IV. GOVERNMENT POLICIES TOWARD ETHNIC MINORITIES
There is a significant gap between rhetoric and reality in Vietnamese government policies towards ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands. On the one hand, the government is proud of its policies toward ethnic minorities and of constitutional provisions guaranteeing them the right to use their own languages, and to preserve and promote local identity and traditions. On the other hand, government policies are based largely on perceptions of highlanders as nomadic, in need of development and stability, and ultimately untrustworthy in the political sense because of the affiliation of some of them with the U.S. war effort and their longstanding desire for independence.
According to Vietnamese folklore, Vietnam's many different nationalities were hatched out of a hundred eggs from one set of parents, Lac Long Quan and Au Co. Half followed their mother to the mountains and the rest went with their father to the sea. They joined hands to build one nation stretching from the high peaks of Lung Cu in the north, to the hamlet of Rach Tau in the south, and from the Truong Son range in the west to the Truong Sa archipelago in the east.57
"Mutual Respect, Participation, and Equal Rights"
Vietnam has been a party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) since 1982. The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in its General Recommendation XXIII on Indigenous Peoples, calls on states parties to:
A report submitted by the government of Vietnam in 2000 as part of its reporting duties as a state party to CERD stated:
In theory, official government strategy for ethnic minority development is based on the following elements, as outlined in a 1995 SRV policy document: a) targeting the poor, since ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented amongst those living in poverty; b) active participation of ethnic people in their own development; c) capacity building within ethnic minority communities; d) sustainable development; and e) mutual respect and responsibility between the parties involved:
In practice, Vietnamese government policy has wavered from benevolent paternalism to repressive implementation of programs that clash with indigenous religious practices and customary approaches to agriculture and land use.62 In some cases, the problem is poor implementation of national policies at the local level due to corruption, lack of resources, or poor communication of official procedures by the central government to the provincial, district, and commune authorities.
Fixed Fields, Fixed Settlements
Since the late 1960s, the official approach towards ethnic minorities in Vietnam has largely centered around having highlanders settle in permanent settlements and move from shifting or swidden cultivation, to paddy rice cultivation and cash crops.
In the 1990s, in part to address massive deforestation, the government instituted several new policies in regard to ethnic minorities and upland development. These included the 1992 Program 327 (known as the "Regreening of the Barren Hills Program"), which aimed to reforest barren areas, protect and exploit forests and unused land, and resettle ethnic minority swidden farmers. The 1998 "Five Million Hectare Reforestation Program" (Decree 661/QD-TTg), similarly aimed to induce families to reforest areas in exchange for certain user rights.67 Both programs aimed to reforest "barren" land by resettling lowland farmers into the highlands while relocating highland shifting cultivators to permanent sites to practice fixed cultivation.68
Despite innovative initiatives such as these, the overall approach by national and provincial authorities continues to call for sedentarization of the highlanders and an end to shifting agriculture and "nomadic lifestyles."70
55 Article 87, Penal Code of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, cited in A Selection of Fundamental Laws of Vietnam, the Gioi Publishers, Hanoi, 2001.
56 Ethnic Minorities in Vietnam, The Gioi Publishers, Hanoi, 1993.
57 Associate Professor Hoang Nam, "The Vietnamese Homeland in the Vietnamese Nation," published in Vietnam News Agency, "Vietnam Image of the Community of 54 Ethnic Groups," The Ethnic Cultures Publishing House, Hanoi, 1996.
58 Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam 1992, A Selection of Fundamental Laws of Vietnam, the Gioi Publishers, Hanoi, 2001.
59 Ninth periodic reports of States parties due in 1999, Addendum, Viet Nam, "Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 9 of the Convention," International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, CERD/C/357/Add.2, 17 October 2000. United Nations Development Program, "Fact Sheet on Ethnic Minority Groups," December 2000, http://www.UNDP.org.Vietnam
60 Ninth periodic reports of States parties due in 1999, Addendum, Viet Nam, "Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 9 of the Convention," International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, CERD/C/357/Add.2, 17 October 2000.
61 Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, Committee for Ethnic Minorities and Mountainous Areas, UNDP, "Framework for External Assistance to Ethnic Minority Development," Hanoi, November 1995.
62 A. Terry Rambo writes: "Granting of the constitutional right to minorities to preserve their cultures should not be mistaken for a genuine acceptance of cultural relativism.... Thus, the relationship between the Vietnamese state and its ethnic minorities remains a paternalistic one in which the ultimate authority to make decisions about appropriate directions for cultural change remains in the hands of the central government, not in those of the minorities themselves." A. Terry Rambo et al, eds., "The Challenges of Highland Development in Vietnam," East West Center, Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, Center for Southeast Asia Studies, October 1995.
63 Oscar Salemink, "Customary Law, Land Rights and Internal Migration," Vietnam Social Sciences, February, 2000, page 67.
64 See Salemink, "The King of Fire and Vietnamese Ethnic Policy in the Central Highlands," p. 513.
65 Huynh Thi Xuan, Vice-Chairwoman, Dak Lak Provincial People's Committee, "The Impact of Rural-Rural Migration to Resettlement Areas in Dak Lak Province," in International Seminar on Internal Migration: Implications for Migration Policy in Vietnam, Population Council, Vietnam, May 1998.
66 Hoang Dong "Rural-rural Migration and Redistribution of Labor and Population in Accordance with Planning for Socio-Economic Development in Vietnam," in International Seminar on Internal Migration: Implications for Migration Policy in Vietnam, Population Council, Vietnam, May 1998.
67 See Socialist Republic of Viet Nam, Committee for Ethnic Minorities and Mountainous Areas, UNDP, "Framework for External Assistance to Ethnic Minority Development," Hanoi, November 1995.
68 Thomas Sikor, "Decree 327 and the Restoration of Barren Land in the Vietnamese Highlands," in A. Terry Rambo et al, eds., "The Challenges of Highland Development in Vietnam," East West Center, Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, Center for Southeast Asia Studies, October 1995, p. 143.
69 See: Jamieson, Neil, Le Trong Cuc and A. Terry Rambo, "The Development Crisis in Vietnam's Mountains," East-West Center Special Reports No. 6, 1998, and A. Terry Rambo et al, eds., "The Challenges of Highland Development in Vietnam," East-West Center, Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, Center for Southeast Asia Studies, October 1995. UNHCR Centre for Documentation and Research, "Vietnam: Indigenous Minority Groups in the Central Highlands," Writenet Paper No. 05/2001, January 2002.
70 As the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development did in May 2001, and as President Tran Duc Luong did during his January 2002 visit to Kontum. Viet Nam News, May 5, 2001. "President Luong urges Kon Tum to reduce poverty," Vietnam News Agency (VNA), January 2002.