Al Franken: Looking out for a U.S. ally -- the Hmong in Laos

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Last December, when thousands of Hmong in Thailand were forcibly repatriated to Laos, some Minnesotans may not have fully understood why I took the actions of these two foreign governments so seriously.

To explain, a little history is in order. During the Vietnam War, Hmong fought bravely on the side of the United States as members of a secret U.S.-funded army. Hmong men and boys helped rescue downed American pilots and disrupted North Vietnamese troops in Laos, resulting in high Hmong casualties.

It is safe to say that there are thousands fewer American names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. because of the Hmong's heroism.

Because of their alliance with the U.S., many Hmong were persecuted by the Communist Lao regime that remains in power today. Tens of thousands of Hmong fled into Thailand, and many resettled to the U.S., including Minnesota state Sen. Mee Moua.

Today, there are 46,000 Hmong-Americans in Minnesota, the second largest Hmong-American population in the country, and these 46,000 Americans contribute greatly to our state. They run businesses, own homes, attend college and hold elected offices. Two of my Senate staffers are Hmong-Americans.

Last December's forced repatriation of more than 4,500 Hmong to a country and regime that has long persecuted them understandably caused grave concern for Hmong-Minnesotans, many of whom have relatives among the returnees. As a U.S. senator who represents them, it is my concern as well.

And it is my job to use my office to ensure the safety and well-being of the Hmong returnees.
Since January, I have held two large forums with members of Minnesota's Hmong-American community. The first was in immediate response to the crisis - to hear their concerns and share the most current information. In June, I brought Ravic Huso, the U.S. Ambassador to Laos, to a second forum in St. Paul, where he discussed the conditions in the "development village" where most returnees had been resettled.

In July, my wife, Franni, and I traveled to Laos to meet the returnees. Our goal was two-fold: to investigate conditions in the village and to impress upon the Lao government the importance of the returnees' safety to future U.S.-Lao relations.

As we flew into the remote village via a Soviet-era helicopter, we could see the 600 rudimentary homes built for the Hmong returnees. Unfortunately, after we landed, the Lao government severely limited our access to just one two-hour meeting with about 150 obviously pre-selected returnees.

I later expressed my dissatisfaction to Lao officials and pressed for increased access, the delivery of future humanitarian aid, and a complete list of the returnees so family and friends in Minnesota and across the country could be in communication.

Upon my return to the United States, I urged Secretary of State Clinton to raise the issue in her next-day meeting with the Lao Foreign Minister, the highest-ranking Lao official to visit Washington, DC since 1975. Secretary Clinton and I, in separate sessions, both told him that his country's desire to improve U.S.-Lao economic relations depends on the treatment of the Hmong in Laos. I also successfully included language in this year's State Department funding bill to ensure regular international access to the returnees and to assist in their well-being and livelihood.

As the war in Southeast Asia recedes into history, it is important that all Americans remember the special debt we owe the Hmong. And as Laos seeks to improve economic relations with the U.S., it is crucial that we keep the well-being of the Hmong in Laos a central priority.

Al Franken represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate.



Vietnam: The archbishop of Hanoi celebrates mid Autumn festival with poor Hmong children

Hanoi - The new archbishop of Hanoi, Mgr. Peter Nguyen Van Nhon, visited a parish of Hmong ethnicity, bringing gifts for thousands of poor children, for the mid-Autumn Festival.

This festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month of the year, with the full moon. This year it fell on September 22. The day before the archbishop of Hanoi and 40 members of Caritas visited the parish of Muong Riec, in Hoa Binh Province.

Muong Riec is 120 km from Hanoi, the parish community is entirely composed of thousands of Hmong ethnicity, whose ancestors were evangelized by foreign missionaries in the sixteenth century.

The Hmong, an often persecuted ethnic group, have a specific culture and live in deep poverty. For this Fr Nguyen Van Han, parish priest, organized the celebration of the mid-Autumn festival for the poorest children.

Hundreds of children attended the mass celebrated by Mgr. Van Nhon. "This evening - said the bishop - you greet the moon, which is more beautiful because the moon is the moon of the mid-Autumn Festival. God has prepared this moon so perfectly for children because He loves you and he prepares heaven for his children. You too are loved, defended and protected by Him. God does not discriminate between rich and poor, weak or powerful. He created the moon so that it may shine all over the world. " After the Mass, priests and members of Caritas distributed gifts to all children of the village.

According to government statistics, in Vietnam there are at least 2.5 million children (under 16 years) living in difficult conditions. There are a million poor, 126 thousand orphans, 1.2 million children with disabilities; 20 thousand street children, 56 thousand children forced to work, thousands of children sexually abused, and tens of thousands involved in drug cases. Each year, because of the death of parents from AIDS, 70 thousand children become orphans.

The Catholic Church has long called on the government to allow it the freedom to be of assistance in social work, health and education.



Hmong: Laos Scrutinized by the Universal Periodic Review

AITPN concerned about continuous violations of Hmongs’ human rights and urges Laos to implement UPR recommendations

Below the statement by the Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network

Mr. President,

Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network taking note the UPR report and its recommendations to Laos, would like to make the following comments concerning the situation of Hmong ChaoFa people.

With reference to the claims of the Laotian authorities on the well being of 4,000 repatriated Hmongs, we wish to alert the Council that they were forcibly harassed by thousands of military personnel with 158 Hmongs now believed to have been forced to renounce the offer of resettlement in third countries.

Mr. President,

We urge the international community to monitor the situation of these Hmongs as alerted by the UN Secretary-General in December 2009 and of course, to help implement the UPR recommendations to Laos under para. 98.31.

In this respect AITPN remains deeply concerned about the continued violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the Hmong people and call upon for the full implementation of the recommendation in para. 96.19 that the Laotian authorities: “Issue travel and identification documents to all Lao Hmong returnees in a timely manner, and guarantee freedom of movement.”

Mr. President,

While supporting the recommendation in para. 96.47 which asks Laos to “eradicate trafficking persons”, we remain deeply concerned about the trafficking of almost 30 Hmong children in 2005 from a Christmas Choir event1 and urge the authorities to promptly prosecute those responsible and ascertain their whereabouts and well being of the children.

AITP acknowledges that Laos accepted recommendations in para. 98.14 to extend a standing invitation to all Special Procedures of the Council and believe that UN human rights experts given the opportunity to visit the victims in the Xaysombune Special Zone who are confronted with daily military operations.

Mr. President,

On the recommendation in para. 98.31 that Laos provide unfettered access to Hmong returnees, we deplore that U.S. Senator Al Franken was denied access to Phonekham camp during a recent visit.

In conclusion, AITPN remains deeply concerned that the Laotian authorities to date have not accounted for the fate and whereabouts of three Hmong Americans2 after their detention in 2007 and call for their immediate release. As Hmong ChaoFa people remain deprived of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, we urge Laos to address their long standing grievances through dialogue and not by the policy of military operations and exclusion.

I thank you, Mr. President.

21 September, 2010

Statement by Mr. James HER on behalf of Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network (AITPN)



In Search of Asia Film Festival

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Legend of Chao Fa

A raft of films from the world’s largest continent, burgeoning and booming, mysterious and intriguing, comes under a special lens in a far-reaching “Asian Film Festival” that runs Wednesday, Nov. 3rd through Nov. 13th at St. Anthony Main Theatre. Under the heading “In Search of Asia,” and sponsored by Minnesota Film Arts (the old Oak St. and University Film Society standbys), the festival will look at films from the somewhat different perspectives of Asian-Americans in addition to looking at the varied Asian lives reflected on today’s screens.

Some 30 recent feature films and short films are on tap, with a number of premiere screenings, visiting film directors, actors and panels devoted to hot-button Asian and Asian- American concerns.

Included in the fest will be a world premiere of a Hmong film, “The Legend of Chao Fa.” Shot in the jungles of Thailand by the world’s leading Hmong film team, now based in St. Paul, Minnesota, the stars of this film have been invited to make appearances at the festival this fall.

Also scheduled are contemporary (non-Bollywood) films on “the New India.” Presented in Hindi, Bengali and other national languages, the schedule includes animation from Japan and Korea, and films with a human rights and political edges from Burma, Cambodia, North Korea and Tibet. Also included and under confirmation are prize-winning festival films from The Philippines, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Vietnam, and a sidebar series from Taiwan.

Curatorial segments will include the Asian-American experience, with four feature films, several programs of shorts, and a selection from India. Minnesota Film Arts, under a Legacy grant as the sponsor, is partnering with local Asian and Asian-American groups, the Council on Asian-Pacific Relations, Asian-American Access Center, and University of Minnesota departments to present this omnibus festival. (Minnesota Film Arts sponsors the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival, its 29th year set for April 2011, again at St. Anthony Main Theaters).

“With more than 40 countries comprising the complex Asian continent, the grant aims to fill a broad coverage for an “underserved” population here that makes up an important part of our global community,” according to MFA artistic director Al Milgrom.

Films will be in original languages, where relevant, with English subtitles. Main screenings will be at St. Anthony Main Theaters. As confirmed titles become available, titles, dates, ticket prices, synopses, sponsorship opportunities and other festival details can be found on the MFA website: