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(New York) - The government of Vietnam should conduct a full, impartial, and transparent investigation into recent unrest among thousands of Hmong Christians in northwestern Dien Bien province and the government's response, Human Rights Watch said today. Diplomats and other international observers should be permitted immediate unfettered access to the area, given the reports of death and injury, Human Rights Watch added.

On April 30, 2011, thousands of Hmong began to gather near Huoi Khon village in Muong Nhe district of Dien Bien. On May 4 and 5, Vietnamese military troops and helicopters moved in to suppress the assembled people. There are unconfirmed reports that dozens of Hmong were killed or injured. The authorities sealed the area and refused permission to foreign diplomats and journalists to travel there.

"The Vietnam government can't just throw a dark shroud over this situation and pretend that everything is back to normal. When communal unrest like this is handled behind closed doors, it creates conditions ripe for abuse - and for impunity," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The government's credibility in the situation hinges on letting independent journalists and observers to go to this remote area and see for themselves what happened."

State media allege that the unrest broke out because the Hmong were duped by "bad elements" who promised to lead them to a so-called "promised land."

On May 7 and 8, Deputy Prime Minister Truong Vinh Trong, who is the head of the Steering Committee for the Northwest, visited Muong Nhe district and declared that "stability has been restored." Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman, Nguyen Phuong Nga, said the authorities have arrested "a number of extreme subjects." She provided no information about the numbers, identities, or whereabouts of those arrested.

Vietnam should immediately take the following steps, Human Rights Watch said:

  • Carry out a full, impartial, and transparent investigation, supervised by a committee that includes representative members of the Hmong ethnic community, into the reasons for the unrest, allegations of excessive violence by government authorities, and violence by protesters; and make public the findings;
  • Allow access to Muong Nhe and other parts of Dien Bien province, as well as adjoining provinces, for foreign journalists, Hanoi-based diplomats, UN agencies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross to conduct independent investigations;
  • Release the names of everyone arrested in connection with the unrest, and reveal their current location and any charges filed against them;
  • Immediately provide all those who have been arrested or detained access to their families and legal counsel;
  • Guarantee that no one detained in connection with the unrest is tortured or otherwise abused in detention;
  • Guarantee that peaceful protesters will not face retaliation for participating in the protest.

"Vietnam's past track record in handling ethnic protests in other remote areas includes widespread arrests, abuses in detention, religious repression, trumped up charges, and use of excessive force," Robertson said. "Vietnam's donors should demand that the government conduct a fully independent and transparent investigation to get to the bottom of these incidents."

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