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Media Denied Access to Relocated Hmong in Thailand

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More than 7,000 Hmong living in the Petchabun settlement are to be relocated by the Thai military to improve security, among other things. Now the Thai military has restricted media access to the area – so who are they really protecting?
At the end of June, a paramilitary task force began relocating over 7,000 Hmong, 70% of whom are under 20 years old, in the Ban Huay Nam Khao, Petchabun settlement to a new location about three kilometres away. The Thai military says this mass resettlement is to ease over-crowding and improve security. Medicins San Frontieres (MSF) staff, who work closely with the camp, would not comment on the motivations for the move but are concerned about education for the children at the settlement. The Thai military has not announced any education plans for the children, whose current education comes from church groups working in the area.

In Laos, Hmong face a wide range of human rights violations, from denial of basic rights such as access to clean water and education, to societal stigmatization from their historical association with the Americans during the Vietnam War, which spilled over into Laos, to being massacred in jungles of Laos, as was widely documented in April 2006. In Laos, reporting of human rights violations is highly restricted, making the complex situation even more difficult to understand. These violations have driven thousands of Hmong to Thailand into a meagre existence and to dreams of resettlement in a third country. 

The status of the Hmong, originally from Laos, in the settlement remains unclear. As the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is not allowed access to them. Numerous statements have been made from both the Thai and Laos side on why the Hmong Lao are in Thailand. The most common reasoning from the Thai government is that the Hmong are economic migrants seeking work in Thailand or that they are seeking resettlement in the United States. In the recent months, a number of the Hmong Lao have been forcibly repatriated back to Laos. The Lao government made the unsupported claim that these individuals had been trafficked to Thailand and the Lao government was simply welcoming them back.

To further complicate matters, on 3 July 2007, the Thai military in charge of the settlement announced that journalists would be restricted from accessing the site where the Hmong are being relocated to. In a statement released by the Thai military, reporters are “not to say anything that could be deemed as an allegation to officials who take care of the camp” and the media “shall refrain from reporting bad treatment from officials, if any, towards the Hmong.”

The military coercion and threat towards journalists to stop reporting on Hmong issues curbs press freedom. New media restrictions will further compound the problem of the lack of information and access to information on the Hmong, both in Laos and in Thailand. Thailand is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and has a duty to respect the right to freedom of expression, especially under the article 19 which states “…to seek , receive and impart information”.  The Thai military government also needs to keep in mind the obligation under international law to protect the Hmong, without any discrimination.