Wednesday, April 14, 2004

On the eve of Easter celebrations in Vietnam, what our organization had been announcing but the international community has been ignoring took place.

On Saturday, around 150,000 Christian Montagnards staged peaceful demonstrations of prayer in the four provinces of the Central Highlands of Vietnam, reacting to the religious and political repression that the Communist regime has imposed on them for decades. The Montagnards left their villages and reached the provincial cities where they gathered to pray in front of the buildings of the government.

Hanoi reacted vehemently. The demonstrations were repressed by the army and police, and also civilians had been instigated by the authorities against the Montagnards. Despite the ongoing attempts by the government to minimize the gravity of the events, we take the responsibility to say that — at least — hundreds of people have been murdered. The Hanoi regime is rapidly organizing the cover-up of the massacre, blocking the access of all foreigners to the region, and, as during a Vietnamese September 11, all foreigners flying from Hanoi to Buona Ma Tuot were grounded. Personnel of the U.S. embassy were blocked for “security concerns.”

(While we were writing, the Montagnard villages are surrounded by the army, which is threatening death to those who try to flee and find their way to Cambodia.)

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Montagnard population was an estimated 3.5 million. Today, the survivors number around 700,000 to 800,000. During the Vietnam War, the Montagnards chose to side with the United States, hoping to obtain the respect of their fundamental rights as indigenous peoples. But after the establishment of Ho Chi Minh’s regime, Hanoi took revenge on the Montagnards, expropriating their ancestral lands.

On March 30, Kok Ksor, president of the Montagnard Foundation and a member of the Executive TRP, took the floor at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and called on the United Nations to take action: “Our people cannot wait much longer. Urgent action is need[ed] to make Vietnam cease the persecution.”

As it too often happens (only a few days ago the international community commemorated the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide and the inability of the United Nations to avoid that human catastrophe), the United Nations has not been able to do anything. It has not even enforced what the United Nations itself requested two years ago — namely to open the Central Highlands to international monitors and independent NGOs to verify the respect of human rights.

Today, the effective enforcement of this request is literally vital for dozens of thousands of Montagnards who are risking their life for freedom. We call on the international community to take serious action toward the Hanoi government, considering the huge amount of money provided to it and its hopes of joining the World Trade Organization next year.

We call especially on the U.S. government to take the lead and to request the U.N. Commissioner for Refugees and the High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish a permanent presence in the Central Highlands.

Furthermore, the time has come to open a serious, analytical debate about the endless cooperation agreements signed by single nations or international organizations (starting with the European Union) with developing countries. All these agreements contain entire clauses with human rights provisions. No matter how often these clauses are violated, the well of money never seems to run dry. The time has come to break the mold and to start using “democratic blackmail”: If a country wants aid or wants a reduction in its overseas debt, it must provide freedom and democracy. In the absence of such conditions, every euro and every dollar will be badly spent. Voters would do well to call their politicians to account.

As citizens of a country that more than 50 years ago was liberated from a fascist regime — thanks to the U.S. government — we appeal to Congress to urgently approve the Vietnam Human Rights Act to support Vietnamese democrats and the Montagnard people. As too few know, three years ago the Vietnam Human Rights Act was presented in Congress, in order to subordinate U.S. aid to a radical change of the human-rights record of the Vietnamese regime. It also pointed out the persecution of the Montagnards. The act passed the House with a large majority (only one “no” vote). But in the Senate, John Kerry blocked everything in committee and refused to let the bill go for a vote. We hope that President Bush will spend his leadership to reverse such a decision.

Daniele Capezzone is secretary-general of Radicali Italiani. Matteo Mecacci, of the Transnational Radical Party, is a member of the General Council.

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