UN refugee agency rejects report of torture against Montagnard returnees in Viet Nam

Vietnamese Montagnards in Cambodia

16 June 2006 – The United Nations refugee agency today rejected a recent report from an international non-governmental human rights organization alleging that Vietnamese authorities have been detaining, interrogating and torturing Montagnard asylum seekers who have returned to Viet Nam from Cambodia.

The report, issued on Wednesday by Human Rights Watch (HRW), also urged the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to review its participation in the return exercise, called the Agency’s monitoring ‘flawed’ and said its public statements appeared to be ‘calculated’ to gain greater access to Viet Nam’s Central Highlands, the Montagnard tribesmen’s place of origin.

“Frankly, we find the report unbalanced and reject its accusations. The allegations do not tally with our first-hand experience of the Montagnard caseload in Cambodia, nor with our 12 monitoring missions to visit returnees in the Central Highlands of Viet Nam,” UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva.

“We reject the accusation made in the report that we made public statements praising Viet Nam’s treatment of returnees in order to gain greater access. We have absolutely no reason to do so. Our public statements have reflected the reality we found on the ground. We will continue to report what we find in an objective manner.”

Under the terms of an agreement signed in Hanoi in January 2005 between UNHCR, Viet Nam and Cambodia, Montagnards who had arrived in Cambodia and were recognized as refugees could either be resettled to a third country or return to Viet Nam, which guaranteed they would not be punished, discriminated against or prosecuted for illegal departure.

UNHCR said it had now visited more than 64 percent of all returnees, many of them several times, and had also spoken with the two people on whom HRW had relied heavily for their report and Mr. Redmond said the Agency had “found discrepancies between accounts they related to us and to HRW.”

“There have been no similar allegations of mistreatment from any other returnees, who now total 102 voluntary returnees and 94 deportees,” he added.

A total of 672 Montagnards were resettled from Cambodia in 2004/2005. There are currently 249 in Phnom Penh. In 2005, 82 Montagnards returned home voluntarily, with a further 20 returning in 2006. A total of 94 persons have been deported.

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