Montagnard Foundation Addresses the Italian Parliament

STATEMENT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE OF THE CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES, ROME, ITALY: NOVEMBER 19, 2009

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen, Firstly, I would like to express my deep appreciation to the Honorable Matteo Mecacci, Member of Parliament, for the invitation to speak here today on behalf of the indigenous Degar people known also as Montagnards. While our people live in Vietnam’s remote central highlands far away from Rome their future however, is very much affected by the relationship between Europe and the rest of the world. I come here today to tell you about the Degar people and see if you can make their lives better in Vietnam after decades of ethnic cleansing. This includes ethnic, political and religious persecution. It also includes corruption and callously implemented transmigration policies and even the murder of our people by Vietnamese authorities. The persecution of Christian House Churches continues today and even as I speak now hundreds of our people languish in Vietnamese prisons. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the US International Commission for Religious Freedom acknowledge the hundreds of Degar prisoners are being unjustly imprisoned for non violent activities. A direct quote from Human Rights Watch in January 2008 stated that “a disturbing number of Montagnard prisoners- even those in their thirties have died shortly after release because of illness attributed to harsh conditions and mistreatment in prison”. Our people inside Vietnam report that many of the Degar people imprisoned are so badly treated that when they reach near death the authorities release them so it won’t appear as if they had died while in prison. We have great fears for one of our Christian women. Her name is Puih Hbat a mother of four children and she was arrested in April 2008 for conducting prayer services in her home village. To this day we do not know if she is dead or alive. We do know however, that the European Commission has confirmed she was arrested for illegal religious activities. We also note that Vietnam has essentially confiscated our ancestral land resulting in our people being condemned to a life of poverty and malnutrition. Vietnam has stolen our lifeblood, as we are indigenous peoples who live primarily by farming. Today state run coffee plantations and whole sale destruction of our forests has transformed our way of life to one of despair. The situation facing our people is thus one of great sadness and repression. We note that the Cooperation Agreement stipulated by the European Union and Vietnam in 1996 states in article 1 the so-called democratic clause: ”Respect for human rights and democratic principles is the basis for the cooperation between the Parties and for the provisions of this Agreement, and it constitutes an essential element of the Agreement.” However, we believe that Vietnam has made little progress in the way of human rights and the country remains today a one party state with little tolerance for even peaceful criticism. Today our people are forced to call us from Vietnam in secret, under threat of being arrested, tortured or killed. The decades of living under the communist government of Vietnam, indicates to us, that Vietnam is racist towards our people and their goal is not to reconcile our peoples, but to annihilate and persecute us. Vietnam reacts with brutal violence to our legitimate concerns. Vietnam refuses to speak to us as citizens and falsely claims our people who speak out for human rights and religious freedom are separatists or terrorists. These actions clearly indicate Vietnam is imposing ethnic cleansing or a form of creeping genocide upon us. We, the indigenous Degar people, cannot stop Vietnam from committing ethnic cleansing and destroying our race and culture. We also cannot bring Vietnam to peacefully speak to us or resolve the matter with diplomacy and human decency. Thus our people cry out for help and we respectfully ask you to help us initiate a dialogue so our people can co-exist peacefully in Vietnam with the Vietnamese people. Our indigenous people desperately need your help to resolve the matter. On behalf of my Degar people, I wholeheartedly pray that the Almighty God will create a compassionate heart in each and every one of the world leaders so that they will have compassion toward our people. Thank you for listening to my words and hope that you will do something to help my people. Rome, November 19, 2009

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