Dear Secretary Clinton,
We write in the aftermath of the illegal forced return on December 28, 2009 of 4689 Lao Hmong, including 158 UNHCR "persons of concern," by Thailand. We share the State Department's deep concerns about the forced return of Lao Hmong asylum-seekers from Huay Nam Khao and Nongkhai in defiance of strong protests by the United States, UNHCR, and the UN Secretary-General.
We appreciate the efforts of numerous State Department officials to try to prevent this mass deportation, including Assistant Secretary Eric Schwartz, and the phone call from the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. George Casey Jr., to his Thai Army counterpart to try to persuade the Thai army not to carry out the deportations. We believe this situation requires further action by the US government, other governments, and the UN.
As you know, Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention. In 2009 Thailand has shown a marked deterioration in its historical tolerance for refugees. The year opened with the Thai navy towing rickety boats filled with Burmese Rohingyas out to sea and closed with truncheon-wielding Royal Thai Army soldiers forcing Hmong back to Laos.
Following discussions in Bangkok, Washington, Geneva, and New York with various US and UN officials, we write to urge the US government to press the Thai government to:
- Release the full list of names of all Lao Hmong deported from Huay Nam Khao camp.
- Provide full information derived from all "screenings" of the Hmong conducted at the Huay Nam Khao camp by the Royal Thai Army, including the process and criteria used in the "screenings" and the results, especially for hundreds of Hmong in this group who were allegedly found to have protection concerns.
- Make public both the so-called guarantees for humane treatment of the Hmong promised to the Thai government by the Lao government and the full text of the bilateral MOU between Thailand and Laos governing the forced return of the Lao Hmong.
- Work with UNHCR in Thailand to expeditiously conduct refugee screening determination for all remaining Hmong asylum-seekers in Thailand, particularly those among the more than 200 Hmong in the so-called Lopburi group.
As an important signal of the importance the US attaches to the principle of protection of refugee rights, the US should also bar all Royal Thai Army officers and troops involved in any aspects of planning and implementing the deportation from participating in the Cobra Gold 2010 joint military exercise to be held February 1-11, 2010 in Thailand. Special attention should be paid to the Thai military commanders who directed the effort, such as Lt. Gen. Niphat Thonglek, to prevent their involvement in Cobra Gold 2010 as well as all future US military supported training exercises.
The US should also block the participation in future International Military Education and Training (IMET) programs of all military commanders directly involved in the forced return of the Hmong.
The US should also put the Thai government on notice that failure to provide in a timely manner the requested information on the deported Hmong could have a significantly deleterious impact on Thailand's quest for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council starting in 2010.
The US should also press the Lao government to:
- Treat the Hmong returnees in strict accordance with international human rights standards.
- Provide immediate, unhindered, and continuous access by international monitors, including UNHCR, to ensure the safety of the deported Lao Hmong.
- Allow UNHCR to conduct refugee status determination screening for all the remaining Hmong deportees.
- Reiterate the US offer made by Assistant Secretary Eric Schwartz to resettle the 158 Hmong from Nongkhai with UNHCR refugee status now that they are in Laos.
Thank you for your consideration. We would be pleased to discuss this further with relevant US government officials at their convenience.
Brad Adams Bill Frelick
Director, Asia Division Director, Refugees Program
Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State, EAP
Eric Schwartz, Assistant Secretary of State, PRM
Scot Marciel, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, EAP
Eric John, U.S. Ambassador to Thailand
Ravic Huso, US Ambassador to Lao PDR
Scott Busby, Director for Human Rights, Office of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, NSC