Save the Persecuted Christians | June 23, 2020
Vietnamese Government Targets Minority Religious Groups by Forcing Statelessness on Those Who Refuse to Renounce Their Faith, While Applications for Churches Are Repeatedly Overturned or Denied
WASHINGTON—Around the world, millions are persecuted and discriminated against for their religious beliefs, and the United Nations General Assembly set for September plans to address this disturbing trend.
Save the Persecuted Christians (STPC), which advocates on behalf of hundreds of millions of Christians facing heavy persecution worldwide, in coordination with several coalition partners, has spearheaded the submission of several reports to the United Nations General Assembly on Eliminating Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief and the Achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG 16). The 75th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA 75) will open Sept. 15, and the first day of the high-level General Debate will be Sept. 22.
According to the UN, “In many parts of the world, the attainment of SDG 16 to achieve peaceful, just and inclusive societies is challenged by circumstances of increased fragility, social tensions and conflict. In his 2019 report on the progress towards the SDGs, the Secretary General expressed concerns at ‘the uneven advances in ending violence, promoting the rule of law, strengthening institutions and increasing access to justice, which continue to deprive millions of their security, rights and opportunities and to undermine the delivery of public services and broader economic development.’”
“The submission of these reports is an opportunity for our coalition partners to bring to light the global scourge of persecution for religious beliefs and particularly that of vulnerable Christians,” said Dede Laugesen, executive director of Save the Persecuted Christians. “Christians are the most persecuted faith group globally and experience persecution, discrimination and harassment in a record number of countries, but their stories are often ignored by biased media and international leaders with conflicting interests. As a coalition, we banded together to produce multiple reports to ensure Christians are well-represented, as they should be.”
Ann Buwalda of the Jubilee Campaign, a Save the Persecuted Christians coalition partner, submitted a report to the U.N. special rapporteur on the subject of Hmong and Montagnard Christians in Vietnam, in which she outlined the persecution faced by these groups in the Central Highlands. According to a Boat People SOS (BPSOS) 2019 report, “denial of household registration and national ID documents has been used by some provincial governments in Vietnam as a punitive measure against members of unrecognized religions or banned churches.”
“In Vietnam,” Buwalda wrote in her report, “household registration is perhaps the most important documentation an individual or family can possess; with such documentation, one can apply for employment and education, open a business, gain access to government-funded public services, and open a bank account. BPSOShas identified a trend in which local governments with an anti-Christian sentiment have been refusing to allow Hmong and Montagnard Christians to obtain household registration. The effects of such denial cannot be underestimated.”
Additionally, she said, national identification documentation must be provided in order to obtain access to public services such as education, welfare, healthcare and more. An individual is ineligible to apply for an identification card if he or she does not have a valid household registration document, thus further preventing targeted individuals such as Hmong and Montagnard Christians from receiving the benefits that all Vietnamese citizens are provided by law. To make matters even more cruel, couples that do not have household registration are unable to register the birth of their children and obtain birth certificates, forcing the entire family to statelessness.
“The Constitution of Vietnam provides all individuals the right to freedom of religion, and states that violations of such freedoms are strictly prohibited,” Buwalda said. “However, the government has launched multiple campaigns to indirectly target minority religious groups, especially Hmong and Montagnard Christians. In addition to forcing statelessness on such individuals who refuse to renounce their faith, applications for churches have been repeatedly overturned or denied. According to BPSOS, in 2005 the Executive Order ‘Special Instructions Regarding Protestantism’ allowed Protestant churches to apply for legal registration. And in 2007, human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai was arrested for his legal assistance to 671 Hmong house churches in applying for registration. Following his arrest, ‘the central government temporarily suspended its consideration of registration applications by H’mong Protestant house churches.’
“Vietnam’s Law on Belief and Religion further infringes upon religious freedoms,” she added. “The United States Department of State 2018 International Religious Freedom report on Vietnam states that, according to the law, ‘individuals may not use the right of belief and religious freedom to undermine peace, national independence, and unification; incite violence or propagate wars; proselytize in contravention of the state’s laws and policies; divide people, nationalities, or religions; cause public disorder…’ Such restrictions, notably that religious freedoms can be rescinded in the case that an individual or group is accused of subversion of the state or national security, are quite concerning that in many nations use similar restrictions to falsely accuse religious minority groups.”
Montagnard Christians, while facing the similar crackdown religion that Hmong Christians experience, have an even more so strained relationship with the state, dating back to the 1990s, when the government of Vietnam launched a campaign to prevent the spread of Protestantism following the presence of American missionaries. Following the mass protests in the 2000s held by Montagnard communities in response to the crackdown on their freedom of religion, Vietnamese authorities have closed numerous Montagnard churches starting in 2014.
“Due to the statelessness caused by denial of household registration and national identification documents, during the period from 2001 through 2006, Hmong Christians were forced by their provincial governments to either renounce Christianity or otherwise leave their community as they did not have valid documentation,” Buwalda continued. “According to BPSOS, ‘those who continued to participate in religious rites would be arrested or persecuted, their homes destroyed, their farmlands confiscated, and their families evicted from the village.’ As a result, Hmong Christian communities were internally displaced and forced to uproot themselves from their home and locate new uninhabited regions to re-establish their communities. For a decade, most of these communities were forced to live in tents or shacks as they were unemployable and unable to send their kids off for education: ‘things only got harder with time due to shortage of clean water, lack of healthcare, limited protection against the forces of nature, and the absence of most necessities.’”
While many Hmong communities remain stateless and destitute, some were re-incorporated by village governments into the broader community and even were granted household registers, however, such families are in the minority. Since this step forward, provincial governments have taken two steps back as they have not provided these assimilation measures to the 170 Hmong families that have arrived since.
In the UN report, Jubilee Campaign urged that the Government of Vietnam, in order to ensure that the best practices of freedom of religion or belief are met:
- Indiscriminately issue national identification documentation, including household registration, to all Vietnamese citizens regardless of their status as ethnic or religious minorities
- Cease the practice of denying household registration to Hmong and Montagnard Christians as a form of punishment for their religious practice
- Eradicate unnecessary and superfluous obstacles to the application process for religious organizations and expedite the process
- Direct provincial governments to stop evacuating Hmong and Montagnard Christians from their homes in order to combat forced internal displacement
- Take actions to integrate Hmong and Montagnard Christians into local communities
- Recognize that essential health care and education is necessary for citizens of Vietnam regardless of whether they have obtained a household register or national identification documentation
The mission of Save the Persecuted Christians is to save lives and save souls by disseminating actionable information about the magnitude of the persecution taking place globally and by mobilizing concerned Americans for the purpose of disincentivizing further attacks on those who follow Jesus.
With so much of the world’s Christian population being imprisoned and/or harassed for their beliefs, such as faith groups in China, the need has never been greater for the sort of grassroots campaign STPC’sSaveUs Movementis working to foster. Its efforts are modeled after a miraculously successful one that helped free another population suffering from heavy persecution—Soviet Jews—by penalizing those in the Kremlin responsible for such repression. Through this movement, Save the Persecuted Christiansendeavors to provide American policymakers with the popular support they need to effect real change worldwide and alleviate systemically the suffering being experienced by so many of those following Christ.
To interview a Save the Persecuted Christians representative, contact Media@HamiltonStrategies.com