Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
Ethnic Minority Protection in Viet Nam: An R2P Challenge
APC R2P Brief, Vol. 1 No. 3 (2011)
There were other areas of disadvantage and discrimination identified in the UN Independent Expert’s report, however, which present a challenge for the Vietnamese government in upholding its responsibility to protect its ethnic minority groups. These areas of concern, as outlined in the 2011 report, related foremost to the denial of religious freedoms. It was also identified that some cases of protests against these restrictions resulted in the violations of other human rights, such as the freedoms of movement, expression and assembly. Furthermore, as the Independent Expert identified, this has led to more serious violations, such as arbitrary detention and mistreatment of detainees.
In particular, concerns have been raised regarding the treatment of certain ethnic minority groups, such as the predominantly Christian Degar (or Degar Montangard) of the central highlands and the Buddhist Khmer Krom of the Mekong Delta and lower Mekong regions. For both groups, Vietnamese authorities have reacted to their protests over land rights and religious freedoms with serious restrictions and violations of human rights.
Reports about human rights violations against members of these ethnic minorities – such as wrongful imprisonment, ill-treatment and torture – are not sporadic accounts of isolated incidents of abuse. Rather, these violations should be seen as characteristic of many of the interactions between these minorities and the Vietnamese State.
Upholding the Responsibility to Protect
Viet Nam has voiced is commitment to the Responsibility to Protect and has demonstrated this commitment at both the international level and in terms of its progress on upholding and protecting the rights of its peoples at the domestic level. The government’s treatment, however, of particular ethnic minority groups which challenge the State’s policies and attempts to assimilate them, render these minorities at heightened risk to mass violations of human rights in Viet Nam today. This situation, were conflict between these minorities and the government to escalate further, would place these minorities at risk for the potential commission of mass atrocities.
The reason for these violations is often traced back to tensions between the State’s sometimes heavy-handed methods of governance and assimilation of ethnic minorities on the one hand, and the challenges which arise to this governance from minorities on the other. These tensions cannot be reduced to cultural differences between the people in the hills and the State on the plains. They arise partly from legitimate concerns held by some minorities regarding the State’s development and cultural assimilation policies and continued social and economic inequities in the highland regions. The Vietnamese government interprets these minorities’ protests as attempts to foment unrest and so reacts with sometimes violent means in the name of ensuring the stability of the state and preventing suspected secessionist claims made by subversive, ethnonationalist groups.
Concerns have been raised regarding the government’s capacity for solving conflict without resorting to violent means in cases of demonstration, dissatisfaction or dissent. The VCP’s handling of challenges to its policies regarding ethnic minorities are not condusive to preventing human rights violations from escalating into more wide-spread violence. In order for the government to uphold its responsibility to protect ethnic minorities in Viet Nam, preventative and mitigating measures must be taken to address the present early warning signs.
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