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Ten UN Special Rapporteurs publish allegations against Laos over treatment of the Hmong

The Geneva Observer

November 6, 2020


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They are often referred to as one of the most forgotten people in the world. Last week, ten of the UN’s Special Rapporteurs published a joint allegation letter sent to the Government of Laos PDR late August concerning the “alarming situation of the Hmong indigenous community.”

The letter points to information which alleges “indiscriminate attacks” on the Hmong community, “enforced involuntary disappearances, denying access to the rights to food, housing, health and safe drinking water.”

The Hmong are the third largest minority in Laos. During the Vietnam war, the Hmong were recruited by American security forces to try and stop the Vietnamese invasion of Northern Laos in the "Secret War". After the American retreat, the Hmong were essentially left on their own. Since then, they have been routinely called bandits and persecuted as traitors. Although much of the population has emigrated out of Laos, those remaining, it is alleged, have faced amongst other things, “constant military attacks” by the Laotian military, and have been forced into hiding in the jungle around Northern Laos.

Laos does not recognise any indigenous groups, leaving them with little to no access to protections under national or international law. The last UN pronouncement on the subject was a 2009 UN High Commissioner for Refugee formal request to the Lao government to access 4000 Hmong persons who were deported from Thailand (in spite of UN appeals to halt the Thai deportation). Quite why there seems to be 10-year gap in action from the UN is unclear.

The most recent developments, however, are a good case study for understanding how Geneva’s human rights mechanisms work (or not) in practice. The Geneva Observer understands that the impetus for the allegation letter came along with civil society activism during and following the Laos government’s Universal Periodic Review at the Human Rights Council in January 2020. In particular, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization’s (UNPO) joint submission with the Congress of World Hmong People for that UPR round, which began a process of dialogue and consultations between them and the UN’s human rights mechanisms.

UNPO hopes that, on the basis of this action from the UN human rights experts, “the entire international community” will “put increasing pressure on the government of Laos to respond appropriately … and to cease the crimes being committed,” says the UN Representative of UNPO Mercè Monjé Cano.

The ten Special Rapporteurs are:

  • Special Rapporteur on the right to food 

  • Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances

  • Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment  

  • Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions 

  • Special Rapporteur on the right to health 

  • Special Rapporteur on the the right to adequate housing

  • Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people

  • Special Rapporteur on Minorities issues 

  • Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights 

  • Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation