Vietnam's War Against Christianity

Wednesday, May 7, 2003

A dilemma for American foreign policy

By Scott Johnson
Special to ASSIST News Service

HANOI, VIETNAM (ANS) -- Communist regimes like Vietnam have never been known for their tolerance of religion but recently in 2003 Hanoi has escalated the persecution of its “hill tribe” Christians to an unprecedented level. In the Central Highlands of Vietnam the indigenous Montagnards or Degar Peoples are facing arrest, beatings, torture and even murder at the hands of Vietnamese security forces. This persecution did not go unnoticed this month in a damming report released by the US International Commission For Religious Freedom that stated, “the increased repression of religious freedom has been reportedly sanctioned at the highest levels of the Vietnamese government.”

Today in Vietnam the Montagnard’s ancestral homelands are currently sealed off from international observers as secret police enforce a campaign to crush the spread of Christianity. This repression is the culmination of years of systematic persecution of Vietnam’s highland peoples who were once allied with American forces during the Vietnam War. Over 40,000 Montagnards had served alongside US troops during that conflict where their loyalty and fighting prowess became legendary. It was however, a loyalty not appreciated by the victorious communists.

“The Montagnards have been repressed by Vietnam for decades. This has got to stop,” reported Human Rights Watch in April 2002. But the persecution has not stopped. One year later in April 2003 Human Rights Watch reported an “escalation of repression,” with the release of “secret” government documents ordering further repression of Christians. Churches have been destroyed while authorities force Montagnards to renounce Christianity. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also documented hundreds of political prisoners and even killings of Montagnard refugees who have tried fleeing to Cambodia. In fact, the Vietnamese/Cambodian border is patrolled by soldiers, where Cambodian authorities hunt down and “sell” refugees to Vietnamese police for bounties.

On the diplomatic front, the Vietnamese government has tried to hijack the Human Rights Commission by accusing those who speak in the UN against this brutality, of being “terrorists.” Kok Ksor, a committed Montagnard Christian and president of the US-based Montagnard Foundation has not only been declared a “terrorist” last year by Hanoi but has had his relatives in Vietnam tortured in retaliation for speaking out. Hanoi even demanded the United Nations kick the rights group that sponsored him to speak at the UN - the Transnational Radical Party - out of the UN for good, as a warning to other groups who try bringing such issues to world attention. Kok Ksor has however vowed, “We will continue letting the world know how the Vietnamese communist government is committing genocide against our people.” Courageously the Transnational Radical Party also has refused to buckle under threats from Hanoi.

But how does this persecution relate to foreign policy of the United States? Well for starters, the Montagnards were loyal allies to the US military during the Vietnam War. Thus the question arises - Is there a historical debt owed to these people by the United States?

Certainly many Vietnam Veterans think so. Some Special Forces veterans have launched a lobbying effort and website (Green Berets 4 Human Rights at to assist in the passing of the Vietnam Human Rights Act. Having fought alongside the Montagnards these Green Berets understand what loyalty means. The act was re-launched this year in Congress by Rep. Chris Smith along with 30 bi-partisan colleagues The legislation calls for the halt of US non-humanitarian aid to Vietnam unless the Vietnamese government makes significant progress in improving human rights for all Vietnamese citizens. President Bush’s administration too, has recognized “the duty owed” to the Montagnards and last year granted asylum to over 900 Montagnard refugees who had escaped the persecution in Vietnam.

But there are others in the United States who have forgotten or deliberately ignored the debt owed to the Montagnards.

Senator John Kerry is one of these. Last year he placed a hold on the original Vietnam Human Rights bill from coming for a vote to the Senate floor. While the House of Representatives had voted overwhelmingly in favor of it (410-1) Senator Kerry buried the act, along with the hopes and dreams of thousands of Montagnards and Vietnamese people. Unfortunately Kerry demonstrated that human rights are secondary concerns when it comes to doing business with Hanoi. The astounding thing about this is that Kerry himself is a Vietnam Veteran. He is also currently seeking the Democratic nomination for President.

True, the United States however, has strategic interests in dealing with Vietnam. Trade is one and the US/Vietnam Trade Council has lobbied very hard for entry into Vietnam’s markets. Vietnam’s ports and it’s strategic position in the South China Sea, not to mention offshore oil interests too have all had a hand in influencing US foreign policy with Hanoi.

For the Montagnards in Vietnam however, this is little comfort…

On March 13, 2003 a Montagnard was shot and wounded by Vietnamese security forces while washing at a rivers edge. A few days later the police returned his battered corpse to his family. Human Rights Watch reported his skull had been crushed from apparent beatings whilst in custody.

On February 27, 2003 the villagers in Dak Lac province were paraded in front of three executed Montagnards - whose eyes had been cut out. The authorities threatened the villagers not to follow Christianity - or else. Over the past year Human Rights Watch documented numerous incidents where authorities conduct mass ceremonies forcing Montagnards to renounce Christ, sometimes while drinking sacrificed animal’s blood.

One thing is certain - no civilized nation treats its indigenous citizens in such a barbaric manner. It should also be certain that civilized nations today do not contribute further to such barbarity by collaborating with repressive nations like Vietnam.

Referring to America’s role with Vietnam Rep. Frank Wolf, R – VA, recently commented on “those who worship at the shrine of trade.” A courageous statement, he was hitting out on those who abandon justice in favor of trade. He was condemning those who practice economic prostitution with repressive governments like Vietnam.

And thus the United States must consider the debt owed to the Montagnards and to all the oppressed people of Vietnam. Particularly now, after the Iraq conflict has officially ended, for there exists the opportunity for the United States to change the destiny of not only Arab-Western relations for generations, but the destiny of the world. Potential future allies will be watching America and its role in upholding ideals and standing by the oppressed peoples of the world. For the Montagnard’s sake, lets hope today’s leaders cast down - the idols worshipped at the shrine of trade.