National Hmong Grave Desecration and The Hmong Community

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By Richard Wanglue

Milwaukee, WI — Is it important for Hmong to support the National Hmong Grave Desecration Committee to continue to find solutions for Hmong graves dug by Thailand? How and Why? 

Suab Hmong News interviewed Dr. Shoua Yang (Assistant Professor of Political Science at St. Cloud State University, MN), Dr. Chia Youyee Vang (Associate Professor Hmong Diaspora Studies Program Coordinator in the Department of History at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), and Ja Ia (Ntsa Iab) Xiong (2011-12 Miss Wisconsin-Hmong Pageant) on May 12, 2012 during the National Hmong Grave Desecration Wisconsin Chapter Charitable event in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and asked these questions.

Click here to watch Suab Hmong News Cover National Hmong Grave Desecration Charity event to find out what Dr. Shoua Yang, Dr. Chia Youyee Vang, and Ja Ia Xiong said.

Below are the timeline of Hmong graves dug by Thailand, compiled from http://hrp.cla.umn.edu/projresearch/gd/timeline.html

Note.  Please click on the link above to go to the actual site to see the actual links to all the PDF support documents.{sidebar id=1}

October 26, 2005 -November 18, 2005
The Phothi Paowana Songkhroh Foundation begins the first round of digging at Wat Tham Krabok and 480 bodies are exhumed, of which 206 are male, 161 are female and 113 are children.
 
October 28, 2005
A group of Hmong representatives and state officers responsible for sending the Hmong people to a third country meets with the chairman of the Tham Krabok Foundation (Monk Charoen Panchan) to voice their concerns over the disinterred bodies that may have been their relatives. The group asks the foundation for sympathy by extending the time sending them to other countries so that they can move the bodies of their relatives to other places. Monk Charoen explains that the foundation owned the land and the foundation has never prohibited burials but only suggest that bodies be cremated because burying the dead on mountain slopes or other high grounds would cause harm to the environment, eco-system and nearby communities especially during the rainy season. He encourages them to take the bodies back to their hometown, like other Hmong have done in the past.
 
Late October 2008
Relatives still remaining at Wat Tham Krabok send video footages to their Hmong American relatives of the desecrations.
 
November 25, 2005-December 6, 2005
The Bhudda Dharma 31 Nakhon Ratchasima Foundation begins the second round of digging and 211 bodies are exhumed, of which 65 are male, 109 are female, and 37 are children. These 211 remains are temporary stored in cement storage units at the Hulin cemetery in Amphoe Kaeng Khoi, also in Saraburi.
 
November 27, 2005
The remains from the first round of exhumations are brought back to the Photi Paowana Songkhroh Foundation’s headquarters and cremated. The ashes are buried at the grave for the “unclaimed” at Amphoe Wihan Daeng in Saraburi Province, Thailand.
 
December 16, 2005
Members of the Minnesota (Sabo, McCollum, Dayton and
Coleman) and Wisconsin (Kin, Green, Khol and Feingold) Congressional Delegation send letter to Secretary Rice inquiring about the grave desecration, urging the Department of State to examine the issue. Letter sent by members of the Minnesota and Wisconsin Congressional Delegations to Secretary of State Rice (PDF)
 
January 23, 2006
Congressman Sabo receives a letter from the Department of State, signed by Jeffery T. Berger – Assistant Secretary, Legislative Affairs – in response to Sabo’s communication. Berger thanks Sabo for his letter, saying they have discussed the issue with Thai authorities and that the exhumations are in accordance with local traditions, and are being carried out for reasons of water sanitation. Letter sent by Assistant Secretary Jeffery T. Berger to Congressman Sabo (PDF)
 
March 2, 2006
The Human Rights Program along with Minnesota State Senator Mee Moua’s office sponsors a Letter Writing and Town Hall meeting at the Lao Family Center in Saint Paul, MN. Students and community volunteers assist victims in writing over 170 individual communications to the United Nations Special Rapporteurs.
 
March 9, 2006
Official Human Rights Program communication and individual communications are sent to UN Special Rapporteurs on Religious Intolerance and Contemporary Forms of Racism. Official Communication to the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Religious Intolerance and Contemporary Forms of Racism (PDF)
 
March 16, 2006
Copies of the Human Rights Program’s communication to UN Special Rapporteurs and other complaints are sent to the United States Department of State.
 
March 30, 2006
Congressman Sabo sends letter to Secretary Rice expressing disappointment with previous response, urging the Secretary to examine the information and include it in the 2006 International Religious Freedom Report. Letter sent by Congressman Martin Sabo to Secretary Rice (PDF)
 
April 20, 2006
St. Paul City Council passes a resolution supporting the Hmong and urging the government of Thailand to investigate the exhumations and return remains to family members. Before the City Council meeting, Mayor Chris Coleman holds a press conference in conjunction with the Human Rights Program and victims. Resolution Passed by Saint Paul City Council (PDF)
 
April 22, 2006
Kofi Annan (United Nations Secretary General) visits St. Paul, Minnesota for the opening of a new center at Macalester College (his alma mater). During Annan’s visit, Mayor Coleman speaks with him about the grave desecration issue and provides him background materials on the case. The Secretary General assures Coleman that he has already heard about the issue and that he will urge appropriate UN staff to look into it.
 
April 24, 2006
 “Hear Our Grief: Minnesotans Say No to Grave Desecration Rally” takes place at the Minnesota State Capitol. Minnesota House and Senate Passes a Resolution in support of the Hmong. Resolution Passed by Minnesota House and Senate (PDF)    
  
The City of Minneapolis Proclaims it “Minnesotans Against Grave Desecration Day.”
Proclamation of the City of Minneapolis (PDF)
 
April 27, 2006
Kofi Annan sends a thank you letter to Mayor Coleman and says he will ask the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to look into the grave desecration issue. Letter sent by Kofi Annan to Mayor Coleman (PDF)
 
May 16, 2006
 Zong Khang Yang attends the Fifth Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the United Nations on behalf of the Hmong World Congress and raises the issue of grave desecration with the UN body.
 
May 17, 2006
The Thai delegation to the Fifth Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues gives a statement responding to the speech of Zong Khang Yang about the grave desecration. This is the first time the government of Thailand has given any official statement. The response states that bodies are being removed for reasons of water contamination, and that the bodies had been respectfully reburied. Statement of the Thai Delegation at the Fifth Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PDF)
 
May 24, 2006
Human Rights Program sends a letter to Congressmen Lantos, Leach and Faleomavaega opposing a resolution honoring the King of Thailand on the anniversary of his 60th year on the throne and expresses concern about the lack of resolution in the grave desecration case. Letter sent by Human Rights Program to Congressmen Lantos (PDF)
 
June 7, 2006
Resolution honoring the King of Thailand is passed in the House on a Voice Vote.
 
June 14, 2006
Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum gives a Statement for the Congressional Record concerning the desecration of Hmong Graves in Thailand and urges the Thai Government to stop any further destruction. Statement given by Representative Betty McCollum, for the Congressional Record, on June 14, 2006(PDF)
 
June 19, 2006
Human Rights Program sends a letter to Her Excellency Ambassador Khunying Laxanachantorn Laohaphan, the Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations, inviting her to come to Minnesota to discuss the issue. Letter sent to Ambassador Khunying Laxanachantorn Laohaphan (PDF)
 
June 20, 2006
Human Rights Program develops a questionnaire in order to garner more reliable information about the exhumations. It is circulated to the UN Rapporteurs, Thai Government officials and US diplomats. Questions Regarding Exhumations at Wat Tham Krabok (PDF) 
 
July 6, 2006
Senator Mark Dayton’s office forwards the questionnaire to the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok. The Human Rights Program receives an e-mail from Anthony Cardon, a staff person at the United Nations Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, saying they had received the letter and questionnaire and the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion had already been seized of this matter and was following it very closely.
 
July 11, 2006
The Human Rights Program is notified via e-mail that Ellen R. Saurbrey, the Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration, has received the letter and questionnaire and would be forwarding it to the Human Rights Bureau of the State Department.
 
July 17, 2006
The Human Rights Program received a letter from the United States Mission to the United Nations saying they had received its letter and questionnaire and suggesting we send it to the Bureau of International Organization Affairs at the State Department.
 
August 1, 2006
The Human Rights Program receives a letter from Senator Feingold, in which he continues to defend the government of Thailand. Letter from Senator Feingold addressed to HRP (PDF). The Human Rights Program quickly wrote a letter in response with the facts. (PDF)
 
September. 15, 2006
Despite the Human Rights Program’s best efforts, the issue of Grave Desecration at Wat Tham Krabok is not included in the 2006 Annual International Religious Freedom report on Thailand.
 
December. 2006
It is brought to the Human Rights Program’s attention, via counterparts in the Hmong Community, that the Government in Thailand had held a meeting in September to investigate the issue of Grave Desecrations and discuss the concerns of the Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance. The product of this meeting is an offer to return the bodies of approximately 211 people to their relatives, if the relatives can prove the relationship.
 
January. 2007
The U.S. State Department receives a copy of a Memo from the provincial Government of Saraburi, Thailand, and transmits it to Senator Coleman’s office which translates the Memo and makes it public to the Hmong community.  Thai Original (PDF)          English Translation (PDF) 
 
January 27, 2007
The Human Rights Program, the offices of Senator Mee Moua and Representative Cy Thao, and the Hmong Grave Desecration Committee hold a community meeting at the Lao Family Community Center to share the information with the affected families and to solicit input. The families ask the Human Rights Program to help lead a political response to ask the Thai government to waive the July cremation deadline, and to work with the families to identify an appropriate solution.
 
February 12, 2007
A group of Hmong American students from St. Olaf College and Carleton College in Northfield and the Chair of the Northfield Human Rights Commission ask the Mayor and the City Council of the City of Northfield City for their support in finding resolutions to the issue.
 
March 5, 2007
The City of Northfield passes a resolution supporting the Hmong American community and those affected by grave desecration. The resolution pledges to work with the affected families to help bring them peace and justice. Resolution Passed by Northfield City Council (PDF)
 
May 2, 2007
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman announces the creation of the Grave Desecration Reconciliation Working Group for the purpose of further investigating a resolution to the case. The working group will work with the US Ambassador to Thailand, Ralph L. Boyce, members of Congress, and the State Department to determine a feasible solution.
 
September 2007
The National Hmong Grave Desecration Committee sends its first delegation in Thailand to investigate the desecration of Hmong graves at the Wat Tham Krabok Monastery.
 
September 19, 2007
The City Council of the City of St. Paul unanimously adopts Resolution #07-831 to support a privately funded delegation to travel to Thailand. The goal of the delegation is to establish a working relationship with the Thai government and move towards resolving the Hmong grave desecration issue.  City of St. Paul Minutes (PDF)
 
September 21, 2007
The delegation, consisting of State Senator Lawrence Pogemiller, State Senator Mee Moua, community activist Yee Chang and the Mayor’s Policy Associate, Va-Megn Thoj, departs for Thailand.
 
September 24, 2007
The delegation meets with US Ambassador Ralph Boyce at the US Embassy office in Bangkok. The Ambassador reiterates his commitment to the issue and desire to find a workable solution. In the afternoon the delegation meets with Pablo Espiniella, the Human Rights coordinator for the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
 
September 25, 2007
The delegation visits the Abbot at Wat Tham Krabok, the site of the Hmong refugee camp and grave exhumations. When asked if he would allow the 211 bodies to be reburied on temple property, the Abbot responds no. He states that no further exhumations are planned except in the case of environmental problems.
 
September 26, 2007
The delegation meets with the chairman, officers, board members and volunteers of the Phothi Paowana Songkhroh Foundation in Bankaeng, a suburb of Bangkok. This Foundation is responsible for the first round of exhumations that took place between October 26 and November 18, 2005 when approximately 480-600 bodies were exhumed. The delegation learns that in 2005 the Foundation was directed by their god to conduct a mass exhumation of “unknown” graves throughout Thailand. The organizations advertised for volunteer diggers and property owners who needed their land to be cleared. The Abbot at Wat Tham Krabok saw their advertisement in the newspaper and contacted them. Hmong members of the delegations share with the Foundation members the significance of Hmong burial practices and explain why their actions have caused Hmong families so much pain and suffering. Later, the delegation travels to Saraburi Province to visit the site of the tomb of the unclaimed where the cremated remains of the Hmong were buried. Members of the Phothi Paowana Songkhroh Foundation say they carried out their actions with no malicious intent and invite Hmong family members to visit their tomb of the unknown.
 
September 27, 2007
The delegation meets with the Bhudda Dharma 31 NakhonRatchasima Foundation, the group responsible for conducting the second round of grave exhumations between November 25 and December 6, 2005. The meeting takes place in NakhonRatchasima Province, a two-hour drive from Bangkok. The delegation visits Hulin cemetery in Amphoe Kaeng Khoi where the 211 remains that the Foundation exhumed from Wat Tham Krabok are being kept in cement caskets. The delegation is doubtful that all 211 remains are present at the site. When asked that the caskets be opened for visual confirmation of the remains the delegation’s request is denied by the President of the Foundation. The delegation asks the US Embassy to follow up on the matter. Like the First Foundation, Bhudda Dharma 31 NakhonRatchasima Foundation states that their actions were not done with malicious intent.
 
September 29, 2007
The Delegation concludes their fact-finding mission and returns to Minnesota.
 
October 4, 2007
The US Embassy conducts a follow-up visit to Hulin cemetery and is shown the contents of the cement contains, green body bags. The Embassy is satisfied with the evidence of the existence of 211 remains.
 
October 10, 2007
The Delegation presents their found information, photos and raw video footages from their trip toThailand in a 2 hour meeting at the Hmong American Center in St. Paul. Present at the forum are the affected families, Hmong American individuals, community leaders, local elected officials and representatives of several Minnesota Congressional offices. Giving presentations and answering questions at the forum are the four Delegation members, along with Mayor Chris Coleman, Representative Cy Thao, and Professor Barb Frey. The Delegation also discusses the conclusions and recommendations as outlined in the report. Report of St. Paul fact-finding delegation (PDF)
 
Late 2007
The National Hmong Grave Desecration Committee sends its second   delegation to Thailand.
 
July 12, 2008
The National Hmong Grave Desecration Committee sends its third delegation to Thailand in an effort to resolve the Hmong grave desecration issue. The delegation is made up of nine members of the Committee; Chairman Ser Lee of Minnesota; Vice Co-chairmen Vang Xiong of Washington; Treasurer Xai Khue Khang of North Carolina; Political Officer Michael Yang; Legal Adviser Sia Lo; Thai expert Souwan Thao; cultural experts Neng Txoua Xiong of Wisconsin and Nao Lue Moua of South Carolina; and Lt. Fong Lo, Chairman of the Hmong-American Veterans.
 
June-September 2008
Guided by Professor Carolyn Wong, Carleton College students, PaChia Yang, Mena Xiong, Chai Lee, and Fue Thao work to gather testimony from those individuals affected by the grave desecrations at Wat Tham Krabok.
 
December 10, 2008
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, Professor James Anaya, visits Minnesota on December 10, 2008, to hear testimony concerning the desecration of Hmong graves at Wat Tham Krabok in Saraburi, Thailand.

Witnesses giving testimony are:
Mr. Shong Ger Thao testimony, Hmong funeral expert (PDF)

Mr. Nhia Yer Yang testimony, Hmong shaman traditional healing ceremonies expert (PDF)

Mr. Soua Do Thao testimony, Hmong victim family member (PDF)

Mr. Lee Thao testimony, Hmong victim family member (PDF)

Mr. Kao Xiong testimony, Hmong victim family member (PDF)

Mr. Lee Yang testimony, Hmong victim family member (PDF)

Ms. Lia Thao testimony, Hmong victim family member (PDF)

Mr. Pa Ze Xiong testimony, Hmong victim family member (PDF)

Mr. Chue Thao testimony, Hmong victim family member (PDF)

The United Nations expert was moved by the testimony which he called “disturbing” while quickly adding that it was at “the same time encouraging to see the courage and the determination by the people to have their rights respected and the violation of their rights vindicated.” Anaya pledged to the community that “I will take measures that will help restore some level of dignity and some level of trust and perhaps some level of understanding, mutual understanding, between the Hmong people and the rest of the Thai society…this is a matter of concern that you can rest assure that I will address.”