National Policy Conference on Laos, Hmong Thailand Crisis
Edmund McWilliams a retired Senior U.S. Foreign Service Officer, who served at the U.S. Department of State and the Embassies in Bangkok, Thailand and Vientiane, Laos where he worked with Laotian and Hmong refugees provided the following statement.
(Media-Newswire.com) - Washington, D.C., April 16, 2009 - The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Policy Analysis ( CPPA ) will sponsor a National Policy Conference and Press Conference from 8:30 A.M.-11:00 A.M., on Thursday, April 16, 2009, at the Zenger Room of the National Press Club ( 529 Fourteenth Street NW, Washington, DC 20045 ).
The National Policy Conference and Press Conference is entitled: "Laos, Hmong Crisis: Refugees, Political Prisoners and Human Rights Violations in Thailand and Laos."
Invited keynote speakers include: Kay Danes, Australian of “Standing Ground”; Sheng Xiong, wife and spokesperson for Hmong American citizens of St. Paul, Minnesota imprisoned in Laos; Edmund McWilliams, U.S. Department of State, Retired; Vaughn Vang, Lao Human Rights Council; Bounthanh Rathigna, United League for Democracy in Laos; Philip Smith, Executive Director, Center for Public Policy Analysis and others.
Edmund McWilliams a retired Senior U.S. Foreign Service Officer, who served at the U.S. Department of State and the Embassies in Bangkok, Thailand and Vientiane, Laos where he worked with Laotian and Hmong refugees provided the following statement:
“The Place of Human Rights in The Obama Administration's Foreign Policy: The Plight of The Lao-Hmong as a Test Case
During over a quarter century in the US Foreign Service, I observed and participated at a modest level in the formulation and execution of foreign policy in six presidential administrations. I also observed policy formulation by allies and adversaries. Even as a junior diplomat, I was struck by a fundamental difference in US policy making in comparison with that of allies such as the British or French, and even adversaries such as the Soviets. Allies and non-allies generated and conducted foreign policy at multiple levels, balancing often competing priorities in a manner that preserved core interests rather than sacrificing less urgent concerns on the altar of one consuming interest.
Except on rare occasions, US policy has rather consistently embraced a tendency to address a single policy concern, subordinating and deferring less compelling issues. More often than not, human rights concerns were those most quickly marginalized. Security issues, economic interests, legacy issues involving allegiances to sometimes despotic cold-war era allies consistently trumped human rights concerns.
The growing political instability in Thailand understandably is the focus of senior policy makers in Washington. Once again the Thai military is in the streets. But unlike in the past, there is the prospect of real civil conflict between pro and anti-government groups. A crisis is brewing in Bangkok.
But at the same moment, a crisis is also brewing to the north in a little place called Ban Huay Nam Khao on the Mekong river border with Laos. Thousands of people who have fled from Laos, mostly to escape ruthless repression and policies that amount to ethnic cleansing, are at risk.
The Thai and Lao Government have agreed to the forced repatriation of these people absent any involvement by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees ( UNHCR ), the International Red Cross or others who stand ready to help. The Thai have even refused to allow these people,who have sought refuge in Thailand, to be interviewed by the UNHCR.
How will the Obama Administration address these two crises? All too commonly in recent US diplomatic practice, the way forward entails deferring any pressure on the Thai Governmentto behave responsibly with regard to their international obligations ( under the UN Declaration on Human Rights for example ) to afford protection to those seeking refuge. Rather, the US Government would defer or decline expenditure of diplomatic capital on this human rights concern in favor of concentrating entirely on addressing what is perceived as the more compelling concern of political stability. But in this instance the calendar works against such simplistic calculation. The Thai-Lao agreement to repatriate the Lao/Hmong calls for complete refoulement by June 2009. Already, before the eruption of civil political disruption in Bangkok and Pattaya, the Thai Government has imposed food cutoffs and brutal treatment of Lao/Hmong leaders to intimidate them into declarations that they desire to return to Laos. More such brutal tactics can be expected.
The Obama Administration faces two crises in Thailand, not one. Will it choose to defer ( i.e., ignore ) the complex concerns posed by the Lao-Hmong plight as did the previous US Administration? The brewing political crisis in Bangkok certainly argues for this less complicated course. Or will it demonstrate a more sophisticated approach, uncharacteristic of US administrations.
Will it make clear to the Thai Government, and especially the Thai military which has been the principal implementer of severe sanctions against the Lao/Hmong at Ban Huay Nam Khao, that continued US military-to-military cooperation with the Royal Thai Military depends not only on their conduct toward civilians in the streets of Bangkok, but also towards besieged Lao/Hmong civilians at Ban Huay Nam Khao?” ( end statement--Edmund McWilliams a retired Senior U.S. Foreign Service Officer-- ) ---
Edmund McWilliams is a retired Senior U.S. Foreign Service Officer, now working pro bono on human rights advocacy. While working for the U.S. Department of State he was assigned to US the Embassies in Vientiane and Bangkok, and elsewhere. Mr. McWilliams dealt with human rights issues, including the plight of Hmong in Laos and refugee status issues in Thailand. He is a veteran of the Vietnam war.
Contact: Maria Gomez
Center for Public Policy Analysis 2020 Pennsylvania Ave, NW Suite #212 Washington, D.C. 20006 USA
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