Bruxelles, 20 December 2004

Ruud Lubbers
UN High Commissioner for Refugees
Geneva, Switzerland

Subject: Request by the Montagnard refugees currently in Cambodia

Dear Commissioner Lubbers,

We are writing to follow-up on a letter sent to you on November 16, 2004 by around 354 ethnic Montagnard Vietnamese citizens. This letter was delivered by the Deputy of the Cambodian Parliament, the Honorable Son Chay, to the UNHCR office in Phnom Penh.

This is a letter of appeal for you to intervene.

During the past months hundreds of Montagnards fled from Vietnam towards Cambodia frightfully escaping violence, torture and threats carried out by the Hanoi Government in its central highlands. As you may recall, on the occasion of a peaceful demonstration held last Easter, the Montagnards called for the respect of land rights and religious freedom. In their above-mentioned letter, they underlined their wish to be able to go back to Vietnam with the presence of the international community which could permanently guarantee their protection and that of thousands of people from the persecution of the Vietnamese Government. Understandably, it is not their desire to be relocated in a third country nor to be repatriated in Vietnam without proper conditions.

UN Secretary-General's Representative Mr. Peter Leuprecht himself noted an interesting development where finally the common view, nurtured by the Vietnamese authorities, that Montagnards are illegal immigrants trying to get to the United States for economic reasons, is rectified by the reality that they are victims of a social, economic and religious persecution by the Vietnamese Government. This repressive policy has been widely documented also by UN bodies such as the UN Human Rights Committee.

Furthermore, the Vietnamese Government, independently of the international community, has recently taken initiatives aimed at strengthening cooperation with the Cambodian and Laotian Governments in bordering provinces which have been historically and for centuries inhabited by the Montagnards. This can be interpreted as an attempt by Vietnam to close the Montagnard issue without recognising the rights of this indigenous people.

We believe that the UNHCR must fully exercise its mandate, with the cooperation of the Governments involved, starting from the Vietnamese and Cambodian ones, but also in close collaboration with other international actors such as the European Commission, which is mandated to promote and respect human rights and the rule of law. We therefore urge you to make a clear statement on the present situation. It is necessary to clarify the responsibilities at stake. The risks and opportunities of an intervention by the international community should be assessed now, before an irremediable deterioration of the ordeal.

As you may be aware, the European Parliament has time and again denounced the policies of systematic violation of human rights carried out by the Hanoi Government. In 2003, the EP and the US Congress adopted on the same day a Resolution that reinforces these concerns.

We are convinced that this letter will not be met by a silent response. We believe that the requests put forward by the 354 refugees fall under your mandate, and deserve to be taken into account with the highest priority. Experience teaches us that any delay can trigger unwelcome outcomes in the Central Highlands, and we cannot afford yet another humanitarian crisis.

With our best wishes for the holiday season,

Emma Bonino
Marco Pannella

Copies :

Kofi Annan, UN Secretary -General
Peter Leuprecht, UN Secretary General Representative in Cambodia
Louis Michel, European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid