Cases examined by the Special Rapporteur (June 2009 – July 2010)
A/HRC/15/37/Add.1, 15 September 2010
XXIX. Thailand: Alleged forcible return of Lao Hmong from Thailand to Laos
386. In a letter dated 29 December 2009, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, James Anaya, together with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Jorge A. Bustamante, and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, Manfred Nowak, sent a communication to the Government of Thailand regarding the alleged forcible return of Lao Hmong from Thailand to Laos. This letter followed earlier communications of 27 June 2008 and 18 July 2008 that the Government of Thailand responded to, respectively, in letters dated 3 July 2008 and 7 August 2008.  The Government of Thailand responded to the Special Rapporteurs’ most recent communication on 12 January 2010.
Allegations received by the Special Rapporteurs and transmitted to the Government on 29 December 2009
387. In their communication of 29 December 2009, the Special Rapporteurs transmitted to the Government information received by them regarding the forcible return of Lao Hmong from Thailand to Laos. According to information received, on 28 December 2009, the Thai Government proceeded to return about 4,000 Lao Hmong to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) under a bilateral agreement with the Lao PDR. The Government announced that the process is expected to be completed before the end of 2009. The persons to be deported allegedly included 158 refugees recognized by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), held in detention in Nong Kai and a larger group of individuals, held in Huay Nam Khao camp in Petchabun, to whom UNHCR has not been granted access Reportedly, in parallel, additional troops of the official Thai army were deployed in Petchabun. It was further alleged that the forced repatriation of the Lao Hmong puts them at risk of killings, gang rape and malnutrition inflicted on returning Hmong by Laotian forces.
Response from the Government of 12 January 2010
388. In a letter dated 12 January 2010, the Government of Thailand responded to the above allegations and information stating, in summary:
a) The decision to return the Laotian Hmongs to the Lao PDR was not taken lightly, but was carried out after thorough and serious consideration. The agreement that was worked out with the Lao Government does not depart from relevant international human rights law and humanitarian principles, but provides a realistic and durable solution to this long-standing issue. Recent developments on the part of the Lao Government seem to confirm that the Lao PDR is determined to uphold the assurances it has made. The process that has been put in place should benefit all sides concerned, by enabling the Laotian Hmong returnees to regain their normal livelihood while keeping the door open for possible resettlement in third countries.
b) Over the years, Thailand has worked closely with the international community to provide resettlement opportunities for the Laotian Hmongs in Thailand. However, after the last large scale resettlement of the Laotian Hmongs from Tam Krabok in 2003, there was a general recognition that the situation in the Lao PDR had changed significantly taking into account Laos’ accession to several core UN Conventions on human rights and the ratification of the ASEAN Charter. Therefore, resettlement opportunities for large groups of Laotian Hmongs from Thailand were no longer available.
c) Since then, however, there were still continued influxes of Laotian Hmongs into Thailand. It should be stressed that such persons entered Thailand illegally in search of economic opportunities. It was therefore imperative for Thailand to find a long term solution to this problem based on Thai law while at the same time upholding humanitarian principles.
d) In spite of the irregular status of the Laotian Hmongs under Thai law, Thailand has done its utmost to provide basic needs and care for such persons on humanitarian grounds. Since 2007, Thailand has provided shelter for the Laotian Hmongs at Huay Nam Khao in Petchaboon Province, and has cooperated with international organizations and non-governmental organizations to conduct humanitarian activities in temporary shelters.
e) Due to the large number of this group of persons and the fact that third countries no longer have any resettlement plans for a large group as previously was the case with those at Tam Krabok, Thailand has been obliged to seek cooperation from the Government of the Lao PDR to jointly find a solution to this issue. Ultimately, both sides agreed upon the return of the Laotian Hmongs by the end of 2009 under the Thai-Lao bilateral framework, with the Sub-General Border Committee as the main mechanism.
f) During the course of 2008 and 2009, the Thai authorities facilitated 19 returns of over 3,200 Laotian Hmongs who expressed their wish to return to the Lao PDR. To date, there has been no report of any difficulties or persecution faced by such returnees which is confirmed by various international organizations. Furthermore, the Laotian authority has invited representatives of the international organizations and diplomatic missions to visit the Laotian Hmong returnees several times.
g) On 28 December 2009, the Thai authorities oversaw the return of 4,350 Laotian Hmongs at Huay Kam Khao in Petchaboon Province and 158 Laotian Hmongs in the IDC in Non Khai Province to Lao PDR in a safe and orderly manner, in accordance with the Thai Immigration Act and with due regard to human rights and humanitarian principles. The returnees were provided with adequate food and medical services throughout the return process. Special considerations were given to the needs of women and children. The Thai Government also took great care to uphold the principle of family unity for all those concerned.
h) The return followed assurances given by the Government of the Lao PDR to the Thai Government at all levels, that legal proceedings will not be undertaken against returning Laotian Hmongs and requests for onward travel by them will be facilitated. Moreover, third countries wishing to resettle some Laotian Hmong returnees would be able to directly discuss details with the Government of Lao PDR.
i) The Government of Lao PDR has also given assurances that it will facilitate those Laotian Hmongs wishing to return to their home communities with transportation and initial financial assistance while housing and other assistance will be provided to those wishing to move to a development village.
Observations of the Special Rapporteur
389. The Special Rapporteur thanks the Government of Thailand for its response to his communication and to the allegations contained therein. He remains deeply concerned about the wellbeing of the Laotian Hmong refugees and will continue to monitor the circumstances and effects of their repatriation. The Special Rapporteur emphasizes article 7 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states that “(1) Indigenous individuals have the rights to life, physical and mental integrity, liberty and security of person; and (2) Indigenous peoples have the collective right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples and shall not be subjected to any act of genocide or any other act of violence, including forcibly removing children of the group to another group.”
 These communications are summarized in the Special Rapporteur’s first annual report to the Human Rights Council, Ref: HRC/9/9/Add. 1, paras 454-463.