An open letter to
The US Senate Finance Committee

Subject: Resounding NO to a US-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement

Dear Senators;

This letter will surely appear subsequent to the opening of the Senate Finance Committee hearing on the US-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA), but hopefully prior to any firm resolution on that subject. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, your earnest consideration of the appeal in this letter is requested.

If the information in this letter is not newly informative to you, please at least be advised that articles of this nature and gist have been sent today to the various major media outlets by numerous activists, concerned groups and individuals.

If the BTA with Vietnam is favorably concluded, it would seem awkward for any member of the Senate Finance Committee, and this Administration at large, to have to answer media questions regarding these substantive points and accusations with, "I didn't know," but all the more unseemly to confess, "I knew, but it didn't matter."

President Clinton waived the Jackson-Vanik Amendment for Vietnam in 1998 based on the premise that it would promote a policy of free emigration, and President Bush has just recently renewed this waiver.

In late January and February of this year, Montagnards in the Central Highlands peacefully protested against government persecution for their Christian beliefs, the denuding of their forests for timber export revenues, the takeover and conversion of their ancestral homelands to state-run coffee and other cash crop export plantations, the forced sterilization of their women, and a host of other very serious and verifiable grievances.

Hanoi responded with a massive military deployment, sealed off the Highlands to all outsiders, and crushed these demonstrations, generating a wave of refugees into northeast Cambodia.

Vietnamese security went into Cambodia to capture or kill them and poisoned streams to deny drinking water to those in hiding. The Vietnamese pay Cambodian authorities and Khmer bandits a $150 bounty for the return of each refugee. One particular refugee has a $15,000 bounty on his head.  Human Rights workers in Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia, report that one Cambodian province official was paid $3,200 in gold by Vietnamese officials for delivering a truckload of captured refugees to the Vietnam border. [monetary figures in USD equivalents]

Question 1:  Given these brutal tactics to keep people from leaving Vietnam, please explain how and why this present US Administration believes that, since 1998 and to date, the Vietnamese government has improved its record on free emigration?

Reports filtering out of Vietnam to US Montagnards are that the first thirty-one Montagnard refugee families who were forcibly repatriated were executed in one day near Ban Me Thuot.

Other reports from the Central Highlands are of village square beatings by Vietnamese police of protesters, underground preachers, and others who fled into Cambodia and were captured and forcibly repatriated. The beatings last two to three days, until the victims are dead, and their children are forced to watch. "House churches" were burned and lay preachers and deacons have disappeared. Last week, forty-one accused protest leaders were transported to Hanoi for trial.

This Republican Administration has adopted the position of the previous one regarding the BTA with Vietnam. This policy is founded in the belief that extending trade benefits will lead to prosperity, which will eventually result in political reforms and an improved human rights report for that government.

In addition to the above atrocities committed against Montagnards, just two weeks ago the Vietnamese arrested two prominent religious leaders, Catholic and Buddhist priests, and other political dissidents. Hanoi has also rejected a UN proposal for oversight in the Central Highlands for the purpose of safe repatriation of refugees now in Cambodia.

Although the BTA has not yet been approved by Congress, the Vietnamese are so confident it will pass they have belligerently escalated human rights violations and abuse of their citizens.

Question 2:  If the Vietnamese are committing such heinous crimes against humanity on the eve of the BTA vote, how can the Administration assure us that extending Most Favored Nation trade status will not encourage them to escalate same? Were is the incentive for that regime not to do so?

Extending trade benefits without benchmarks for improved human rights and political reforms will allow the ruling members of the communist party to personally profit the most, and strengthens the strangle hold they have on their people.  Since this "Trade First  -- Reforms Should Evolve" policy makes no demands on that regime, the burden to compel positive changes falls on the citizenry.

As discontent grows among the people, to remain in power the communists will have to increase their repressive measures.  Eighty-five percent of the Vietnamese labor force consists of government workers, public administrators, police, and members of the armed forces.  Relatively, that is the most massive government in the world, a huge apparatus for power retention and state control of a population.

Question 3:  If the burden for positive reforms rests on the reluctant shoulders of an oppressed citizenry and not on their government, how does the Administration expect it to occur without civil disobedience, strikes, protests and bloodshed, as has recently occurred in the Central Highlands?

Since the first of this year, no outsiders, to include our own diplomats and those of other countries, have been allowed into the Central Highlands. Obviously, the communist are trying -- and thus far succeeding -- in hiding many sins from the world.

Well, not entirely succeeding. As a eye-opener side junket, click HERE to read an open letter by Michael Benge, Senior Advisor, Montagnard Human Rights Organization (MHRO). Link at bottom of Mike's letter will return you to here.

Other than reports of atrocities that filter out via escapees, we don't know what has transpired there in the past several months. Therefore, a sensible and prudent observer of how tyrannical governments behave in secrecy might suggest that the horrors of Hanoi's crackdown are considerable.

The only reason the US public knows anything at all about the name "Tiananman Square" is that, much to the chagrin of that government, television cameras provided live and on-the-spot telecast feeds of the truth about what happened there. The word and the scenes got out, and there was considerable worldwide outrage to be accounted for.

In the Central Highlands of Vietnam, no less of a "Tiananman Square" violent oppression of a peaceful protest was foisted in relative secrecy, and so far, with near absolute impunity. And it's not over yet. Montagnards are still paying for it with their very lives.

Please, let's not let that success at news suppression by the communist Vietnamese government cause the US government to behave as though it really didn't happen, or more damning yet, that it really doesn't matter.

As an additional non-compromised perspective on this subject, Human Rights Watch's "World Report 2001" regarding Vietnam stated for openers:

"The twenty-fifth anniversary of Vietnam's reunification saw the government maintaining tight control over freedom of expression and other basic rights. Highly publicized steps to liberalize the economy, including the signing of a landmark trade agreement with the United States and the establishment of the country's first stock exchange, were not accompanied by rights improvements."

"Authorities continued to take strong action against those who criticized the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) or spoke out in favor of democratic change. Disaffected former CPV leaders, long-time academic critics, independent religious leaders, and the press were common targets. A wide range of political subjects remained off-limits to the media."
[ source: Human Rights Watch] [Emphasis (underlining) added]

Even more pointed (and quite accurate) were the sentiments registered in The Honolulu Advertiser (24 June, 2001) article titled: "Vietnam back to old cruel, dirty tricks." A brief snip from that insightful article: "For unless Washington does something -- re-tightens sanctions, protests even more loudly, beseeches European and Asian allies, including China, to do the same -- the Montagnards will certainly die, one by one, until they are no more."

Final Question:  Given this huge blind spot relative to how that regime treats its people, especially the Montagnards who have suffered immensely for their loyalty to America during the Vietnam War, how can this present Administration reconcile support for BTA?

Please vote a resounding NO on the BTA regarding Vietnam unless and until an independently observed and verifiable "sea change" regarding free emigration and human rights for its own indigenous peoples, the Montagnards, is evidenced by that government.

If ever there were a subject upon which all should be able to agree in true bi-partisan unison, it sould be the insistence on verifiable restoration and preservation of the basic human rights of a horribly oppressed and persecuted indigenous people, the Montagnards of Vietnam. Who should profit from their terrible suffering?


Stephen L. Harrison
P.O. Box 311, Charleston, IL 61920
Ph: 217-348-7995 ~ eFax: 561-828-7655

Senate Finance Committee Members
Clicking on Senator's name links to their web site for contact info
Senator Max Baucus (D-MT -- Chair) Phone: 202-224-2651
Senator John Breaux (D-LA) Phone: 202 224-4623
Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) Phone: 202 224-2043
Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) Phone: 202 224-2752
Senator Bob Graham (D- FL) Phone: 202 224-3041
Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) Phone: 202 224-2934
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) Phone: 202 224-3744
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) Phone: 202 224-5251
Senator Jim Jeffords (I-VT) Phone: 202 224-5141
Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) Phone: 202 224-6253
Senator Frank Murkowski (R-AK) Phone: 202 224-6665
Senator Don Nickles (R-OK) Phone: 202 224-5754
Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) Phone: 202 224-6472
Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) Phone: 202 224-4944

Full Senate Roster ~ Alphabetical listing

With thanks to Mr. Gregory Stock for providing much of the information and copy in the open letter.

Links to other resources for news and information regarding the Dega/Montagnard people of the Central Highlands of Southeast Asia:

ACTION ALERT -- Updated Montagnard Refugee Circumstances -- DESPERATE -- HOT!
Save The Montagnards People (STMP) and the Longhouse Project
Vietnam Highlands Assistance Project
Center for World Indigenous Studies
History of the Dega People
The Montagnard Human Rights Organization (MHRO)

to comment on Vietnam's Jackson-Vanik Amendment compliance
U.N. seeks return of minority people to Vietnam - Hilltribe members who fled from Vietnam to Cambodia's Ratanakkiri province about a month ago gather for a meeting with U.S Ambassador Kent Wiedemannon in Ban Lung on June 20. A senior UNHCR representative will visit Vietnam this week to discuss their repatriation.
REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

to the
Dega/Montagnard Photo Gallery

© 2001 by Stephen L. Harrison. All rights reserved.
Permission to reproduce/copy from this web page for the positive benefit of the Montagnard people is hereby granted.
Permission to reproduce/copy from this web page to the detriment of the Montagnard people is strictly forbidden.