Defending Human Rights in the Central Highlands of Vietnam

Advocacy Trip April 2009

MHRO planned and carried out an advocacy trip on April 20-23, 2009 in Washington, D.C. The focus of the trip was to advocate for Montagnard refugee protection in Vietnam and Cambodia, to educate and inform staff of USCIS/DHS regarding problems for Montagnard beneficiaries in the I-730 family reunification applications and process, and to advocate for human rights and religious freedom in Vietnam. Meetings included NC Congressman Brad Miller and staff, the staff of Representative Christopher Smith, staff of NC Senator Kay Hagan, the Chief of Domestic Operations at USCIS/DHS Headquarters, and the U.S. State Department. The following talking points were submitted to the State Department.

Montagnard Human Rights Organization Delegation
Meeting with State Department EAP, PRM, DRL, and IRF staff
April 22, 11:30 a.m.
Talking Points and Questions


The issue of the Montagnard  population in Vietnam’s Central Highlands will always have sensitivity with the GVN because of the U.S. military’s role with the Montagnards during the Vietnam War. This historic relationship of trust and sacrifice should provide a context for U.S. policies of protection and special consideration, yet U.S. policies that affect the Montagnards do not always reflect a relationship of “special interest. If policies were revised or new programs and bilateral agreements created, it could positively impact the Montagnards in many areas. These areas are:  refugee protection for Montagnards in Vietnam and those who flee to Cambodia, development assistance and education, land rights, freedom of religion, the release of political prisoners, freedom of movement, and free emigration.

1.Will U.S. defense agreements with Vietnam and the long-term strategic interests in the region  always prevent the U.S. from taking a policy stance on behalf of  this vulnerable population because the U.S does not want to alienate or jeopardize its relationship with Hanoi?  Has there  been U.S. foreign policy analysis that weighs the U.S.’s long range planning in SE Asia to consider that it is in the U.S. best interest to hold Vietnam responsible for its agreements?

2. Does the EAP Bureau and staff at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi continue to explore the possibilities of a Consular office in the Central Highlands? Do discussions continue about the benefit of a UNDP/USAID office in the Central Highlands? Considering the enormous financial contribution that the USG annually provides to UNCHR, can a UNHCR office be established in Pleiku in the Central Highlands as part of a new Tripartite Agreement between Vietnam, the U.S. and UNHCR? Are these questions/topics raised seriously with Hanoi and UNHCR officials or are they off the table because the GVN finds the thought of a U.S. presence in the Central Highlands objectionable?  Could these satellite offices be negotiated as part of the-going U.S.-Vietnam defense or development assistance agreement?

3.  USAID recently issued a 2008 report in which it acknowledged the significant socio-economic disparity between the majority Kinh ( Vietnamese people) of the Central Highlands and the indigenous tribespeople known as Montagnards. Advocates have argued for decades that the Hanoi policies, including security, are shaped and implemented in the provinces to  prevent or restrict development for the Montagnards and these same policies promote ethnic cleansing and ethnic assimilation. How can the USG, working with AID, UNDP, the Government of Vietnam, and the international donor community, continue to advance the authentic development of the Montagnard people with emphasis on access to education and health care?

4. Does the  U.S. State Department have a policy position, or belief regarding the ethnic assimilation of the indigenous Montagnards and the Vietnamese majority?


1. The U.S. State Department’s 2008 Human Rights report stated that most Montagnards who flee to Cambodia are “economic migrants” and not genuine refugees. In light of the fact that since 2001, there have been over 1,000 Montagnards resettled as refugees in the U.S. and smaller numbers in Finland and Canada,  it raises the question of how  persecution, fear, and human rights violations in the Central Highlands of Vietnam have suddenly diminished, despite such a long history of racism, repression and psychological duress directed towards the Montagnards. It is difficult to imagine a sudden and dramatic shift in Hanoi policies towards the Central Highlanders so that Montagnards, according to the State Dept.,  now have few experiences that would make them eligible for resettlement under the USRP.

There appears to have been a U.S. policy decision and interpretation in spring, 2007 involving EAP, DRL, PRM in cooperation with UNHCR, that most Montagnards in the Central Highlands now have little reason to fear reprisal or that human rights violations have dramatically disappeared. Is the apparent shift in refugee policy due to U.S. geo-political and strategic concerns with Vietnam so that Vietnam will appear to be more normal and on-track with its human rights progress?
*footnote( we will provide documentation about reprisals towards individuals not found eligible by UNHCR who were repatriated against their will to Vietnam)

2. It was reported that on March 11, 2009, the last remaining Montagnard (Ede/Rhade) Protestant church building in Buon Ma Thuot, Daklak Province, was destroyed. This was after Vietnamese government authorities promised to not demolish the historic building. This may not be significant to outsiders because the church building had been seized by the government for years, but the little structure was a symbol of faith, ethnic identity and courage for thousands of Ede Christians in Daklak.  It is another painful example of betrayal by the State and continuing religious persecution and ethnic persecution. Does the U.S. State Dept. feel that the GVN continues to make real progress with religious freedom? Was the decision to keep Vietnam off the CPC designation related to the U.S. geo-political relationship with Vietnam?

3. The U.S Bureau of Consular Affairs and Assistant Secretary Janice Jacobs reported in 2008 in a statement at the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City that “we have about 15,000 Vietnamese students and we would love to see that number grow.”  Can the U.S. government and all respective bureaus do more to ensure that at least some Montagnard students are allowed to receive scholarships and leave Vietnam for study in the U.S.? The response is often heard that, “there are no qualified “ethnic minorities.” It is difficult to believe that there are not a handful of  Montagnard students who are qualified compared to the 15,000 Vietnamese who are given visas to study in the U.S. This is another example of prejudice and ethnic cleansing reflected in Vietnam’s policies to deliberately restrict Montagnard development.  The Vietnam Education Foundation, which provides funding for these scholarships, can and should do more in close cooperation with the State Dept., Congress, the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Consulate. Generous U.S. funding should be allocated to support Montagnard schools, training programs and boarding schools in the Central Highlands.


1. There are several Montagnard refugees at the UNHCR site in Phnom Penh, Cambodia who have approved USCIS/DHS I-730 and I-130 applications. Many have been at the UNHCR site for several years. The U.S. Consulate and the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh, have stated that the paperwork for these cases would be processed from the USCONGEN in HCM City, not the U.S. consular division at the Embassy in Phnom Penh. What is causing the on-going delay and can this be addressed through extra PRM or DHS staff to assist with processing?  What is the timeframe for these refugees to leave the UNHCR site for the U.S.?  The HR Unit at the U.S. Consulate in HCM City indicated, “there is no time frame.”

2. There are concerns about Priority One referrals. What can be done to ensure the safety of those repatriated Montagnards who seek an interview with a U.S.official in Vietnam?  Is it possible to have a consular officer travel to the village and accompany the Montagnard back to HCM City, rather than having to remain in his or her village to face further intimidation, threats and possible danger from the police?

3. Is PRM actively discussing the benefit of a U.S. Consular satellite office(s) in the Central Highlands? Is there discussion about a UNHCR office in the Central Highlands?

4. Montagnard beneficiaries in Vietnam who are trying to reunite with family in the U.S. (mostly NC cases) continue to experience problems obtaining documents to establish their marriages or births. Local officials often deliberately omit the father’s name from the marriage or birth certificate which causes problems in the emigration process, especially at the U.S. Immigration Service Centers.

Can the HR unit at the U.S. Consulate, in cooperation with PRM through its training efforts of local highlands officials and security officers in the provinces, continue to emphasize bilateral cooperation in the free emigration process? There continue to be punitive measures that are leveled against the Montagnard wives and children who are applying to join their husbands in the U.S. This has been documented by all the immigration service providers at the NC resettlement agencies and MHRO. It undermines the right to family unity and breaks the agreement on free emigration that Vietnam said it would honor.

About MHRO

The MHRO mission is To promote the rights and cultural heritage of the Montagnard people in Vietnam, the U.S., Europe, Canada, and throughout the world to live in freedom and dignity, sharing one heart and one vision of freedom. MHRO’s Mission includes refugee protection, family unity, advocacy, and Immigration Services to all refugees. More