President of the Montagnard Foundation addressed the Sub Committee on Human Rights at the European Parliament in Brussels
THE HUMAN RIGHTS HEARING AT THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT’S SUB-COMMITTEE AT THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT IN BRUSSELS, BELGIUM
Brussels 25 August 2008, delivered by Mr. Kok Ksor
Madame Chair, Dear Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Firstly, I would like to express my very deep appreciation and thanks to the European Parliament’s Sub-committee on Human Rights for the invitation. I am so honored to be here today to address this distinguished committee regarding the ongoing persecution of the indigenous Degar people, who are Christian by the government of Vietnam. Before the Vietnam War the Montagnards used to be 1.5 million people, today we are not sure how many there are because we have been forced outside society.
The Vietnamese continue to claim that their government does not arrest, torture, imprison or kill innocent Degar Christians and people, but are only punishing the people, who have committed serious crimes. This is completely untrue. Through political and religious repression, corruption and callous implementation of transmigration policies, the Vietnamese authorities have condemned us to poverty in our own ancestral homeland.
On March 6, 2007 the U.S. State Department reported that Vietnam’s resettlement programs “had the effect of making more land available to ethnic Vietnamese migrants and state owned plantations.”
In fact, Hanoi has surrounded our region and people with its security police, soldiers and civilians. Every move we make is monitored and everywhere we want to go, even from our homes to our farms, we must have permission from the Vietnamese security police.
The Vietnamese government has not only confiscated our lands, but they have also confiscated our lives and freedoms. While the Vietnamese can use and do whatever they want to our lands and even to our people, we lack any possible freedom. This means they can murder our people any time, and Degar people cannot say anything against their evil acts or we will be accused, as we have been for decades, of being separatists or terrorists who want to overthrow the Vietnamese government.
Since the UN began the program of so-called “family planning”, the Vietnamese government has used this program to support the annihilation of our people. In the 1990s, Vietnamese authorities increased coercive birth control programs on our women using threats, fines, misinformation and financial incentives to force our women to get surgically sterilized. There is a refugee woman who today lives in North Carolina who bears the scar from these operations.
In January 2008, Human Rights Watch stated that “a disturbing number of Montagnard prisoners – even those in their thirties – have died shortly after being released because of illness attributed to harsh conditions and mistreatment in prison”.
In 2007-2008, the Vietnamese Communist party trained 21,811 communist religious workers in the political management of religion with a special focus on Degar Christians. The Vietnamese government sanctioned specific churches in the Central Highland and then places communist religious workers as preachers.
The first Hymn is replaced with patriotic song, and worship is less about God and more about government. This is why many Degar do not want to join these churches that despite being the only places of worship allowed in the Central Highlands, they cannot be considered places where freedom of religion is granted. In fact they only preach whatever the Vietnamese government allows them to preach. As indigenous people, the Degar people want to have their own church and preach in our own languages. All public expressions of religious feelings are also banned and in the past we have been prohibited by force to worship Easter in public. We have prepared a dossier that documents over 50 killings, – which is included in the Members’ dossier – the last of them having happened of the last few weeks, I just want to tell you some of the victims’ names: Y-Phit Kbuor and Y-Ben Hdok.
We cannot stop Vietnam from destroying our people and culture. We also cannot bring Vietnam to peacefully speak to us or resolve the matter with diplomacy pretending the respect of basic human rights. Our people cry for help, I am here today to respectfully ask the European Parliament, and the EU as a whole, to take a proactive lead in this issue, urging Hanoi to respect the international instruments of human rights that Vietnam has ratified, so that our people can co-exist peacefully with the Vietnamese people as one people and one nation.
STATEMENT ON SECULARISM AND RELIGION
Brussels August 28, 2008
Dear friends, Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to thank you very much for allowing me to share with you on the religious persecution that my indigenous Degar people have been enduring since the North Vietnam invaded the Central Highland in 1975.
Before our conversion to Christianity, our people had no real organized religion. But instead we believed that there were good and bad spirits. We neither prayed to nor worshiped these spirits but we understood that these spirits lived among us.
Our first organized religion was the Catholic religion. It was introduced to the Degar people in 1615 by two priests, Father Buzumi (Italian) and Father Calvalho (Portuguese). It was not until the 1940′s that the Protestant Missionaries came to the Central Highlands. As a result many Degar people converted to Christianity, including myself.
During the second Indochina War, the population of Degar Protestants and Catholics was approximately 20,000. Today, there are approximately 460,000 Protestants and 170,000 Catholics. This is truly a miracle since this happened over a short period of time. Due to the horrible religious persecution from the Vietnamese government, the population of Christians among our people has increased dramatically. And, I believe it is because of their faith in Christ, He has given them the hope and strength they needed to endure.
The Vietnamese government began the religious persecution of the Degar Christians during the second Vietnam War. They saw organized religion as a threat to the Communist government and therefore needed to remove it. The preferred method of persecution at the time was fear, torture, and murder which they also targeted children. Many Degar Protestant Christians were falsely accused and labeled as CIA agents and killed without any due process or trial. Any outcry from any family was perceived as separatist or terrorist activities resulting in severe consequences. However, overall this did not achieve what the Vietnamese government had hoped for. Instead, the number of Christians among the Degar people grew. The government therefore realized that they had to implement a new plan.
Since the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, the methods of religious persecution have evolved to include a more indirect approach by using religion to fight against religion in addition to torture and murder. They did this by forming the Evangelic Church of Vietnam, burning bibles, imprisonment, forced signing of documents, and also by increasing undercover security police forces within villages to discourage any prayer meetings and organized church services. According to the website FrontPageMagazine.com, Michael Benge reported on Tuesday, August 05, 2008, that the “Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung had instituted “the Vietnamese Communist Party’s 2007-2008 ‘Religion Campaign Plan’ to train 21,811 communist religious workers in the political management of religion, with a special focus on ethnic minorities.” Vietnam News Agency, on June 13, 2007 reported that government trained religious “workers” are to ensure that churches and church members comply with the Central Bureau of the Religious Affairs (CBA) registration requirements and the communist control of religion”. In addition, they placed stipulations on churches such as the praising Ho Chi Minh with patriotic song before being conducting a church service. Also, sermons had to be approved by the government before it was formally given to the congregation. The Vietnamese government therefore blatantly violated all religious rights which were protected by their own Constitution. Specifically, article 70 which states that:
1. The citizens shall enjoy freedom of belief and of religion; he can follow any religion or follow none.
2. All religions are equal before the law.
3. The places of worship of all faiths and religions are protected by the law.
4. No one can violate freedom of belief and religion nor can anyone misuse beliefs and religions to contravene the law and state policies.
Another tactic they would use was labeling. For instance, they would refer to us as terrorists and a cult like religion when speaking to the international community. Unfortunately, these accusations worked and we lost support from religious denominations and also from different major governments around the world.
Because of these violations Vietnam was named a “country of particular concern” by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. They have been on this list since 2001 and it was not until November 2006 that they were taken off the list. Furthermore, “after a Commission delegation visit to Vietnam during the months of October and November of 2007 the commission found gross violations of religious rights and recommend that Vietnam again be designated a country of particular concern in 2008.”
I would like to conclude by asking the Vietnamese government to honor their constitution and give us our religious rights as citizens of Vietnam. To be more specific, we want the Vietnamese government to stay out of our religious affairs. We want them to stop building state run churches in the Central Highlands. We want them to stop placing stipulations on our church. And lastly, we want them to stop the widespread religious persecution of the Degar Christians. We are not asking for money and we are not trying to impose our views on the government. So we now ask for the compassion and support of the international community. I thank you all for your time. On behalf of the Degar people, I deeply appreciate your thoughts and prayers.
Thank you and God bless.