Published in: Jul 9, 2011
COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA
SPEECH Wednesday, 6 July 2011
BY AUTHORITY OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Mr. SIMPKINS (Cowan) (19:40): Today I speak of the oppression and the persecution of the Montagnard people who live in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Prior to the Vietnam War, the Montagnards lived in hill tribe societies existing primarily through agriculture, hunting and gathering. Today, however, the Montagnards have found themselves marginalised minorities and in the words of Human Rights Watch ‘have been repressed for decades’.
This is due to an increasing program of ethnic relocations, beginning in the mid-1950s after the withdrawal of the French with groups being moved from the north as the Communist government in North Vietnam began to assert control over the region. The current government of Vietnam continues with this land confiscation and forced relocations as well as targeting Christian Montagnards with religious persecution.
There is a long history of issues between the Vietnamese and the Montagnard people because, while the Vietnamese are racially diverse themselves, they do share language and culture but the Montagnard do not share that commonality. The Montagnards have for several decades sensed that their language and culture were under threat, including land ownership, education, resources and political domination. Formal opposition to the domination by the Vietnamese began in 1958 as the tribes united and even formed a military force, known as the United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races.
It was no surprise that, when the American forces began to build up in Vietnam, some 40,000 Montagnards fought on the side of the Americans. During the war it is estimated that some 100,000 served alongside the US as allies. It should be remembered that about half the Montagnards are Protestant and 20 per cent are Catholic.
We should remember that in 1973 peace accords were agreed to and the conflict entered a ceasefire. The United States in their compliance with the agreement began withdrawing forces. Eventually the North Vietnamese Army and the Vietcong began advancing south and, without the support of the Americans,Saigon and the south finally fell on 30 April 1975. Clearly, the North Vietnamese broke the peace treaty and they took advantage of the demise of President Nixon in 1974 and the reticence of the Democratic Party controlled congress to back the government of South Vietnam with bombing of the north.
With the fall of the south retribution followed. Thousands of Montagnards fled Vietnam to Cambodia while several thousand were resettled in the United States. Many Montagnard political and religious leaders were executed by the communists. The Montagnard suffered greatly during the Vietnam War. I have been told that 200,000 died and 85 per cent of their traditional villages were destroyed. Since then their existence has been defined by persecution on the basis of post-war retribution and religious persecution.
I am fortunate to have as a constituent a leading Western human rights activist, the Australian lawyer and writer Scott Johnson. Scott has been to the Central Highlands and he has seen the terrible conditions of poverty under which the Montagnards live. Scott has told me that there is no evidence whatsoever of Montagnard resistance movements that advocate armed opposition and violence. Yet there is a paranoia from the Vietnamese government who choose to seethe refusal of Montagnards to worship in the state controlled churches as a cover for an independence movement.
A report from Human Rights Watch released in March this year reported that since 2001 more than 350 Montagnards have been sentenced to long prison sentences, all based on vague national security charges, because of their involvement in public protests and in unregistered house churches, the only way to worship if you refuse to be in a state controlled church. I find it incredible that such nebulous charges as undermining national solidarity or disrupting security can result in a person being jailed, but that is the reality in Vietnam. I also note that Human Rights Watch report that some 25 Montagnard prisoners have died while in custody or shortly after release.
I really do wonder how the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam think on these matters. They confiscate land and give it to non-Montagnard people. They oppress those who wish to worship freely and then, when there is resentment and protest, the Communist officials actually wonder why. It seems that this is a case of delusional paranoia. If the Vietnamese government left the Montagnards alone, they would not have such problems.
I thank Scott Johnson for his assistance to me and of course I thank him for his great work toward achieving justice for the Montagnards. I conclude by calling upon the government of Vietnam to restore the ancestral lands they have taken from the Montagnards, to release the hundreds of Montagnard religious and political prisoners currently held in Vietnam and to allow religious freedom across Vietnam. At the moment, that does not exist.