Hmong Grave Desecration
This project has centered on actions occurring at Wat Tham Krabok, a Buddhist temple in Thailand's central Saraburi province. For over twenty years this temple hosted a makeshift refugee camp for Hmong people who had fled Laos and feared forced repatriation. In the past couple of years all but a few hundred of these refugees have been resettled in the United States, with 4,000 coming to Minnesota in 2004.
History of Wat Tham Krabok
The temple, the largest of its kind, was never officially recognized as a refugee camp for the Hmong. It was established by tens of thousands of refugees who fled to Thailand after the communist takeover of Laos in 1975. The Thai government tolerated the informal refugee camp because of the importance of the monastery and the Abbot's standing in Thai society. In 1999, a new Abbot allowed the Thai Government, in the form of the military, to intervene in the control of the camp. The Thai military move planned to move the refugees to a remote military base in Eastern Thailand. In response to this action and ongoing advocacy by Hmong Americans, the United States agreed to resettle the refugees from Wat Tham Krabok.
It is estimated that there were approximately 2,000 Hmong refugees buried on the grounds of Wat Tham Krabok and other private land adjacent to the monastery. In mid-October 2005, a number of organizations began exhuming the graves. A video shot later that month showed hundreds of Thai workers arriving by the busloads, accompanied by an ambulance and other official Thai Government vehicles. Many eyewitnesses witnessed the desecration of the sacred burial sites and the treatment of individual corpses in vivid detail. The families remaining in the camp sent pictures and videos to their relatives in the United States, hoping they could do something to help.
The Thai government claims the bodies are being disinterred because of water quality complaints and that the bodies are being treated with respect and properly cremated according to Thai tradition. The actions of those disinterring the bodies make it evident that those claims are not true.
Human Rights Program Involvement
The monks of Wat Tham Krabok stated that Hmong relatives were given a chance to claim the bodies and make other burial arrangements, but the relatives insist they were not notified and those who have tried to make other arrangements have been told that they have no right to do so. After having received word of the desecration, Minnesota State Senator Mee Moua sent several urgent petitions to the offices of several United States Congressional representatives and the United States Department of State to inquire and request that the Thai Government immediately halt the exhumations and start a full investigation of the events at Wat Tham Krabok. In addition, Senator Moua reached out to Barb Frey, director of the Human Rights Program, to ask for her advice and assistance.
Frey, along with her undergraduate students, worked with the Hmong community to develop a plan for addressing this violation of religious rights. Students worked with the community to collect testimony from over 170 affected individuals and used this information to develop a campaign which included a variety of activities and actions which cumulated in the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, Professor James Anaya, visiting Minnesota on December 10, 2008, to hear testimony concerning the desecration of Hmong graves at Wat Tham Krabok in Saraburi, Thailand.
The University of Minnesota Human Rights Program has maintained a collection of documents regarding the Hmong grave desecration which took place in Saraburi, Thailand in 2005. These documents include:
- Background information explaining the timeline of events, witness testimonies, as well as video footage
- The City of Saint Paul's delegation and relevant news articles
- Domestic and international correspondence
- Documentation of several events during the Hmong grave desecration
- Human Rights program letters and statements
- Media coverage
- Statements from the Thai government
- United Nations communications