in his village, which had been used every Sunday since
1995, had been closed. Villagers told him Christians suffered much more
repression than before the demonstrations, with many regularly fined or
called by police to do forced labor making fences or cutting grass at
the commune center. Christians who had held positions in the government
had been fired, he was told, and many Christians had been cut out of
government rice distribution programs.
"All of these were new developments since the demonstrations,"
the man said. "My relatives warned me to flee immediately. They
said the police had been looking for me ever since I first left."
A Montagnard church leader summoned up the atmosphere in a note smuggled
out of the Central Highlands at the end of February 2002:
the authorities have sent soldiers to various villages. They forbid
Christians to meet for worship, or to read the Bible, or to pray before
eating, or sing Christian songs. They forbid anything to do with
Christianity. They are sowing confusion, suspicion and fear among the
XV. CASE STUDY: THE CHURCH BURNING AND KILLING BY SECURITY FORCES IN PLEI
the police ordered some Vietnamese civilians to ransack and destroy the
church with axes. They used a cable tied to a vehicle to topple it and
the soldiers used their gun butts. Then they forced the ethnic Jarai to
burn it. The police made the Jarai pour five liters of gasoline and ten
liters of machine oil on the church, but they couldn't get it to burn.
So then the police took over and they set fire to it. Everyone was
crying-for the dead and wounded, and for the church.
Jarai man from Plei Lao, June 28, 2001
weeks after the February 2001 protests in the provincial towns of the
, a major confrontation took place between Vietnamese security forces
and several hundred ethnic Jarai civilians in Plei Lao village, located
about thirty-five kilometers from Pleiku in Gia Lai. On March 10, 2001,
hundreds of police and soldiers, who were apparently attempting to break
up a peaceful all-night prayer service, that villagers acknowledged
included discussions of independence, fired into a crowd of ethnic
Jarai, killing at least one villager. The police then burned down the
church and arrested dozens of villagers, one of whom-Siu Boc-was
subsequently tried and sentenced to eleven years in prison for
"disrupting security." His trial was held in Pleiku in
The exact circumstances of what happened at Plei Lao remain unclear.
Human Rights Watch has obtained eyewitness accounts from villagers whose
testimonies suggest excessive use of force by police. It appears that
villagers did try to block traffic and interfere with arrests that they
believed were unfair. They also acknowledge throwing rocks at a police
jeep after security forces arrested one villager. No impartial observers
were present to assess whether the police decision to open fire was in
any way proportional to the threat they faced from an angry crowd, and
the government has allowed no access to the site by independent
observers since the incident. The police also then proceeded to burn
down a church, an indefensible act under any circumstances.
Provincial and district authorities were clearly extremely apprehensive
about the large number of Jarai who began to gather for an extended
prayer meeting at the church in Plei Lao, beginning in early March.
Villagers told Human Rights Watch they were praying for protection
during a time of extreme duress after the February protests, when
villages were flooded with police and soldiers. The authorities, for
their part, were wary of some of the political content of the church
services. Some of the villagers reportedly had organized small groups to
monitor and observe the police when and if they entered the village, to
try to prevent authorities from dispersing religious meetings or
carrying out arrests. Photographs of Plei Lao taken on March 10,
obtained by Human Rights Watch, show that at least one of the access
roads to the village appears to have been partially blocked by a farm
cart, most likely dragged into the road by villagers.
interviews conducted in June and October 2001 by Human Rights Watch with
more than a dozen eyewitnesses to the incident at Plei Lao, villagers
gave equal weight to the problems of land confiscation and religious
repression as underlying causes of the turmoil that erupted not only in
the streets of the provincial towns, but in their hamlet of 400 people,
in early 2001.
Church at Plei Lao
March 2001, Plei Lao stood out among other villages in Nhon
Chu Se District
, Gia Lai. It was the only village in the commune that had a church
building-a simple wooden and thatch structure that villagers had built
in July 2000. Several hundred Plei Lao residents-more than half the
village-gathered there each Sunday. Once a month villagers from a dozen
other hamlets in Nhon Hoa commune would gather at Plei Lao for larger
Elders from Plei Lao say that the Jarai there have been Christians since
1974, when a Jarai man brought the religion to the village.
"Christianity did not come to Plei Lao from foreigners," a
Plei Lao villager told Human Rights Watch. "The Jarai became
Christians because we saw that religion could help us have harmony in
the family. God could protect us."
Since the mid-1970s, villagers said, local authorities had harassed
villagers for practicing Christianity, sometimes detaining and
interrogating religious followers. Nonetheless, in July 2000, villagers
were able to build a sizable church (12 x
). Local authorities largely turned a blind eye to its construction,
although policemen regularly monitored church services.
In February 2001, hundreds of villagers from Nhon Hoa commune-200 from
Plei Lao alone-joined the demonstrations in Pleiku, leaving their homes
before dawn on the morning of February 2. Most were blocked from
reaching the provincial town, turned back by police at barricades. After
the demonstrations, policemen were posted in the village and
approximately thirty soldiers were dispatched to the commune
In early March, Plei Lao villagers started to hold a prayer meeting at
the church, which went on day and night for ten days-until it was broken
up by security forces. Villagers from more than a dozen surrounding
hamlets joined, swelling the numbers in attendance to more than 500, and
possibly as many as 1,000.
the demonstrations we were afraid all the time," a villager from
Plei Lao told Human Rights Watch. "There were police and soldiers
constantly patrolling in our village. We had many prayer meetings-not
just on Sundays-to pray and respect God and ask for help and
villager explained: "This is our tradition to pray day and night-as
a prayer for help and protection-especially during times when we are
started at 9:00 a.m. and went until 3:00 p.m. In the evening services
commenced again, from 5:00 until 10:00 p.m., when villagers slept for a
while. At 1:00 a.m. villagers would start worshipping again, until dawn.
Villagers said they were not afraid to gather in this manner-despite the
crackdown after February. "We weren't afraid because we were just
meeting to worship, and not to confront the authorities," said one
villager. Nonetheless, after praying, talk often turned to politics, he
said. "When we meet like this, part [of the meeting] is religious
and part is political; for example talking about the fact that this land
is the property of the ethnic minorities and the international community
has approved our proposal for independence already."
at 7:00 p.m. on the evening of March 9, hundreds of soldiers and riot
police surrounded Plei Lao. At 4:00 a.m. on March 10, approximately
sixty members of the security forces entered the village in three jeeps
and several army trucks as villagers were praying in the church.
According to eyewitnesses and photographs obtained by Human Rights
Watch, the police were wearing white helmets and uniforms with
protective padding. They carried plastic shields, batons, electric
truncheons, tear gas canisters, and guns-both AK47 assault rifles and
revolvers. Some of the soldiers were dressed in camouflage uniforms,
rather than the usual olive green.
S, a young Jarai man, was sleeping in a hammock in a coffee plantation
on the edge of the village. Awoken by the soldiers, he tried to run to
warn the villagers in the church, but the police caught him. He was
bound, gagged and put into one of three police jeeps. The rest of the
villagers were unaware that anyone had been arrested, because it was
Many of the men continued praying in the church, but a contingent of
women and girls went out to stand or sit across the road from the
security forces, silently watching them. Some of the women wept as they
saw more police and soldiers arrive. "We wanted to protect the
church," said one man. "We sent the women to guard the road
because we thought the police wouldn't hit or arrest the women."
During the night more security reinforcements were called in from
Pleiku, villagers said, with hundreds of police and soldiers posted on
the perimeter of the village by daybreak, but not all entering the
With the first light of dawn, some villagers realized that S had been
arrested and was handcuffed in the police vehicle. A major confrontation
broke out as about sixty villagers crowded around the jeep, trying to
pull S out. The police fired tear gas and beat people with their batons.
One eyewitness described what happened:
worshipped until 4:00 a.m., when the soldiers came, shining their
flashlights. We were praying at the time. The people tried to stop the
soldiers, and told them we were praying. Some of us got close to the
police jeep. When it got light, I saw one person handcuffed and gagged
inside. His name is S. I don't know if he'd left the church or if they'd
arrested him on the road. We tried to open the door to get him out. When
the people hadn't yet gotten S out of the jeep, the police beat his
sister until blood came out of her mouth. She was screaming for them to
release her brother. She didn't hit the police. The police attacked
first. They hit her with an electric baton and with their fists. They
hit other people nearby. The people fought back.
the people got S out of the jeep the police fired into the air. Then
more police and soldiers came. They fired tear gas into the crowd and
beat some of the people badly. Many people ran. Then the police lowered
their guns and fired at people running away. Some people fought back and
attacked the jeep. Some threw rocks and broke the jeep's mirror.
nineteen-year-old boy who was very close to the police jeep, offered
this description of what happened:
police and soldiers arrested one guy and gagged him so he could not
speak. They handcuffed him and put him in their car. The people were
angry and hit the car with rocks, breaking the mirror. The police fired
tear gas. People carrying babies on their backs ran. The police used
electric batons to shock some of the people. The tear gas was too thick.
was about five meters from the vehicle. The people surrounded the car
and tried the pull S out. The police beat the hands of the people trying
to pull him out. The people weren't hitting the police, just trying to
drag S out. There were both men and women trying to do this. There was a
lot of smoke from the tear gas-it was hard to see. People were choking
and gagging and dizzy. Some people were screaming; others carrying
children in their arms were crying.
the people pulled S out of the car the police fired more tear gas and
tried to prevent the people from taking him away. The shooting started
when we ran. I don't know if they fired first into the air or not-but I
know one person was shot in the leg. The people were able to get S into
a house and cut off his handcuffs.
those shot was Rmah Blin, thirty-three, from Plei Luh Yo. Police took
him to the provincial hospital in Pleiku, where he died at 2:00 p.m. the
same day. Seventeen people were injured from being beaten with batons or
electric truncheons, and several sustained bullet wounds.
the shooting, the police conducted a house-to-house search in Plei Lao
and gathered all the villagers near the church. Approximately twenty
people from Plei Lao alone were arrested and handcuffed. Some were sent
for questioning at the commune headquarters for one to three days, while
others were sent to T-20 prison in Pleiku.
The dying and wounded were laid out near the church before being sent to
hospital. The police then ordered the Jarai to burn down the church. One
witness, who was arrested and sent to the commune headquarters
afterwards, described the church burning and the condition of a number
of the victims:
they burned the church I was there, handcuffed. It happened around 12:00
noon. The police gathered everyone near the church, including those who
were tied and handcuffed.
the police ordered some Vietnamese civilians to ransack and destroy the
church with axes. They used a cable tied to a vehicle to topple it and
the soldiers used their gun butts. Then they forced the ethnic Jarai to
burn it. The police made the Jarai pour five liters of gasoline and ten
liters of machine oil on the church, but they couldn't get it to burn.
So then the police took over and they set fire to it. Everyone was
crying-for the dead and wounded, and for the church.
wounded people were laid out nearby. One person with a bullet in his
forehead didn't die. Another with a bullet in his head died later in
Pleiku hospital. Another shot in both legs didn't die. After they burned
the church the police took the wounded people for treatment, some to the
district hospital and some to the provincial hospital.
the police put fresh earth over the ashes and smoothed it so outsiders
couldn't tell there had ever been a church there.
said that approximately seventy men were arrested as a result of the
March 10 incident. At least eleven men-six people from Plei Lao and five
from Plei Kia-were sent for questioning at the commune headquarters.
They were kicked and beaten by police officers in the truck along the
way to the police station, but not at the police station itself.
They were interrogated until around midnight on the night of March 10,
and then released.
A young man who was sent to the commune office for interrogation
described the arrests:
was one of those arrested. I hadn't fought back or hit the police-I was
too afraid. I just wanted to protect the church and prevent the police
from going there. They were searching the whole village and entered each
house. Around 9:00 a.m. they arrested me, near the church. They tied my
hands behind my back, put me in the jeep, and kicked and hit me. When
they arrested me I had blacked out-I think from the gas, or maybe from
being shocked with an electric baton. I only came to when they threw me
in the jeep to take me to the commune office. My mother and uncle were
crying. The police said they were taking me to hospital but they took me
to the commune office, where they took my photograph and interrogated
police beat and kicked some of those arrested until they were covered in
blood, calling us Dega. They beat us in the vehicle on the way to the
commune office. In the commune office I saw many people who were bloody
asked me about our work, what we were doing, who the political leaders
were. I told them we had no leaders, that all of us had woken up at the
same time to struggle together. They didn't accept that and forced us to
talk. So I told them the names of the two political leaders in my
midnight they let me go, and my sister took me home. It was only then
that I realized that the church had been burned down, and my uncle-who
had cried when I was taken away that morning-had been arrested. He had
not returned to the village as of the time I fled to
than twenty others were sent for questioning and detention at the
provincial prison in Pleiku. These included twelve villagers from Plei
Lao, of whom four people-Siu Boc, Siu Thuc, Kpa Thop, and Siu Grih-had
not returned as of November 2001. Fourteen people from Plei Kia were
arrested and sent either to the district or the provincial police
stations, but most were reportedly back in the village as of mid-May.
Three people from Plei Bo I were sent to prison in Pleiku and had not
returned as of May. Soldiers also reportedly took away a fourth person
from Plei Bo I, who had been shot in both legs. "They said they
were taking him to hospital, but we think he went to prison," a
villager told Human Rights Watch. "He was in the hospital first,
but when his family went to see him there the police said he'd been sent
Those who were arrested and then released a month or two later from
prison in Pleiku said that they had been beaten after first arriving in
prison, where they were detained in common rooms, not individual cells.
Shackles were not used.
the March 10 confrontation in Plei Lao, police were dispatched to most
of the nearby villages in an attempt to restore order. In at least two
villages, Plei Kli and Plei Djrek, police fired into the air and threw
tear gas canisters as they entered the villages on the afternoon of
March 10, where they carried out arrests.
One person who was shot in the leg in Plei Djrek was brought to the
hospital. Police later arrested him in the hospital and sent him to
prison, where he remained as of September.
In the weeks following March 10, commune and district authorities and
local police conducted daily meetings in Plei Lao and the surrounding
villages, criticizing Kok Ksor and charging that people were using
religious services to conduct political activities.
Soldiers were dispatched to stay in many of the villages in Nhon Hoa
commune, with three soldiers assigned to stay in each of the homes of
families who were suspected of being church leaders or Kok Ksor
supporters. In the surrounding hamlets, the military presence was also
increased, but primarily at night, in order to prevent people from
trying to escape. Villagers interviewed by Human Rights Watch in June
2001 said that the stepped up military presence continued in Nhon Hoa
commune for months.
Villagers did not report any mistreatment from the soldiers, who ate
separately from the villagers. But the surveillance was heavy: "If
we went to our fields too often, or stayed in the house too much, they
would tell us not to do that," said one Plei Lao villager.
Those who returned to the village after being detained in Pleiku or the
commune office were placed under even more scrutiny. They were not
allowed to leave their houses when the police were in the village
although some were able to slip off to their fields when the police were
The version of the role of the military offered by the official state
media was significantly different. On March 15,
group of correspondents from the Quan Doi Nhan Dan (People's Army
Daily) newspaper visited Plei Lao and offered this description of the
went to Lao Hamlet, one of the "hot spots" in Gia Lai. The
local public roads were quite wide. Coffee and pepper orchards were
green and flourishing. Children have since returned to school. The local
people's life is back to normal.
the roads, troops from the K52 Work Team under the Gia Lai Military
Command were working with the local people in rebuilding roads, watering
the coffee orchards, and picking pepper... The people's life was so
peaceful. No more cheating by the representatives of the so-called
"the Autonomous Government of Dega"....
Hamlet Chief Rmah Kril said: "Our villagers mistakenly listened to
the bad people. Now many people are hungry. I visited every house to
learn about their situation so that the troops can provide rice and
salt. I hope the government will strictly punish those who caused
hardship to the people."
from one villager about military activities in Nhon Hoa commune after
the March 10 incident confirmed that soldiers did carry out some public
service activities, but with the overall goal of surveillance:
Plei Lao the soldiers were helping the people make gardens and fences,
clean the houses. Whatever the people did, they did with them. In Plei
Lao, for families of the arrested people, they'd stay with that family.
The reason was that those were the political struggle people-the
soldiers didn't want others to meet them.
man told Human Rights Watch that after March 10, police would break up
all gatherings of more than four people:
we had five people sitting together, they'd accuse us of having a
political meeting. So we didn't meet each other so much. They would
watch each house. If they saw four or five people together in a house
they'd arrest and interrogate them. From that time we never dared
worship in groups, except in the family.
services stopped as well: "After the incident we stopped going to
church or gathering for religious services and only prayed individually
in our homes," said one man from a village near Plei Lao. "The
people were extremely worried."
In June 2001, Vietnamese state media and court officials announced that
forty-one people would be tried in Gia Lai, including some in connection
with the unrest in
district on March 10.
On September 26, 2001, one Plei Lao villager, Siu Boc, was among seven
highlanders brought to trial in Gia Lai provincial court. He was
sentenced to eleven years in prison, on charges of "disrupting
security" under Article 89 of the penal code.
Although the military presence in Plei Lao persisted for months, a
number of residents were eventually able to escape to
. "I fled because I was afraid," said one person
who safely reached
, after having been beaten and detained at the commune office on March
10. "The soldiers had entered my house four times after the
incident. I was worried they were getting ready to arrest me."
At least six people who attended the Plei Lao meeting were among
sixty-three refugees deported by Cambodian authorities on the night of
May 15-16, 2001. Witnesses reported that several of the highlanders wept
as they were handcuffed by Vietnamese police and taken away.
Two of the deported highlanders had been interrogated at the Nhon Hoa
commune office on March 10; fellow villagers feared the authorities were
preparing to arrest them before their attempted escape to
what he thought would happen to Plei Lao villagers deported from
Cambodia back to Vietnam, one young man from Nhon Hoa commune paused,
gulped, and then said: "The second time they're arrested like this
I can't guess-but maybe they won't release them again. Instead, they may
detain them a long long time. If they don't kill them outright they
might beat them to death, and let them die at home."
note handwritten in Jarai by villagers in Nhon Hoa commune, dated March
20 and obtained by Human Rights Watch, stated:
they've killed and arrested many of us. Since March 10 the people are
very afraid. Some have fled to the forest, others are in hiding
elsewhere, afraid to return to the village to work. The government
doesn't allow us to follow our religion. If we don't follow the
government and continue to conduct our worship meetings, the authorities
said they will arrest us and put us in jail or even shoot and kill like
before. Please let the U.N. and the international organizations know
about this immediately, to protect the people.
in the Vietnamese state media suggest that local government officials
were seriously concerned about the large gathering of highlanders at the
church in Plei Lao in early March. The official version of events at
Plei Lao, as recounted in Quan Doi Nhan Dan (People's Army Daily)
on March 16, was that local authorities had tried to stop villagers from
conducting meetings to discuss ways to "oppose the authorities at
Kok Ksor's instigation."
According to these state press accounts, local "gang leaders"
such as Siu Thuc, Siu Boc, and Siu Grih threatened the local officials
and forced the people to join the February protest:
reactionaries called on the people "to sell all their land,
buffaloes, and cows and to donate the money to the Dega government and
the government will then return everything to the people. Children will
not have to go to school. No more family planning, and so on."
families sold their buffaloes and cows in support of them. When these
reactionaries ran out of money, they confiscated the last can of rice
and last dong from the people. Many families fell into starvation
because of them.
tensions in Plei Lao may have been a factor in the rescheduling of a
government-sponsored press tour planned for Western journalists to the
Central Highlands. On March 9, the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry abruptly
postponed the tour, originally planned to start on March 12.
The Foreign Ministry gave little explanation for the delay, saying only
that local officials were not yet prepared to receive visitors. It is
conceivable, however, that the brewing tensions in Plei Lao were a
factor: on the evening of March 9-the day the tour was cancelled- troops
were being moved into position to surround the hamlet.
Western wire service reporters were not able to visit Plei Lao during
the tour. The first Western wire service reports were published on March
27, 2001. Largely based on official sources and government media
accounts, these reports said that the government had identified three
people as leaders of the disturbances at Plei Lao: Siu Puoh (Boc), Siu
Thuc and Kpa Thap. Together with other "stubborn elements,"
they had been arrested after trying to stop police from destroying a
church. A district official stated that the three men had forced
villagers to donate funds to build the church.
On March 27, the Lao Dong (Labor) state newspaper said that
"troublemakers" had incited villagers to stop working in their
fields, causing food shortages in the district.
In another wire service account, government sources alleged that
hundreds of youth had set up a "no-go zone" in the Central
Highlands as early as October 2000, with villagers in
district forced to act as a "human shield" as part of the
campaign to "declare a breakaway state of Dega." Agence
France-Presse cited Lao Dong in reporting the following:
separatist leaders from among the region's mainly Christian indigenous
minorities had mobilized the youngsters to mount patrols "blocking
off access by outsiders," the trade union daily Lao Dong
(Labor) said...The local authorities had finally moved in to arrest the
"troublemakers" in the village of Plei Lao on March 10 after
they "incited villagers to provoke extremely serious
district were singled out in the report by Lao Dong as being used
as a "gathering place where the troublemakers persistently met to
discuss measures aimed at sparking fresh disturbances through the use of
sticks, knives, stones...."
Human Rights Watch questioned eyewitnesses to the incident at Plei Lao
about the "human shield" report. One Plei Lao resident of Plei
Lao stated that villagers in Plei Lao organized themselves after the
February demonstrations to make sure that no one was arrested:
March 2001, no one was arrested in the village. The people didn't let
them [carry out arrests.] We protected ourselves. We had some youth-when
the police came to investigate or interrogate someone, the youth would
surround them-standing off to the side a bit-to see if they were going
to arrest the person. The youth would say, we demand our rights to our
land, religious freedom, and so on. They wouldn't yell anything, but
simply ask the police why they were here-we're not making a war or
fighting with you. The youth told the police that we don't use violence
in our demands, only our voices. There were many youths who protected in
this way. They didn't carry anything in their hands, but would just
gather near the house of the person being interrogated. This made the
police angry because the youth wouldn't let them carry out arrests. The
police didn't argue with the youth. But if the police had tried to
arrest us, the youth would have taken us back. No one from Pleiku or
outside the village helped organize this-we organized it ourselves. I
don't know if other villages did anything similar.
Nhon Hoa residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they did not
know anything about villagers organizing a "human shield" or
gathering to protect villagers from arrest by police. As one villager
put it, "No, the neighbors would not gather around when the
police entered someone's house to interrogate them. We were afraid, and
kept away when the police came by."
XVI. CASE STUDY: THE GOAT'S BLOOD OATH CEREMONIES IN EA H'LEO
were afraid [the wine] had poison in it and that they wanted to kill off
all of the demonstrators. We remembered about the Bible saying not to
drink blood, and we were afraid that we had violated God.
Jarai man from Ea H'leo, October 30, 2001
in many other parts of the
, immediately after the February 2001 unrest police carried out a number
of arrests in Ea H'leo district, a primarily ethnic Jarai area in Dak
Lak near the Gia Lai border. In March and April 2001, police stepped up
the pressure, regularly summoning dozens of villagers to
police stations for weekly "working sessions" in which they
were intensively interrogated and warned against future religious or
political organizing. When it seemed that the government's message was
not getting through, the authorities instituted even harsher measures to
bear down on political organizing and religious freedom: the
"goat's blood ceremonies," which were conducted in dozens of
villages in Dak Lak beginning in May.
The origins of the ceremonies, which were perhaps provincial officials'
crude approximation of "animist" rituals followed by
non-Christian highlanders, are unknown.
goat's blood ceremonies were conducted in dozens of villages in Ea H'leo
district of Dak Lak, starting in May 2001. The ceremony was also
reported to have taken place in villages in Gia Lai during the latter
half of 2001, but to a lesser extent. Ea H'leo and neighboring Ea Sup
districts of Dak Lak were perhaps targeted because of the high level of
political activism there, combined with the districts' relative
remoteness from the provincial towns.
During the ceremonies, people who had participated in the February 2001
demonstrations were forced to stand up in front of their entire village
and provincial authorities to admit their wrongdoing, pledge to cease
any contacts with outside groups, and renounce their religion. Formal
procedures were staged in dozens of villages, all following a similar
script. Any villager known to have participated in the February
demonstrations would be issued an order ("Giay Trieu Tap")
to attend a "working session" with the local People's
Committee on a certain date. The entire village would assemble on the
appointed day, together with high-ranking government officials and
military and police commanders from the province, district, commune and
village. A blue banner would be erected, reading in some areas:
"Judgment Ceremony of the People who Opposed the Government and
Joined the Demonstrations," and in other areas, "The Ceremony
to Repent from Following Dega Christianity."
Soldiers would surround the village so that no one could elude the
ceremony. Known demonstrators would be required to stand in front of the
banner to read a document prepared by the authorities, in which the
person confessed his wrongdoings, urged others not to follow his
mistakes, agreed to follow the laws of the state or face prosecution,
and renounced Christianity. A slightly different version of the
document, an official pledge (Ban Cam Ket) signed by the district
chief (See Appendix G, p. 190), was given to each participant
afterwards. Then, to seal the pledge, the individual repentant would be
forced to drink rice wine mixed with goat's blood while other villagers
were enlisted to beat ceremonial brass gongs.
While a number of highlanders interviewed by Human Rights Watch said
that they had signed various pledges under duress, they generally said
what they wrote or said did not reflect their true feelings. Much more
disturbing-and humiliating-was the forced drinking of goat's blood. Some
said that as Christians, they believed it was a sin to receive or give
away blood that was not the blood of Jesus.
man, who was able to escape before being forced to participate in the
ceremony, commented: "The police told me that drinking blood with
wine would cleanse my sins and wrongdoings. If we didn't drink, they
would charge that we still opposed the government and that we were not
Another young man who succumbed to the pressure looked dazed and afraid
as he recounted in a monotone what had happened: "They asked us to
drink goat's blood, but we never saw any goat. We wondered where the
blood was from. If we didn't drink it, they would beat us. We didn't
know if it was from a chicken or a dog or what. I am afraid I will have
health problems in the future."
Others were clearly traumatized by the pressure. One man said that
police visited him at home several times after his release from prison
in May. They threatened to throw him back into prison if he didn't agree
to the goat's blood ceremony. "I wanted to kill myself, slit my own
throat because of the pressure," he said. "Sometimes when the
police would come, I'd say kill me, I don't care. Finally I was able to
From May until mid-August, when many participants fled to
, goat's blood ceremonies were conducted in at least two dozen villages
in Ea H'leo district alone.
The ceremonies were reported to have taken place in Ea Sup district as
well as in several districts in Gia Lai.
XVII. CASE STUDY:
ARREST AND TORTURE OF HIGHLANDERS DEPORTED FROM
beat us over our whole body, including our heads. They beat our fingers,
hands, arms, and necks-everywhere. There was no blood because they used
a rubber truncheon. After beating us they took our photographs again.
- Buon Ea Sup resident, October 20, 2001
the last week in March 2001, Cambodian provincial authorities arrested
two groups of highlanders who had fled from Dak Lak to Mondolkiri. One
group of twenty-four ethnic
was transported by helicopter on March 24 to
, where they were eventually screened by UNHCR and resettled in the
A second group of nineteen Jarai men was deported on the night of March
, where they were subsequently arrested, imprisoned, and tortured.
On March 24, during the time both groups were seeking asylum in
, Sao Sokha, commander of the Royal Gendarmerie, conducted a meeting at
the Mondolkiri Police Commissariat to address the issue of "illegal
immigrants." According to one person in attendance at that meeting
Sokha-who was in Mondolkiri to coordinate the transfer of the
twenty-four Ede to Phnom Penh-reportedly ordered provincial authorities
to immediately deport any Vietnamese nationals entering Cambodia: there
was no need to consult with immigration or other central authorities
The difference between the fates of the two groups lay largely in the
fact that foreign diplomats and Cambodian and international press
quickly learned of the existence of the first group. The second group,
from Buon Ea Sup, was silently and secretly deported back to
. This was in violation of the fundamental principle of
non-refoulement-the obligation of states such as
, which are party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, not to return any
person to a country where his or her life or freedom may be threatened.
Ea Sup: Why People Fled
Ea Sup is a village of some 900 ethnic Jarai located eighty kilometers
north of Buon Ma Thuot in Dak Lak. Residents of Buon Ea Sup joined the
February 3 demonstrations for similar reasons to villagers from dozens
of other ethnic minority hamlets in the highlands. The government's
response in Buon Sup duplicated the response in scores of other hamlets.
It was not long before the first group of villagers prepared to flee.
The trigger came in early March, when Ea Sup villagers heard that
arrests were to be carried out on March 18. Several villagers had
already fled to their farm fields or the forest to evade the police
sessions. Over a period of days others slipped out of the village. By
the third week in March, nineteen men had gathered at one spot near the
border, where they crossed over to
on March 21. After only a few days in Koh Nhek district in northern
Mondolkiri, local Cambodian police spotted the group. They were sent to
the commune headquarters for a night and then escorted on foot by
thirteen Cambodian police and soldiers to Koh Nhek district town. The
police confiscated the men's watches, money and other belongings and
then handcuffed each man and put them in a dilapidated pickup truck.
Documents obtained by Human Rights Watch show that on March 25, the
First Deputy Police Commissioner of Mondolkiri province, accompanied by
the commander of the provincial gendarmerie, transported the nineteen
men from Koh Nhek district to the Bou Praing border crossing, where the
group was sent back to
in the early morning hours of March 26. The third deputy governor of
Mondolkiri province signed a document authorizing the transfer, which
was also signed by Vietnamese authorities as the "receivers."
The Mondolkiri Police Commissioner subsequently issued an official
report to Hok Lundy, the Director General of the Cambodian National
Police, dated March 29, on the "transfer and delivery of nineteen
Vietnamese illegal immigrants" into the hands of the provincial
governor, military commander, and police chief of neighboring Dak Lak
province in Vietnam.
At the Post 10 border checkpoint, Vietnamese police took photographs of
the group and interrogated and beat them. "They asked us why we
were so hard headed and stubborn," one of the nineteen Jarai said
later. "They said we had lied to the authorities and opposed the
government. `You've signed the pledges already,' they told us, `but your
attitude is the same.'"
border the group was transferred to a windowless police van and
transported to Buon Ma Thuot in Dak Lak. "There wasn't any water at
all in the van," said one of the group. "We couldn't tell if
it was day or night." In Buon Ma Thuot the group was videotaped and
photographed again, each holding a card with an identification number.
In Buon Ma Thuot the group was beaten even more severely than at the
used a rubber truncheon to beat us over our whole body, including our
heads. They pried open our eyes and pinched and twisted our eyelids and
ears. They asked different people different questions. They accused me
of being stubborn and hard headed and of being the leader of the group;
the one who prepared the escape plan.
beating went on for three or four hours, until 4:00 p.m. when the
detainees were handcuffed, put into a police van, and transported to
Ho Chi Minh City
, a journey that must have taken at least seven hours.
had never seen
Ho Chi Minh City
and did not know where we were. We were not sure what place we had been
taken to but later we learned it was called "Bo An Ninh" and
that it was a secret place.
They stuck us in dark cells there; two people each in tiny cement rooms.
There were no windows, only a small slot for air near the ceiling. There
were many mosquitoes. We spent seven days there. They didn't let us out
during that time other than for interrogation. All water [for drinking,
bathing] was inside the cell, as was the bucket for our excrement.
their time in prison, the men were interrogated four or five times. Some
were not beaten during the questioning while others were slapped or hit;
overall, however, the beatings were not as harsh as in Buon Ma Thuot.
the sessions they pressured us to agree to abandon politics and
religion. We agreed verbally, but not in our hearts. We agreed because
we were afraid of being killed. The Vietnamese police wrote up a report
about our agreement, which they asked us to read into a tape recorder.
The ideas were from the Vietnamese police, not us. They forced us to
read it. The report said that Kok Ksor had no ability to help the ethnic
minorities, that we accepted our wrongdoings and didn't want others to
repeat our mistakes. Ethnic minorities should be one together with the
Vietnamese and should not oppose the government. Finally, it said we
should abandon politics and religion.
seven days in prison in
Ho Chi Minh City
, the police handcuffed the group and
sent them by bus to Dak Lak, where they spent two nights in the
provincial prison. Again, police interrogated the group and forced them
to sign confessions: "They wrote it up and forced us with two hands
to sign it," said one of the Jarai.
Afterwards, all but four of the nineteen Jarai were released, on
condition that their families vouch for them in writing. Once back in
the village, members of the group were not allowed to leave the village
to work in their fields without advance permission, and they were
prohibited from gathering in groups of more than three people. Religious
repression increased throughout the village, with authorities
confiscating guitars and electric organs used in church services as well
as Bibles and hymnals.
The police presence in the village continued strong. In early August the
police issued official "letters of invitation" to the forty
villagers who had participated in the demonstrations to attend a
mandatory "goat's blood ceremony" on August 18. At the time,
provincial authorities were already conducting such ceremonies not only
in Ea Sup district but also in neighboring Ea H'leo district.
To evade further repression, small groups of men from both Ea Sup and Ea
H'leo districts began to slip out of the villages again. On August 24,
seventy-eight men from both districts gathered at a spot near the
Cambodian border, where they hid in the forest for more than a week
without food. On September 1, the group was finally able to cross the
border and reach the UNHCR facility in Mondolkiri. They were exhausted,
frightened, and close to starvation. But at least they were safe for the
Rambo, A.T., Robert R. Reed, Le Trong Cuc, and Michael R. DiGregorio,
eds., "The Challenges of Highland Development in Vietnam,"
East West Center, Center for Natural Resources and Environmental
Studies, Center for Southeast Asia Studies, October 1995.
Booth, G., "RRA Report of Two Communes in the Se San
Watershed," Regional Environmental Technical Assistance
5771-Poverty Reduction & Environmental Management in Remote Greater
Mekong Subregion Watersheds Project (Phase I),
: A Dragon Embattled,
: Frederick A. Praeger, Inc., 1967.
Colm, S., "Land Rights: The Challenge for Ratanakiri's Indigenous
Communities," Watershed: People's Forum on Ecology, Vol. 3,
: Terra, July 1997.
Colm, S., "Sacred Balance: Conserving the Ancestral Lands of
's Indigenous Communities," Indigenous Affairs,
International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs, No. 4,
Commission on Human Rights, Civil and Political Rights, Including the
Question of Religious Intolerance; Addendum: Visit to
, Report submitted by Abdelfattah Amor, December 12, 1998.
Commission on Human Rights, Question of the Human Rights of All
Persons Subjected to Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, Working
Group on Arbitrary Detention, Visit to
, E/CN.4/1995/31/Add.4, January 18, 1995.
Condominas, G., We Have Eaten the Forest: The Story of a
in the Central Highlands of
: Kodansga International, 1994.
Dennis, J., "A Review of National Social Policies,
," Poverty Reduction & Environmental Management in Remote
Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Watersheds Project (Phase I), 2000
Do, V.H., "Resettlement in
: its Effects on Population and Production," International
Seminar on Internal Migration: Implications for Migration Policy in
, May 1998.
Evans, G, "Internal Colonialism in the Central Highlands of
," Sojourn, volume 7, Number 2,
Freedom House, Center for Religious Freedom, "Correct Thinking in
: New Official
Documents Revealing Policy to Repress Tribal Christians," July
Gebert, R., "Gender Issues in the MRC-GTZ Sustainable management of
Resources in the Lower Mekong River Basin Project, Dak Lak Province,
Vietnam," Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit
(GTZ) GmbH and Mekong River Commission Secretariat, Hanoi, 1997.
Hickey, G.C., Free in the
: Ethnohistory of the Vietnamese Central Highlands, 1954-1976.
Hickey, G.C., Shattered World: Adaptation and Survival among
's Highland People's during the Vietnam War,
Hoang, D., "Rural-rural Migration and Redistribution of Labor and
Population in Accordance with Planning for Socio-Economic Development in
," in International Seminar on Internal Migration: Implications
for Migration Policy in Vietnam, Population
, May 1998.
Hoang, N., "The Vietnamese Homeland in the Vietnamese Nation,"
published in Vietnam News Agency, "Vietnam Image of the Community
of 54 Ethnic Groups," The Ethnic Cultures Publishing House, Hanoi,
Huynh, T.X., Vice-Chairwoman, Dak Lak Provincial People's Committee,
"The Impact of Rural-Rural Migration to Resettlement Areas in
," in International Seminar on Internal Migration: Implications
for Migration Policy in
, May 1998.
Jamieson, N., Le Trong Cuc and A. Terry Rambo, "The Development
's Mountains," East-
Special Reports No. 6, 1998.
Jamieson, N., "Ethnic Minorities in
: A Country Profile," Winrock, International,
, March 1996.
Nguyen, M.Q., "Evangelism," Religious Problems in
, The Gioi Publishers, 2001.
Salemink, O., "Customary Law, Land Rights and Internal
Social Sciences, February, 2000.
Salemink, O., "Mois and Maquis: The Invention and Appropriation of
's Montagnards from Sabatier to the CIA," in George W. Stocking,
Jr. (ed.), Colonial Situations: Essays in Ethnographic
Contextualization (History of Anthropology, Vol. 7),
Salemink, O., "The King of Fire and Vietnamese Ethnic Policy in the
," in Don McCaskill and K. Kampe, eds., Development or
Domestication? Indigenous Peoples of
, Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 1997.
Sikor, T., "Decree 327 and the Restoration of Barren Land in the
Vietnamese Highlands," in A. Terry Rambo et al, eds., "The
Challenges of Highland Development in Vietnam," East West Center,
Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, Center for
Southeast Asia Studies, October 1995.
, Committee for Ethnic Minorities and Mountainous Areas, UNDP,
"Framework for External Assistance to Ethnic Minority
, November 1995.
Thayer, N., "Montagnard Army Seeks U.N. Help,"
Post, Sept. 12, 1992.
Tran, N., "A Study of the Rural Poverty in Dak Lak
Province-Vietnam; Constraints and Opportunities for Alleviation,"
Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for
the MSc in Rural Resources and Environmental Policy, Wye College,
University of London, 1999.
Hoa Nie Kdam
, Pham Van Hien, Nay Ky Hiep, "An Assessment of Households'
Economic Conditions Participating in Pilot Project of FLA in Ea Sol
Commune, Ea H'leo District," MRC/GTZ, October 1999.
UNHCR Centre for Documentation and Research, "
: Indigenous Minority Groups in the
," Writenet Paper No. 05/2001, January 2002.
APPENDIX A: THE LAND CONFLICT IN D VILLAGE:
FIRST COMPLAINT, 1995
* * * * * *
- Freedom - Happiness
of the People of D Hamlet
Central Committee on Nationalities of the National Assembly Of the
Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Ministry of the Interior, Hanoi
Loss of land needed to make a living
Committee of [name withheld] Commune, Buon Ma Thuot City,
We are the entire population of D Hamlet, [name withheld] Commune, Buon
Ma Thuot City,
respectfully request the committee and the central government to resolve
the problem we all have in making a living as a result of the following
The population of our hamlet is comprised of farmers of the
minority, totaling 113 households with 615 people. We obeyed the
decisions of the local government in 1985 to move our village and
established a new village on both sides of the road leading to the [name
withheld] reservoir. At that time we had sufficient land on which to
make a living since the illegal occupation of land had not yet begun.
However beginning in 1985 the land belonging to our village was divided.
Villages 2 and 3 and the [name withheld] reservoir were distributed to
ethnic Vietnamese. In addition, a [nursery], currently called the
Science Committee, was established.
In 1990 this area was divided in two, with the western part going to the
nursery and the eastern part to the Science Committee. Since then, the
amount of land left to the village, after these land seizures, only
amounts to ten hectares, which is not enough for 113 households, not to
mention future generations.
In the process of taking the land of our village, in the month of April
1995 the forestry service even used armed units.
As far as the [nursery] goes, we agree with the economic plan of the
state as it was set out in the beginning. But at present, the [nursery]
is not operating according to plan; to the contrary, the trees are being
cut down and the land has been leased out and rent collected on it. In
the meantime we villagers are not allowed to work the land. We resolved
to collectively plant trees on the land but the forestry service would
not allow us to. Therefore we are sending this petition to you and ask
you to investigate the situation and find a resolution that satisfies
the hopes of our people.
At present, the forestry service isn't using the land for its intended
purpose but rather has sold the land taken from the local people to
people from other regions to plant coffee and sugar cane.
As for us, the local population, we lack land because the land was taken
away from us by the forestry service. The service won't allow us to work
the land, and instead will only pay for our labor in plowing the land at
the rate of 100,000 dong for one tenth of a hectare.
As a result of this situation the people of the hamlet of D are in
desperate straits, and before long deaths are going to result either as
a result of starvation or struggles to make a living.
We plead with the committee and the central government to review this
matter urgently so that we can make a normal living.
Peoples Committee of Dak Lak Province
Committee of Buon Ma Thuot City
Peoples Committee of [name withheld] Commune
April 27, 1995
the entire people of D Hamlet
APPENDIX B: THE LAND CONFLICT IN D VILLAGE
* * * * * *
- Freedom - Happiness
the wrongful exploitation of land of the hamlet of D, Buon Ma Thuot
are 644 individuals, in excess of 113 households, constituting all of
people of the hamlet of D, Buon Ma Thuot City,
. We make the following supplemental resolution:
Since long before liberation in 1975, we have lived and worked on the
accordance with the decisions of the City of
Buon Ma Thuot
on relocation, we moved to a new settlement. At that time Comrade [name
withheld], the first secretary of the Communist Party in D Village,
personally was in charge and he promised us that the land on which the
village was formerly located was still ours to cultivate.
1986, [name of cadre withheld] was reassigned to work in the city [of
Buon Ma Thuot]. That same year, the Province decided to take all of the
land of the old village, consisting of
, to establish a provincial forestry service. [Name withheld], the first
secretary of the provincial Party, himself mobilized the people of D
hamlet to turn the land over to the province to establish the forestry
service and on many occasions promised the villagers that we would
become members of or be hired by this new entity. But the people
directly responsible for the forestry service completely ignored the
promises made by their superiors to the villagers.
1990, the land of the forestry service was divided into two separate
zones: the western part was the Science Committee, and the eastern part
was the nursery. We asked the forestry service to contract with the
villagers to plant trees on this area to provide at least a minimal
livelihood for the 644 people, old and young, of our village. But the
forestry service did not agree. We continued to hold our position, and
waited, but they just strung us along and never made a decision.
in 1992, goaded by money, the forestry service signed a contract with
Mr. Y, a Vietnamese from Ha Bac Province who had just moved to Dak Lak,
allowing him to exploit
of land. In addition to planting trees on the hills, Mr. Y arrogantly
planted cashew trees on land belonging to our village.
By 1995 the people of our village understood very clearly that what the
forestry service, and more directly Mr. Y, was doing was neither
contributing anything to the state nor helping the people of our village
make a living. The land taken from our village was not being used at all
for the intended purpose of growing trees, but rather was taken by
people in authority, from parts of a hectare to a few hectares each, to
plant coffee or sold or otherwise used for personal purposes. And under
the disguise of developing agriculture and forestry, the Forestry
Service entered into contracts dividing the land into parcels from less
than a hectare to several hectares with family members and friends from
other provinces to plant coffee, cashews, sugar cane, and vegetables and
then selling the land to others after making a lot of money (list
attached). Thus we were not able to work the land that we had cultivated
for a long, long time.
There were altercations between the two sides, and the Forestry Service
and Mr. Y hired armed forces, about ten people, to guard the recreation
area (the former Science Committee area) and set up a sentry box. They
even fired military-issue weapons to threaten us during one of these
struggles, which terrified our people, so much that they could not work.
The very lives of our 644 people were being directly threatened. We lost
our livelihood when we lost our land. Faced with this disastrous
situation, on July 27, 1995, the entire population of our village signed
a petition which we sent to all of the authorities concerned asking them
to resolve the problem. But since then, five full years have gone by,
and we have received no reply. Our difficult economic situation has
become even worse. Indeed, we have gotten to the point where we may die
of starvation. We are losing all of our confidence.
these reasons we are writing this supplemental petition. We implore you
as a matter of urgency to respond. If this land is indeed not being used
for community purposes, which is the case, we ask that it be returned to
the people of the village to use. In principal the land was released in
1996 to D village to manage, but in name only. We completely disagree
with what the Forestry Service has been doing, letting a few individuals
use the land for personal ends. We ask you to tell us: who agreed to
sign contracts with these individuals? Who is using this land while we
villagers have been brutally thrown out?
more we ask you to save the livelihoods of the villagers of D village,
for which the entire population of the village will thank you.
are the signatures of the villagers.
village, October 24, 2000
For the Self-Governing Committee, [signature]
APPENDIX C: THE
INTERROGATION OF A PROTESTANT CHURCH LEADER, DAK LAK, JULY 2001
* * * * * *
- Freedom - Happiness
General Assembly of the Vietnam Protestant Church
Governing Body of the
name is N, born
[village and commune withheld], Buon Don District,
. I wish to report the following events:
At 6:30 in the morning on July 18, 2001 I received a summons from the
office of the District Police of Buon Don, signed by the chief of the
district police force, Mr. P. The topic was the practice of religion in
[village and commune names withheld]. I began my visits to the police
station on July 18, 2001. I was questioned by Mr. H. He first stated to
me: I have summoned you here for questioning and there is no time limit
on this work; it can last from two to three months and only when I'm
finished will it be over. I have been to the police station eight days
already, leaving home in the morning and returning in the afternoon,
using a liter of gasoline each day. Those were on the 18th, 19th, 20th,
23rd, 24th, 26th, 27th, and 28th. I must continue going, and was told I
had to buy a pen with my own funds.
1. At my first meeting with H, he told me to write a full report on (1)
when the church governing body in [commune name withheld] was
established, (2) who was the chairman, (3) who was the deputy chairman,
(4) who was secretary, (5) who was the treasurer, and who were the other
members and their positions. I told him that we hadn't elected a
governing body because the government had not yet permitted it. Mr. H
then asked me, your name is on the governing board, who chose you for
this position? I told him that Ama T had selected me to assist him in
the church on occasions such as weddings and funerals etc.
2. H asked me, why are you teaching religion when you're not a pastor? I
responded, in our commune, Ama T is the teacher, but if he is sick or
busy with other work, he has me read the Bible and lead prayers and then
end the service.
3. H asked me, Why do you go to [name withheld commune]? I responded
that I only went there to bury the dead and to celebrate Tet, because
that hamlet has a recreation area.
4. H asked again about my reading the Bible at Ama T's home-you aren't a
pastor, why are you teaching religion? Do you admit that you are in the
wrong? I didn't respond. He continued, "You write down these
illegal actions on your part":
You are not a pastor or missionary;
You have no degree/diploma;
You haven't studied in any Bible classes;
You call yourself a preacher, because you do what Ama T tells you to do;
You don't have any authority or official position;
You haven't asked permission from the local government;
You carry on activities in your home and not in the church;
You carry on activities in Ama T's house;
he finished speaking he told me to write down my crimes. When I had
finished writing he summarized: "You are guilty of eight crimes in
total." I responded that I wasn't guilty of eight crimes. He
pressured me to admit to eight crimes, and when I had admitted to them,
he said that now I had to accept my punishment for each of the crimes. I
first wrote that I would accept the punishment imposed on me by the
police, but he didn't accept this. Then I wrote that I should be
obligated to engage in self-criticism in front of all the people, but he
didn't accept this either. He told me that the crimes of which I was
guilty warranted imprisonment or even capital punishment. Then I wrote
that I deserved to be killed because I was a criminal; I would be
executed in front of the people.
Mr. H cursed me, and said I was stupid: "So you believe in God?
Have you ever seen him? What has God given you? Has he given you money?
Have you borrowed money from the bank? God hasn't given you anything at
all, but the state lets you borrow money, the state builds roads, the
state gives you electricity!"
6. He was ready to beat me, but he didn't do it, he told me he would
smash my mouth, cut open my head. He said he would keep me coming back
for six months, and asked who would work the fields during this time. He
said he'd put me in jail, and that my eight crimes really merited
execution. I said I hadn't committed eight crimes, that the eight crimes
were really only one and involved religious activities, and I hadn't
done anything bad. If I have done anything wrong I will correct it and
learn from it. He didn't listen to anything I said-he just had me return
to the police station for more questioning.
is my report which I send to you for consideration. The district police
refuse to give me the chance to correct the mistakes I have made in the
past and learn from them but have determined that I must: (1) be
reeducated, (2) be jailed, (3) be executed.
ask you to help me so that I don't have to be going continually to the
district police station. Since I have been going there, no one in the
family has been available to work the fields, and my whole family is
you very much.
APPENDIX D: COMPLAINT
FROM BUON DON DISTRICT VILLAGERS TO BUREAU OF RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS
* * * * *
Bureau of Religious Affairs of Dak Lak Province
wish to report the following:
August 24, 2001, the police of Buon Don District together with village
officials took photographs of the church and believers inside the church
to send to the regional authorities. They stated that these people are
followers of the Dega Protestant religion.
They pressure us to renounce our religion and sent irregular forces to
search the homes of believers one by one. They follow us everywhere we
go. They know the places where we pray and report them to their
superiors. The authorities arrested five believers and forced them to do
self-criticisms; they accuse we believers of the crime of illegal
They organized a meeting for the following:
Begin a campaign to encourage the people to renounce the Protestant
· The whole people must fight all kinds of violations of law.
that day we were severely oppressed. They said that we wanted to
overthrow the government through the propagation of the Protestant
religion. They prepared sticks to beat us with if we opposed them.
They said in front of all the people that Protestants were thieves, they
sowed divisions [among the people], lacked unity...
As a result our ability to pray and bear witness to our religion has
become very difficult. We dare not hold meetings of any length to study
the Bible, we can only do so for a few minutes.
At present the local authorities are keeping close watch on every
activity, everything done by believers and church leaders.
Please pray for us and for God's work in this place.
of Petitioners withheld]
APPENDIX E: EMPLOYMENT DISCRIMINATION AGAINST MINORITY CHRISTIANS
* * * * * *
- Freedom - Happiness
Peoples Committee of [name withheld] Village, Ea H'Leo, Dak Lak
cc: [Name Withheld] Elementary School
name is: [Name withheld]
Place of Birth: [Village and Commune withheld], Ea H'Leo
the immediate past I have been studying at the kindergarten teachers'
Province. I have now graduated and returned home. I am awaiting
acceptance by the local authorities and by the school board of the [name
withheld] Elementary School.
solemnly undertake as follows:
will obey all of the rules and regulations of the school and all laws of
I will complete any and all tasks assigned to me by my superiors.
I will not do anything contrary to the political program of the Party or
the laws of the state.
I fail to comply with any of the foregoing I will accept legal
the person making this undertaking: [signature]
decision of the Peoples Committee of [name withheld] Village upon
receipt of the foregoing guarantee by [name withheld] is that it cannot
yet request the school to hire her.
If she undertakes in writing to abandon Protestantism then the
Village Committee will permit the school to hire her.
behalf of the Peoples Committee,
[seal and signature]
APPENDIX F: CITIZEN
PETITION: "A REPORT ON THE CRUEL ACTION AGAINST THE TRIBAL PEOPLE
(Note: Translated from
, this December 2001 petition was written prior to the outbreak of
unrest in the
in February 2001. The names of the village and the petitioners have been
withheld to protect the security of the sources.)
* * * * * *
Report of the Cruel Action against the Tribal People in the
represent the Dega people who are living in the collective
in Krong Ana district, Dak Lak province. We would like to report all the
oppressive policies of the
government against our people, the Dega, as follows:
Summary of the lives of the Dega in X village-under the rule of the
South Vietnamese government from the Presidency of Nguyen Van Thieu to
the current government of the Vietnamese Communist.
regime sees educated Dega people as a real threat to their government so
that they always look for an appropriate excuse to destroy them. During
the French Indochina Colonial Government, the Vietnamese officials
executed several of our educated people. Among of them were Mr. Y and
Mr. J. These are the only true leaders we have ever had. But both of
them were brutally killed at the hands of ethnic Vietnamese people.
was overthrown by the Hanoi Regime in 1975, the Hanoi Regime established
a systematic plan to oppress the Montagnard people in many ways. For
government put all the Dega intelligentsia in jail, tortured and even
killed them secretly in many places. Only a few of these prisoners of
war were released. But after returning home, the prisoners of war only
lived one or two years, then they all died unexpectedly. Others suffered
from paralysis because they had been abused with poisonous injection
during their time in the communist prisons.
Those who have worked for the former government of
or served in military of the South Vietnamese government or were
involved in the FULRO movement received especially bad treatment by the
government. At that time, some of the Dega also were put in jail just
because they were suspected of having associated with the FULRO members.
Actually, the Vietnamese people just hate our people without any
In dealing with those Dega who worked for their government, the
designed a clever plan for early retirement. They encouraged many of the
Dega officials who had been actively working for them to receive an
early retirement plan. But in reality, the
regime was only attempting to get rid all of the Dega leaders from their
government system because they knew that sooner or later the Dega
leaders would discover the inhumane policies the government had towards
the Dega. As we have stated, all these Dega retirees were suffering from
paralysis diseases. The
regime has no plan for caring for the health of these retired people.
feel lonely and go on suffering in their own lives. They really have no
future. As a result, all of these retired persons have passed away with
pitiful and regrettable lives. Among of these retired persons were Mr.
L, Mr. T, and Mr. R. They were the most outstanding teachers we have
ever had and they contributed a great deal to the education of the
Montagnard people today. But all of them have passed away secretly,
including the case of Ama N, who served many years with the local police
great hero leaders such as Major General B and Major General N were also
suffering from the disease of paralysis. And others such as Dr. N and
Dr. K, they both have passed away because of suffering from serious
ulcers. Today our Dega people have lost all of their most of the
admirable and respected leaders. But we have never seen that Vietnamese
leaders who has passed away for the same reasons.
3. Concerning the Montagnard students: After graduating from the
same college or university with the Vietnamese students, Dega students
have not been allowed to apply for any jobs in the government or apply
for positions in their fields of study, because most of these Dega
students belonged to the Protestant religion. They were also suspected
of having associated with the South Vietnamese government or being
related to the FULRO movement. So they were denied the rights to
participate normally in any activities in the Vietnamese society.
In order to cover the true face of discrimination, the
government did appoint some of the Dega people, people who had a little
schooling, to work for them. They trained these Dega workers just to
give them just enough background of understanding so that they can
easily handle and control them. They were not equipped with the real
skills that they needed. It was possible to say that the
government verbally dominated and publicly eliminated our culture from
the Vietnamese educational systems. The Dega students who were over the
usual school age, were not allowed to enroll in the school even though
they had a good relationship with their local government. As a result,
there were more than 80 per cent of the Dega students who could not go
to the school. This policy brought deep despair to the Dega students
because they had no other place to go. The
government kept watching over the Dega students all the time.
4. Child birth issues: The
government has used false propaganda in talking about birth control with
the Dega. They strongly encouraged our people to participate in birth
control plans so that they can destroy the life of the baby and also to
exterminate the whole of the Dega population. By doing this, they hope
that they can have more land to occupy. As a result, those who
participated in birth control programs, they have suffered too much pain
and dizziness. Their bodies no longer functioned as they used to
function, and the government did not pay any attention at all to their
5. Concerning the resettlement issues: Recently the
government resettled tens of thousands of the Vietnamese from the North.
They occupied all of our land throughout the areas. There was nothing
left for our people to live on. Therefore, the
government attempted to cover up this matter by introducing many
First, they built a vocational school, a school of education for levels
II and III, and colleges and universities everywhere in our land. Then
they recruited just as many of the Vietnamese students as needed, but no
Secondly they opened as many farm camps and the schools of forestry with
the hope that they can:
occupy all the fertile land.
b. settle as many of the Viet people from the North as possible.
government has opened as many farm camps and recruited as many of the
Dega Montagnard workers, because most of these lands were owned by the
Dega people. Therefore, during the seasons of planting and growing, the
government provided very little fertilizer to care for the crop and also
provided only a few old tools to cultivate of the land. As a result,
they could not receive good fruits from their labors. The coffee trees
and the plants could not develop properly as expected. Therefore, the
government decided that the Montagnard workers did not know how to take
care of the crops.
the government took all the lands back from the Montagnard workers and
gave it to the Viet workers. Moreover, the government collected very
high property taxes on the Montagnard landowners too. As a result, the
Montagnard workers/owners felt like they could not afford to own the
land any more.
In order to secure of all the land area, the government forced the
Montagnard people to sign a release contract with the government by
saying, "I will not take the land back and if I break my promise, I
will be charged as a criminal for violating the laws of the land."
Since that day, the government freely cultivated all the land as needed.
As in the case of Y Village, more than ten of thousand Viet people from
the North came to occupy the land around the area of that village. This
new influx produced dozens of new villages. Under the policies of the
resettlement in 1983 and 1984, the
government promised to establish a new area for the Montagnards of
Village Y, but when this was completed they allowed the Viet people only
to move in this new area, not the tribal people.
In the year 2000, the
government opened many new villages in the areas of Dak Mil and Dak
Nong. The conflict over the land between the Viet people and the tribal
people became more intense than ever. The tribal people have sent
complaint letters to the local government officials but they were simply
ignored. Instead of solving these problems, they sent these letters back
to the Viet people. As a result, the Viet people from Nam Ngai came to
settle in the
and Z villages and the government also took all the land at Village D to
. Then the government also confiscated a large cemetery of ours so that
they can make up a lake in order to provide water to the coffee and
rubber plantation areas.
On December 27, 1982, Mrs. Q wrote a letter complaining about her land
that had been taken over by the local government. Again, the government
continued to ignore the complaint. The government built a camp at T, and
put more Viet workers in this camp. These new settlers exploited all of
the forest products in the area. They did not care whether or not the
land already had the owner. These abuses resulted in fighting between
the Viet and the tribal people of Village Y.
Concerning the Protestant religion: The Protestant faith is the only religion that is not allowed to be
practiced by the tribal people. The
government is strongly opposed to the idea of worshiping God. No
Protestant churches were allowed to be built. From 1975 until now, the
Dega believers suffered far too much from persecution at the hands of
government because of their deep belief in God. The church has been
completely closed and has not been allowed to evangelize and spread the
Word of God to the Dega people. They only allowed us to worship our God
in our own heart, but not conduct meetings within the form of a church.
As a result, when we got caught by the local government, we had to pay a
penalty of one cow of for each individual believer at the meeting.
Therefore, we had to hold secret meetings in our own houses.
we reported, there were several times our believers were caught and
punished by sending them to a hard labor camp. After completing the hard
labor sentence in a camp, the government refused to issue us a release
paper because they were afraid that we would show the letter to
foreigners. They also called our pastors and church leaders to their
offices regularly for interrogation.
They also brought us to stand in front of our people and forced us to
make a public commitment that we would not continue to practice our
religion any more. And if we did continue we would be expelled from the
village. So, we attempted to ask the question as to why the government
was so angry with us. But they only answered us that it was the laws and
also the order from the central government.
In the case of Mr. H, when he listened to the preaching of the Word of
God from the Bible broadcast from
, the government took away his radio and did not return it. That really
made it difficult to understand why the Vietnamese government was so
strongly opposed to our religion and us. We did not do any thing wrong.
People preach the word of God to us to give us new hope in our life, and
they teach us not to provoke people and kill each other.
So we hope you will help us find out if there are any special laws
provided to the Vietnamese people, that give them the right to
continuously oppose our Dega Christianity. Please help us in this
in Village X on December 15, 2000
[Signatures and names of eight villagers follow]
APPENDIX G: "OFFICIAL PLEDGE" READ DURING THE GOAT'S BLOOD
* * * * * *
- Freedom - Happiness
To: Ea H'leo Commune People's Committee
[Withheld] Birthdate: 1960
Village: [Village Name Withheld], Ea H'leo Commune Ea H'leo, Dak Lak
Political Activities, February 5,
having recognized my mistakes, reconsidered and listened to the opinion
of the entire population in my hamlet, listened to the law and the
progress being made in [our community], I truly recognize my mistakes
and honestly swear by signing this pledge to officially promise to the
local authorities regarding the following:
1. Honestly and with all my effort I will try to correct myself and
never violate any laws.
2. I will not listen to the perpetrators / bad group, never follow their
advice or orders but instead, report the efforts of those who are trying
to make use of the good progress our revolution has brought for the
unity of the entire population. I promise to protect and maintain the
security and public order of my entire community.
3. With all my strength I will confidently participate in the production
effort [i.e. work hard] to create good opportunities for my family and
the entire society.
4. I will build a new way of life with new cultural values for the
family and reject all kinds of superstition [meaning religion].
5. I will completely follow all advice, instructions, and laws provided
by the party and the state.
I violate the above points I have signed I will face complete
responsibility under the laws of our country.
(Official Signature and seal) Ea H'leo, 26 May 2001
Ea H'leo Commune People's Committee Pledger's Name
Chairman, R Chum Y Rok
H: MARCH 26, 2001 DEPORTATIONS: DOCUMENT 1
* * * * * *
Ministry of Interior
Department of National Police
Provincial Police Commissariat
Mondolkiri province, Sen Monorum Date: 29 March 2001
No. 128 r.b.k (ror bor kor)
His Excellency, the Director General of National Police
on the Transfer and Delivery of 19 Illegal Vietnamese Immigrants
25 March 2001, the Provincial Police Commissioner received an order from
Mr. Nha Raing Chan, Third Deputy Governor of Mondolkiri province, and in
cooperation with the commander of Provincial Gendarmerie, transferred
nineteen male illegal immigrants of Vietnamese nationality, who entered
through Koh Nhek district, to
at Bou Praing border checkpoint. Officers present from the Vietnamese
-Dak Lak Provincial Governor
-Dak Lak Provincial Military Commander
-Dak Lak Provincial Police Chief
Attached are the minutes of the transfer and delivery notes and the list
of the names of the nineteen illegal immigrants.
we respectfully request that Your Excellency, the Director General of
National Police please be informed of the above-mentioned report.
Lt. Col. Nhem Vanny
-General Department of National Police
office of Provincial Governor's Office
I: MARCH 26, 2001 DEPORTATIONS: DOCUMENT 2
* * * * * *
Nation Religion King
Mondolkiri Provincial Office
Post Dak Dam, 27 March 2001
on the Transfer of Illegal Immigrants
am, Nha Raing Chan, Third Deputy Governor of Mondolkiri province.
Participants in the transfer of the immigrants were:
-Colonel Duang Choam, commander of Provincial Gendarmerie
-Lt. Col. Nhem Vanny, First Deputy Police Commissioner
Col. Chey Saphon, Deputy Police Commissioner, in charge of
carried out the transfer of nineteen illegal immigrants of Vietnamese
nationals, who crossed the border on 25 March 2001, [back] to
at Bou Praing border checkpoint.
Participants from the Vietnamese side in receiving the nineteen men were
-Dak Lak Provincial Governor
-Dak Lak Chief of Border Military
-Dak Lak Provincial Police Chief
of receiver Signature of transferring person
Vietnam side Cambodian Side
-Tr'eeg -Nha Raing Chan
-Dang' Ru Yin
of nineteen Jarai men from Buon Ea Sup, attached.)