Parliamentary question by Marco Pannella (NI) to the Commission and answer given by Mr Patten on behalf of the Commission
WRITTEN QUESTION P-1885/01
by Marco Pannella (TDI) to the Commission
(21 June 2001)
Subject: Montagnard tribes in Vietnam
In February 2001 the Vietnamese Government deployed tanks, helicopters and over 13 regiments of soldiers into the Central Highlands of Vietnam to quell demonstrations by Christian Montagnard hill tribes. These indigenous hill tribes were protesting over the arrest of two of their church leaders as well as years of religious persecution and confiscation of their ancestral lands. The International Commission of Jurists (Australian section) distributed a report in February 2001 concluding that since 1975, Vietnam has committed gross human rights abuses against the Montagnards, namely torture, arbitrary arrest, sterilisation policies that violate women's rights, forced relocation and expropriation from their traditional lands and increased repression of religious freedom.
Reports indicate the indigenous Montagnard population are now being terrorised by security forces. The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that Montagnard refugees are fleeing to Cambodia with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Refugees International and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees calling for urgent action to protect them, as Vietnam has offered "bounties" for their capture and return. In June 2001, martial law and a media blackout in the region continues. Vietnam has further cordoned off the region in an attempt to halt refugees.
Has the Commission already investigated the reports of human rights violations facing the Montagnard population inside Vietnam's Central Highlands and the potential for a humanitarian crisis if more Montagnards are forced to flee as refugees? Has the Commission made the provision of aid and trade to Vietnam contingent on the Vietnamese Government complying with international human rights law?
Answer given by Mr Patten
on behalf of the Commission
(13 July 2001)
The European Community-Vietnam Co-operation Agreement, which was signed in 1995, stated in its first Article that respect for human rights and democratic principles is the basis of this co-operation. The Commission, together with the Member States represented in Vietnam, therefore monitors closely human rights developments in Vietnam as part of the policy of the Union to encourage and support the continued commitment of the Government of Vietnam to progress in the field of human rights. The Commission also participates with the Member States in all démarches to the Government of Vietnam on Human Rights issues.
The disturbances in the Central Provinces of Gia Lai and Dac Lac in early February 2001 were the subject of a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam. Thousands of members of ethnic minorities were reported to have taken part in demonstrations, some of which led to violence, with groups of protesters blocking a national highway and attacking a post office and telephone switchboard and other public buildings during four days of unrest. Police and military forces, including helicopters, were deployed to restore order. A number of arrests (initially stated to be 20) were made. These events were reported by the official Vietnam News Agency. However, foreign correspondents were not permitted to visit the two provinces.
Observers in Vietnam have attributed the protests to a complex set of circumstances. The provinces have been relatively sparsely populated for many years before the Government encouraged settlement in the area to increase the use of agricultural land hitherto little exploited by the local people. In particular, plantations were developed for the production of coffee, which has become an important export product for Vietnam. Many of the new inhabitants, however, were from the Kinh and Viet ethnic groups (the two predominant ethnic groups in Vietnam). There were also reports of land confiscation and corruption among local officials during the settlement process.
It has also been suggested that the ethnic minorities resent the efforts of the Government of Vietnam to reconcile with the Catholic and the official Protestant Churches. Many of the Montagnards are reportedly associated with a clandestine protestant evangelical church, which is not recognised by the Vietnamese authorities.
Finally, it has been recalled that, in the past, the Montagnards had first fought against, and then collaborated with the French army. Some of them had later taken up arms together with the American forces against the Communists in the Vietnam war.
The Commission continues, so far as is possible in the present circumstances of restricted access, to monitor developments in the area.
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