Defending Human Rights in the Central Highlands of Vietnam

MHRO attends UN Conference on Indigenous Peoples in Geneva



12-16 July 2010


Rong Nay

Rong Nay

Executive Director, Rong Nay and Director of Immigration Services, Vien Siu, participated in a United Nations Conference on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Geneva, Switzerland on July 12-16, 2010.

The Expert Representatives at the conference were: Mr. John Henriksen (Norway) Ms. Jannie Lasimbang (Malaysia) Mr. Jose Molintas (Philippines) Mr. Jose Carlos Morales (Costa Rica) and Ms. Catherine Odimba Kombe ( Democratic Republic of Congo).

Many States Members of the United Nations had Observer Representatives including, but not limited to:  Armenia, Belgium, Australia, Iran, India,  Peru, Mexico, Paraguay, Japan, New Zealand, Finland, Togo and Thailand.

United Nations Bodies included: UNESCO, UNITAR, European Union and the World Bank. Non-governmental organizations and indigenous peoples organizations included the Montagnard Human Rights Organization (MHRO),  Incomindios, Indian Council of South America, International Indian Treaty Council, Association of Indigenous Women, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia, Khmer-Kampuchea-Krom Federation,  National Union of the Kanak People, New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, Native Women’s Association of Canada, Legal Commission for the Self-development of the Original Andean Peoples, Syriac Universal Alliance, Te Runanga o Te Rarawa, Return to the Land, Ochapowace First Nation, Rehoboth Community of Namibia, Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples of America, Supreme National Council of Kampuchea-Krom, the Hiroshima Peace Institute, Culture of Afro-indigenous Solidarity, Hawai’i   Institute for Human Rights, The Delegation for the Cham Nation’s Issues and many other indigenous peoples’ representatives.

Sessions included discussions concerning human rights, economic development, cultural rights and land rights. The conference was an excellent opportunity for MHRO to network with other international indigenous peoples’ representatives, and to advocate on behalf of the Montagnard “Anak Cu Chiang”  peoples to human rights representatives from the United Nations

A disturbing incident took place when a representative from the Vietnam Mission to the United Nations complained about the Montagnard Human Rights Organization representatives and attempted to block MHRO’s speech at one of the sessions, citing that “Vietnam had no indigenous peoples” and therefore, MHRO had no right to participate in the forum. The Vietnamese representative removed the name of the MHRO speakers from the list. MHRO representatives complained about this to the UN conference organizers. (SEE MHRO STATEMENT BELOW)



Montagnard Land MapThe Indigenous Peoples of Vietnam are denied by the government of Vietnam at the United Nations Conference on “Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” on July 12-16, 2010

The indigenous peoples of Vietnam: The Montagnards, called Anak Cu Chiang, Khmer Krom and Cham represented the indigenous tribes at the “Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” conference at Geneva on July 12-16, 2010. This was an opportunity to express their opinions concerning the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Vietnam.  Unfortunately since the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was announced on September 13, 2007, the government of Vietnam has ignored and not recognized the Montagnard people as Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration still has no affect on our people’s lives, and Vietnam seems to have nothing to do with the Declaration, despite the fact that Vietnam endorsed  the UN Declaration September 13, 2007.

For these reasons, since 1975 to the present, living conditions, especially for Montagnards in the Central Highlands have become worse than ever in our history.  We are now in danger of losing our entire culture.  We have lived through terrible times; living a life of deprivation from hand to mouth.  Since the onset of colonialism, the Montagnards have never had the chance to know the happiness of peace and self determination.  Thirteen thousand Vietnamese students came to US for education, but no single Montagnard is allowed. The Montagnard people have few if any opportunities to develop and this has become worse under the Hanoi government.

The government of Vietnam declares it has changed, but conditions of persecution and racism continue. Change and economic improvement happens for the Vietnamese in the city in order to gain more trust and credibility from the U.S. and international donors, but little development assistance reaches the Montagnard villages. The Montagnards are the poorest of the poor in Vietnam. This is documented year after year by UNICEF and the UN Development Programme.  Vietnam’s policies are intentional towards the tribal peoples. The policies promote ethnic cleansing and assimilation. The government proclaims freedom of religion, but in reality the churches are not free and Christians are forced to register with government churches controlled by pastors who work for the government.

Today our Montagnard people have lost more than any other group in Vietnam.  The right to live, personal freedom, the right to own our ancestral lands, the right to have churches, the right to teach our own language and our traditional way of life have all systematically been abolished. Throughout history, we have been living and raising our families in our own ancestral homelands for thousands of years. By that fact, and by common law, we are the rightful owners of our own lands. But now, the Vietnamese colonizers deny us that right and even classify us as “minorities” with a reverse history that we migrated to live in their land.  It is the intentional deception of the Vietnamese government to claim that there are no indigenous peoples in Vietnam because such strategy furthers their policies of land seizure and ethnic cleansing.

This  fact was confirmed by Vietnam’s Permanent Mission’s speech addressed at Geneva on July 14, 2010.  The representative stated that there are no Indigenous Peoples in Vietnam’s country but only minority groups living in Vietnam territories without their original history. They also removed our name from the list of speakers at the conference. This disturbing and insulting action reflects that the government of Vietnam still looks down on the indigenous peoples and refers to us as “MOI” meaning “Savages.” The Anak Cu Chiang Montagnard peoples are a proud people with a beautiful culture, languages, and ancient heritage. It is distinctive and original, and it is not connected to the culture or the origins of the Vietnamese (Kinh) people.

The government of Vietnam  endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on September 13, 2007 along with other 144 countries and is supposed to honor the endorsement. This contradictory action of Vietnam leaves us no choice but to believe that Vietnam tries to evade its responsibilities as specified by the Declaration. This action has been confirmed since the government of Vietnam does not discuss the Declaration, nor have there been translations of the Declaration into Vietnamese or major Indigenous peoples languages  in Vietnam. The indigenous populations still know nothing about the Declaration due to this governmental manipulation.

Historically, during the French-Indochina war between French and Ho Chi Minh, the Montagnard Indigenous Peoples in the Central Highlands were under French rule 106 years and were granted autonomy on May 27, 1946. After the Geneva Conference on July 21, 1954, the French withdrew its power from Indochina. Bao Dai  was the last King of South Vietnam and he linvaded and completely occupied Central Highlands in 1955. After the election, Ngo Dinh Diem, the first President of South Vietnam illegally abolished the autonomy of the Montagnard people that had been granted by the French on May 27, 1946. Diem also set up programs that caused the illegal settlement a half million Vietnamese from the North to the Central Highlands and occupied almost all the fertile land of the Montagnard.

In 1956, the war between North and South Vietnam began and both governments used the Montagnard Indigenous Peoples as tools of the war; especially, the North Vietnam government. Ho Chi Minh  promised that the Montagnard autonomy would be restored after victory of South Vietnam. In this war more than a million of the Montagnards were killed and 85% Montagnard villages were destroyed. The Vietnam War was exploited by Ho Chi Minh in an effort to justify the occupation of our lands.

After the Communists won the war in 1975, peace never came to the Montagnard people, only despair. The  Montagnard sacrifice was ignored and all Montagnard leaders were killed. Ho Chi Minh’s promise of autonomy and self-government for the Montagnards was broken. The future held only betrayal, death and decades of suffering for the Montagnards.  We are now faced with our ongoing peaceful stand until Vietnam recognizes us as Indigenous Peoples in order for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples can take effect and bring benefit to our unfortunate people as intended. We call on the United Nations and the international community for intervention and guidance as we seek solutions for millions of indigenous individuals who are in peril of being silenced forever by the dictatorial and manipulative regime of Vietnam.

Rong Nay

July 2010

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