Report on Laos Violations, Hmong Crisis Discussed During Thailand Camp Visit
Regarding the Freedom House report on Laos, B. Jenkins Middleton, Esq., an attorney active on human rights issues concerning Laos and Hmong refugees, and former Vice President of the Export-Import Bank in Washington, D.C., said: "I applaud Freedom House's "tell it like it is,' concise and damning description of the nature and practices of the Lao People's Democratic Republic (LPDR) in its "2009 Worst of the Worst' report."
(Media-Newswire.com) - Washington, D.C. and Bangkok, Thailand, July 30, 2009 - Freedom House, a non-governmental organization, has issued a new report on the most repressive societies around the world in which it highlights the abuses of Laos, North Korea, Burma and other authoritarian regimes. A former Export-Import Bank Vice President, B. Jenkins Middleton, Esq., and others in Washington, D.C. are concerned about the report in the context of the current Lao Hmong refugee crisis in Thailand.
In response to U.S. Congressional concerns about the forced repatriation of Lao Hmong refugees in Thailand and Laos, as well as a letter sent in June by 32 Members of Congress to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton about the matter, Mrs. Clinton raised the Laotian and Hmong refugee crisis issue during talks with Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ( ASEAN ) conference in Thailand last week.
Thirty-two ( 32 ) Members of the U.S. Congress spearheaded by Representatives Patrick Kennedy ( D-RI ), Dennis Cardoza ( D-CA ), Howard Berman ( D-CA ), James McGovern ( D-Mass ), Frank Wolf ( R-VA ), William Delahunt ( D-MA ), Dana Rohrabacher ( R-CA ), Ron Kind ( D-WI ), Steve Kagan ( D-WI ), Tammy Baldwin ( D-WI ), George Radanovich ( R-CA ), Devin Nunes ( R-CA ), and others, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging the United States and Thailand to intervene to halt the forced repatriation Hmong refugees from two of the remaining camps in Northern Thailand. http://www.media-newswire.com/release_1092956.html
Today, Samuel Witten, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in charge of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration ( PRM ), in Washington, D.C., is slated to visit Hmong refugees in Thailand at Ban Huay Nam Khao refugee camp in Petchabun Province, Thailand, to raise concerns about the forced repatriation of Lao Hmong refugees from Thailand to Laos.
Laos, under the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic ( LPDR ) regime, is a staunch ally of North Korea and Burma, is listed in Freedom House’s “Worst of the Worst 2009” report issued in Geneva, Switzerland recently. High-level, state-sponsored rallies in support of North Korea were held in June in Vientiane, Laos, by the LPDR regime. http://www.media-newswire.com/release_1094995.html
Regarding the Freedom House report on Laos, B. Jenkins Middleton, Esq., an attorney active on human rights issues concerning Laos and Hmong refugees, and former Vice President of the Export-Import Bank in Washington, D.C., said: “I applaud Freedom House's ‘tell it like it is,’ concise and damning description of the nature and practices of the Lao People's Democratic Republic ( LPDR ) in its ‘2009 Worst of the Worst’ report; It provides a litany of current conditions in that country that make it the very model of a repressive, autocratic and totalitarian regime: A constitution that makes the Lao People's Revolutionary Party ‘the sole legal political party,’…’[g]overnment regulation of virtually every facet of life,’… state ownership of all media, tight restrictions on freedom of religion, academia, assembly and union organization, and courts controlled by the ruling party.” http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=384&key=227&parent=22&report=81
Middleton further stated: “Despite these conditions, in June President Obama, no doubt acting on advice of the State Department, determined that the LPDR ‘has ceased to be a Marxist-Leninist country within the meaning of the’ Export-Import Bank Act. In light of Freedom House's recital, and as a former lawyer and vice president of Eximbank, I am at a loss to comprehend what factual basis may exist for that determination.”
“Freedom House’s new report casts significant doubt on the Lao regime’s absurd denial of human rights violations against Lao Hmong refugees and asylum seekers who have fled to Thailand,” said Philip Smith, Executive Director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis ( CPPA ) in Washington, D.C. “Political and religious dissidents and opposition group members, including many ethnic Hmong, are still suffering persecution in Laos because of the authoritarian nature of the one-party military junta.” The “Worst of the Worst 2009” Freedom House report says that Laos is not free and further states: “Laos is not an electoral democracy. The 1991 constitution makes the Lao People's Revolutionary Party ( LPRP ) the sole legal political party and grants it a leading role at all levels of government. The LPRP vets all candidates for election to the rubber-stamp National Assembly, whose 115 members elect the president. Corruption and abuses by government officials are widespread. Official announcements and new laws aimed at curbing corruption are rarely enforced. Government regulation of virtually every facet of life provides corrupt officials with many opportunities to demand bribes.” The report further raises concerns about political and religious persecution in Laos by the LPDR regime and states: “Freedom of the press ( in Laos ) is severely restricted. Any journalist who criticizes the government or discusses controversial political topics faces legal punishment. The state owns all media, including three newspapers with extremely low circulations and the country's only radio station. Internet access is heavily restricted, and content is censored. Religious freedom is tightly restricted. Dozens of Christians have been detained on religious grounds, and several have been jailed for proselytizing or conducting other religious activities. Academic freedom is not respected. University professors cannot teach or write about democracy, human rights, and other politically sensitive topics. The government severely restricts freedom of assembly. Laws prohibit participation in organizations that engage in demonstrations or public protests, or that in any other way cause ‘turmoil or social instability.’ All unions must belong to the official Federation of Lao Trade Unions. The courts are corrupt and controlled by the LPRP. Security forces often illegally detain suspects, and hundreds of political activists have been held for months or years without trial. Poor prison conditions and the use of torture remain serious problems.”
Regarding the plight of the ethnic minorities and women in Laos, including the Hmong people the report by Freedom House researchers says: “Discrimination against members of minority tribes is common at many levels. The government's continued attempts to destroy the remnant Hmong guerrilla army and alleged rebel elements have created significant hardships for these mountain people, and thousands have been forced off their land to make way for the exploitation of timber and other natural resources. Gender-based discrimination and abuse are widespread. Poverty puts many women at greater risk of exploitation and abuse by the state and society at large, and an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Laotian women and girls are trafficked each year for prostitution.”
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Doctors Without Borders ( MSF ) the Lao Hmong Human Rights Council and other organizations have also issued recent reports about the Lao Hmong refugee crisis in Thailand and Laos.
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