Time to Stop the Oppression Against the Hmong

hmong siskiyou oppression

The Hmong have been getting ‘it’ from all sides of the proverbial pond as the expression goes. Here in California the Hmong have been singled out as the group who are being deprived of water in Siskiyou County. And in Laos the Hmong are being persecuted. 

For the reader who might be asking themselves who are the Hmong, I will provide the need-to-know important facts: 

“The Hmong are an ethnic group from the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. Hmong are also one of the sub-groups of the Miao ethnicity in southern China.”

“During World War II–known by elders in the Hmong community as the Japanese War–the Hmong of Laos were divided into two factions due to internal clan conflicts. Most Hmong stayed loyal to the French and the Royal Lao Government; the rest joined the Communist Party.”

“The pro-French Hmong showed fierceness against the Japanese by rescuing the king in Luang Prabang, who was being held by Japanese forces while they were extending their reach over Southeast Asia. As a result, several Hmong leaders won national political positions.”

“The Hmong were officially recognized as citizens of Laos in 1947. A coup d’état in 1960 in the Lao capital, Vientiane, deepened the country’s political instability. As a result, newly elected US president John F. Kennedy authorized the recruitment of ethnic minorities in Laos to participate in covert military operations against the spread of communism. CIA agent Bill Lair met with the young Hmong military officer Vang Pao to discuss supporting US objectives in Laos. A sharp increase in the number of Hmong troops, supported by American military and CIA advisers, along with huge drops of military supplies, signaled the start of what is now called the Secret War.” 

“In February of 1973, a cease-fire and political peace treaty were signed in Paris, requiring the US and all foreign powers to withdraw all military activities from Laos. More than 120,000 Hmong became refugees in their own homelands. 18,000 Hmong soldiers were left in Laos, representing nearly three-quarters of the irregular forces. About 50,000 Hmong civilians had been killed or wounded in the war.”

Next, the need-to-know timeline from 1975 onward: 

“After overthrowing the Laotian monarchy, the Pathet Lao launched an aggressive campaign to capture or kill Hmong soldiers and families who sided with the CIA. Thousands of Hmong were evacuated or escaped on their own to Thailand. Thousands more who had already gone to live deep in the jungle were left to fend for themselves, which led to the creation of the Chao Fa and Neo Hom freedom fighters movements.” 

“Hmong began moving into refugee camps overseen by non-governmental organizations such as the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Rescue Committee, Refugees International ,and the Thai Ministry of the Interior. The first Hmong family to resettle in Minnesota arrived in November 1975. The largest wave came after the passage of the US Refugee Act of 1980.”

“In 2004, the Buddhist monastery at Wat Tham Krabok—the last temporary shelter for 15,000 Hmong remaining in Thailand—closed. This “last wave” came to the US, with as many as 5,000 settling in established Minnesota Hmong communities.”

As of the 2010 census there are more than 260,000 Hmong living in the United States. Some of whom are living in Northern California and facing racism and a recent murder while others are being persecuted in Laos.  Several weeks ago the Hmong were in the news when Siskiyou County officials enacted unfair water ordinances. The very publisher of this online magazine, Allison Margolin, a defense attorney in California, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allison_Margolin is representing the Hmong in their federal lawsuit https://www.margolinlawrence.com/downloads/Memorandum%20of%20Points%20and%20Authorities.pdf

“But Allison Margolin, a Los Angeles-based attorney who is part of a federal civil rights lawsuit filed July 15 on behalf of the Hmong, said withholding water from an entire neighborhood – especially for domestic purposes – is not only illegal but a blatant form of racism. Asian Americans make up just 1.54% of the population in Siskiyou County, according to census data.”

“They live here and are entitled to basic human rights,” she said.

https://www.mtshastanews.com/story/news/2021/07/17/hmong-americans-protest-siskiyou-courthouse-what-their-demands/8005703002/

https://darkmattersmag.com/news/withholding-water-is-the-new-racism-in-siskiyou-county/

Let’s unpack it further. 

“Hmong people fought for the U.S. during the Vietnam War after being recruited by the CIA in Laos to fend off communist forces. After the war, many Hmong refugees moved to Minnesota, Wisconsin and California, where they settled in the Central Valley, given their agricultural background.”

“In recent years, some Hmong farmers moved north from central California to work in marijuana growing operations.”

Let’s begin with the recent upheaval in Siskiyou County in Northern California. This ongoing strife against the Hmong is tied to the illegal cultivation of cannabis and the targeting of the Hmong specifically. 

“To try to stop the cultivation of illegal marijuana, the county has taken steps and passed a series of new emergency ordinances that are now causing ripple effects through the county, impacting land owners and growers that are legal in certain areas.”

“At the beginning of May, there was a large protest outside the Siskiyou County Superior Court in Yreka. The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors voted to approve and immediately enact two emergency ordinances, with a goal of stopping water usage at illegal marijuana farms.”

“The police have been aggressively enforcing ordinances that prevent well owners from selling and trucking water to pot farmers most of whom are of Asian descent.”

“The pot farmers believe they are being targeted because of their race. There have been protests with cries for “Stop Asian Hate” and “Asian Lives Matter”. And it seems that they are being targeted.” 

“The growers argue that if you drive down secluded rural roads in Siskiyou County, you’ll find large pot grows tended by white people. They ask: Why are only Asians being singled out?”

“Siskiyou County is creating the problem with their provincial mindset by not allowing any commercial cannabis operations in a state that has legalized the plant but left a loophole for the narrow minded to exploit hard working cannabis farmers.”

Things went from bad to worse in late June when Soobleej Hawj was killed in a confrontation with law enforcement during the Lava Fire evacuations.  The Lava Fire which started on June 25 is 77% contained as of this writing. 

“Officers shot and killed a man who pulled a gun as they tried to keep him out of a complex of marijuana farms in an area of far Northern California where thousands of people were ordered to evacuate as a wildfire raged during a heat wave enveloping part of the U.S. West, authorities said.”

“Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue told The Sacramento Bee that the man was trying to drive into the Mount Shasta Vista subdivision on Monday and pointed a handgun at a group of officers that included a sheriff’s deputy and local police.”

“Based upon preliminary information, it appears that there might have been a couple rounds fired from the suspect’s firearm,” LaRue said.”

The officers killed the man, who was not immediately identified.

“The subdivision has been converted into a huge network of marijuana farms mostly run by Hmong and Chinese families. The county has banned large-scale marijuana cultivation but thousands of pot greenhouses have sprung up. Police efforts to shut them down have been countered with claims of racial discrimination, and the families are pursuing a federal civil rights lawsuit.”

The shooting “laid bare the tensions” between the Hmong cannabis growers and law enforcement. With a protest at the Siskiyou Courthouse on Saturday July 17 and legislators calling for an investigation into the killing it appears that tensions will remain as hot as the Lava Fire itself.   

“The victim, identified as Soobleej Kaub Hawj of Kansas City, Kansas, allegedly pointed a gun at officers on the evening of June 28 when he turned the wrong way at a checkpoint on Highway A-12 near Weed. His family was following behind in a second vehicle. The area was under a mandatory evacuation order at the time.”

“Since the shooting the conflict has escalated, sparking everything from a hunger strike in front of the county courthouse to demands that Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue resign.”

“At a protest Saturday in Yreka attended by an estimated 300 people, several speakers called for the release of body cam footage from the fatal shooting.” 

“A photo taken by an eyewitness shows 21 bullet holes in the driver and cab doors of Hawj’s GMC pickup truck. Both side windows were blown out.”

To add insult to injury “state game wardens, members of the Etna Police Department and county sheriff deputies were all on the scene when Hawj was killed”.

“Legislators in California and across the country are calling for a federal investigation into the police killing of a Hmong man during the Lava Fire evacuation.”

“Now that this has happened, I think it’s important that we hold the county accountable, and that the county attorney cannot investigate this because this is not impartial. It’s just another department investigating another department in the same county,” said St. Paul City Councilmember Dai Thao. Minnesota and California are the two states with the highest percentage of Hmong Americans.”

Cannabis legalization pioneer and defense attorney Bruce Margolin https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Margolin who attended the rally in Siskiyou on July 17  “announced a federal lawsuit has been filed against the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, among others. The lawsuit claims they violated the fourteenth (due process, equal protection) and fourth (unlawful search and seizure) amendments”.

Clearly there needs to be accountability for the death of an innocent man in front of his wife and three children. Hmong leaders from Minnesota attended the rally in Siskiyou and joined with their California Hmong brothers and sisters in demanding justice.

“St. Paul, Minnesota city council members Nelsie Yang and Dai Thao also joined the call for action on Friday. California and Minnesota host the largest Hmong populations in the U.S.”

“There needs to be accountability. The Sheriff’s Office made a mistake by killing an innocent man in front of his wife and 3 kids,” said Thao in a statement. “It’s horrifying, shameful and a major blunder. He and his department should be held accountable. The sheriff and his department can’t be judge, jury and executioner. This will only further drift the relationship between the community and law enforcement.”

“The St. Paul civic leaders laid out a list of demands for Siskiyou County authorities that the rally hopes to emphasize. They are asking that law enforcement release all body or dashcam footage from the fatal shooting, in addition to holding the officers involved accountable for “unnecessary use of force.”

“Members of the Hmong community claim that officers fired dozens of rounds at Hawj during the deadly encounter — often saying that as many as 60 shots were fired. The Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office has not addressed particulars in the case beyond a relatively brief initial statement and a follow-up that identified Hawj, citing the ongoing DA investigation.”

“Thao and Yang also said that they demand charges be dropped against 14 Hmong men arrested for entering the Lava Fire evacuation zone, an investigation be launched into claims that CalFire dumped Hmong water supplies, and the ordinances on water shipping into the Mount Shasta Vista area be rescinded.”

“Finally, the two council members called for a transparent and external investigation into Siskiyou County authorities for “corruption, racial profiling and racially motivated water restriction ordinances that unfairly target the Hmong community.”

As the Hmong in California are struggling to find a peaceful place for themselves their brothers and sisters across the ocean in Laos are suffering a devastating fate. Since 1975 the Hmong have been the victims of genocide at the hands of the government of Laos.  

“Among the silent ongoing conflicts in Southeast Asia, the Hmong problem in Laos remains as one of the longest unsolved crises in the region. This ethnic has been persecuted by the government of Laos since 1975, when they were publicly signaled as traitors due to their support to the American troops during the Vietnam War. As a result, over 17,000 members of the secret Hmong army and 50,000 civilians have been slaughtered by the Laotian government in successive ethnic cleansing campaigns. Despite the magnitude of the bloodshed, the international community has not found a solution to the Hmong problem, and today many members of this ethnic are still struggling against governmental persecution.”

In April the government of Laos launched a “new set of attacks against groups of etchnic Hmong living in the forests near  Phou Bia Mountain”.

“The new push against the Hmong—who fought under U.S. advisors against communist forces during the Vietnam War—follows the March 14 publication of an order by authorities in Xaysomboun province barring access by civilians to the forests near Phou Bia, the highest mountain in Laos, an international NGO said at the weekend.”

“Hmong civilians living in the area are now reporting an increase in violence at the hands of government troops, an official of the Brussels-based Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) told RFA in an email on March 28.”

“As you know, this escalation of violence coincides with a push towards the development of Phou Bia Mountain as both a tourist site and an area of interest to foreign investment,” the UNPO official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.”

“United Nations human rights advocates are now getting involved and notifying the government in Laos of their concern over the persecution of the Hmong people.”  

“Prominent United Nations-affiliated rights advocates have notified the government of Laos of their concerns over the persecution of ethnic Hmong people, many of whom are Christians, in the communist nation.”

“In a letter sent by the UN’s Working Group on Enforced Disappearances and seven of its special rapporteurs, the signatories have expressed alarm at the persecution of the Hmong in Laos, including military attacks on communities living deep within forests on the Phou Bia mountain.”

“The special rapporteurs also voiced their concerns over allegations that the Lao army has carried out indiscriminate military attacks on Hmong communities in the area and perpetrated a variety of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings.”

“Hmong people in the area belong to an independence movement that has resisted the communist takeover of Laos since 1975 and as a result continue to be routinely victimized by the country’s regime.”

“We are distressed by credible allegations and testimonies indicating that cases of extrajudicial killings, torture and other serious violations of human rights, including sexual abuse, have been perpetrated by army soldiers,” the signatories said.”

“[These allegations] seem to be part of an ongoing and escalating pattern of violence by government forces characterized by a disproportionate use of force, against Hmong individuals and communities, including elderly [people], women and children.”

The human rights advocates also called for the investigation of the disappearance of four Hmong individuals who went missing in March. Four villagers were being driven in a car that went missing and the car was later found with two individuals, the driver and his father, tortured and dead. The villagers included an elder and three teenage girls.  

“The rights advocates also called on the Lao government to investigate the recent disappearance of four Hmong people, including three teenage girls, who went missing after being last seen on March 12 at a military checkpoint in Paksan, a district in Bolikhamsai province in western Laos.”

“Following reception of this letter, please provide detailed information about the steps taken to investigate the allegations that the relatives of the four disappeared individuals have been subjected to ongoing reprisals by local authorities accusing them of having communicated the disappearance of their relatives to the United Nations special procedures,” the special rapporteurs wrote.”

“The four disappeared Hmong include an 80-year-old elder of the community and three girls aged 18, 17 and 15 who left their homes in the jungles of the Special Zone of Xaisomboun, near Vientiane, on March 10 to relocate to Thailand, where they hoped to find work.”

“However, while the four Hmong villagers were traveling in a car driven by a man, who was being accompanied by his father, they were stopped on March 12 at a checkpoint in Paksan where their relatives lost touch with them as their phones were no longer answered.”

 

“The next day, the driver’s wife and mother went to Paksan to search for the group,” said the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), an international organization that campaigns on behalf of unrepresented and marginalized people worldwide.

“They visited nearby villages and prisons in the area and asked at authority offices for their relatives, but no one was found.

“Two weeks later, the vehicle which was transporting the group at the time of their disappearance was found off a hill with two dead bodies inside — the driver and his father — bearing marks of torture. The site where the car was found is about 100 kilometers away from the checkpoint in Paksan.”

The UNPO has informed UN agencies of the incident and called for pressure to be placed on Laotian authorities to investigate the case immediately.

It is up to the United States government to help these proud people who fought against the Communists in the VietNam War in numbers that are staggering, a war the United States had no business fighting in the first place. They are being persecuted in Laos and discriminated against in their adopted country for growing pot. And now a murder in Siskiyou County. It’s time the oppression stops. And it’s up to the United States government to stop it. 

“The Hmong fought valiantly, often rescuing downed American pilots, watching the movements of the enemy forces, and fighting the ground war. Eventually, approximately 60 percent of the 300,000 Hmong in Laos joined in the war against the communist forces.  At its peak, the Hmong army numbered nearly 40,000. The Hmong fought bravely, and they sustained staggering losses in the war.” 

This is a call to action to stand up for the Hmong.

Author: Sherri Margolin (Dark Matters) & Allison Margolin ESQ.

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