Religious persecution and rights violations against the Hmong especially.
Religious persecution and human- rights violations continue for many in Southeast Asia, especially the ethnic Hmong minority of Vietnam and Laos, who are now suffering from egregious abuses.
After deploying the military and sealing off the area to journalists last month, Vietnam People's Army (VPA) special forces have pursued ethnic Hmong involved in mass protests.
Hmong demonstrators, including many honoring the beatification of Pope John Paul II last month in Vietnam's largest Catholic diocese, Hung Hoa, have fled a violent army crackdown that continues in northeastern Vietnam's Dien Bien Province, along the border with Laos.
Hmong-Americans, and other Southeast Asians in the Twin Cities, are concerned about recent developments and fear for their families overseas who are facing greater religious persecution.
Contrary to some reports, many of the Hmong now facing persecution are Catholics, Protestants or Animist believers who gathered to appeal to Hanoi for land reform, religious freedom, human rights and an end to illegal logging by VPA-owned companies.
One overlooked factor, however, that brought many of the Hmong together and helped spark the mass protests was the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II in Rome on May 1, the day the Hmong gathered in full force in Dien Bien province.
The peaceful mass gathering involved 8,500 ethnic Viet-Hmong protestors. It is the same area where French forces suffered defeat at the hands of the Viet Minh guerrillas in May 1954, at Dien Bien Phu.
The recent Hmong protests continued for nearly a week until VPA soldiers and police were finally ordered in to crackdown on the outpouring of religious and political dissent.
The Hmong in Vietnam and Laos have often resisted the Communist Party's restrictions on human rights, religious freedom and civil liberties. Pope John Paul II inspired many in Asia -- including Catholic Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians, Hmong, Thais and others -- to "be not afraid" and to confront social injustice and despotism.
Most Hmong are traditional Animist believers, but significant numbers are also Protestant Christians and Catholics.
In Vietnam, Laos, and in the Diaspora, many Hmong are pleased that Pope John Paul II was beatified. Some remember his efforts in bringing hope and freedom to the people of Eastern Europe who suffered under authoritarian regimes behind the Iron Curtain.
As a result of the protests, there is concern that many Hmong have been killed or wounded by VPA forces, including helicopter gun-ships. Thousands of Hmong in Dien Bien have been arrested or have disappeared at the hands of the army.
Currently, thousands are hiding in dire conditions from security forces sent by Hanoi to crush the Hmong. The VPA is deploying commandos to track, arrest, and in some cases, summarily execute Hmong who have fled into the mountain interior, or to Laos.
Across the border, the Lao People's Army (LPA), with the support of Vietnamese security forces, is also engaged in attacking Hmong fleeing the crackdown.
Human Rights Watch has called for access to the Hmong.
The Obama administration must do more to press Vietnam and Laos to cease their religious persecution and human-rights violations. Vietnam and Laos should be designated by the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom as Countries of Particular Concern, and should be sanctioned for their persecution of religious believers, including the Hmong.
Philip Smith is executive director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis in Washington.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.