Rights groups call for access to returned Hmong in Laos

Monday, February 1, 2010

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and 16 other rights groups on Monday urged Laos to give foreign observers access to thousands of ethnic Hmong expelled from Thailand.

In a letter to Lao President Choummaly Sayasone, the organisations expressed "serious concerns for the safety and protection" of the returned Hmong.

They also called for immediate resettlement to third countries of all returned Hmong with a well-founded fear of persecution, including 158 sent back despite being recognised by the UN as refugees.

Bangkok sparked outrage in late December when it defied global criticism and used troops to forcibly repatriate about 4,500 Hmong from camps on the border with communist Laos.

"Given the difficulties faced by some prior Hmong returnees, we urge you to immediately allow unhindered and continuous access by UNHCR and other humanitarian organisations to all returnees to ensure that the treatment of the returnees is in accordance with international standards," said the letter, whose signatories included Sam Zarifi of London-based Amnesty and Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch, based in the United States.

Amnesty has alleged that other forcible repatriations of Hmong to Laos from Thailand since 2005 led to "enforced disappearances, torture and arbitrary detention".

Granting international access to the Hmong "would likely help assure the international community and the United Nations about your government's stated intentions to respect their rights," the letter said.

Laotian government spokesman Khenthong Nuanthasing was not immediately available to comment.

He has said the international community has "nothing to worry about", and all of the Hmong have been returned to their original homes or resettled in new villages.

A diplomatic source said last week there had been no reports of mistreatment, although some returnees had complained about living conditions in the new villages.

US congressmen who visited Laos said they saw no sign the Hmong were ill-treated.

Thailand and Laos both say the Hmong, who feared persecution because they fought alongside US forces in the Vietnam War, were illegal economic immigrants.


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