by Hao-Nhien Vu
(VNRN) – Following a reported border clash with Uighur immigrants where five of the migrants were killed together with two Vietnamese guards, questions are being raised over the government’s conduct in quickly returning the people, including women, children, as well as shooting suspects, to China.
Vietnamese observers have raised questions on the treatment of the injured, potential human rights violation, and obviously the returning of refugees to where they could be persecuted – a violation of the so-called non-refoulement principle. In addition, Dilshat Rashit, spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, went on the BBC Chinese Service and called for a U.N. investigation.
The shooting was reported by Vietnamese state-owned media over the weekend. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Friday night on its microblog that a violent episode had taken place on the Vietnamese border but did not provide details.
Shooting at the Border
According to reports, upon receiving notification by China of immigrants coming into Vietnam illegally, the border guards intercepted and held 16 people at Bac Phong Sinh border crossing in northern Quang Ninh province, across from China’s Guanxi province.
At some point, while the immigrants were held in the border post, some of them grabbed one or more AK-47 rifles from the guards and began firing, the reports said. A standoff and shootout ensued, resulting in two border guards and five migrants dead.
It is unclear how the five migrants died. There are reports saying they all died by suicide, jumping from the rooftop, while others say at least some of them were shot dead by the police or border guards.
Press reports initially identified the immigrants as Uighurs from Xinjiang, but later changed to “Chinese citizens.” A photo of posted by Vietnamese newspaper show the women in typical clothing of Uighur women and two children whose facial features indicate they could be Uighur.
By the afternoon of the same day, the entire group, five dead and eleven survivors, were returned to China.
As more information surfaced, however, people began to express doubts on the government’s actions.
Huy Duc, a journalist who blogs under the name Osin and the author of a best-selling book on the history of Vietnamese government actions in the immediate aftermath of the war, questioned why the Uighurs were being detained in the first place.
“Granted,” Huy Duc wrote, “Hanoi and Beijing are two governments that share the same way of treating people who disagree with the government. But, if the 16 immigrants including 4 women and 2 children were not treated so harshly, Vietnamese blood would not have been shed and Vietnamese hands would not be tainted with Uighur blood.”
Returning the immigrants back to where they may face persecution and violation of human rights, added Tran Quoc Thuan (Trần Quốc Thuận), an attorney and former Vice-Chairman of the Office of the National Assembly.
‘Accomplice’ in Human Rights Violation
“If China treats them in a way to violates their human rights, then Vietnam may be made an accomplice,” Thuan told the BBC Vietnamese Service.
If the Uighurs are refugees, their return could violate the non-refoulement principle of international law, which states that a refugee should not be returned to where they would be threatened.
Article 33 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees codified the principle as “No Contracting State shall expel or return (‘refouler’) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”
Vietnam, however, itself a country from which hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled and are continuing to flee, is not a signatory to the Convention. China is.
Others questioned the treatment of the dead Uighurs. On other photos also published by state-owned media, seven dead bodies could be seen, bringing doubts to the official account.
Ho Trung Tu, a journalist and independent blogger based in Da Nang, was the first to notice that the two dead Uighurs shown on the picture to the right may not have been dead when they were first thrown on the cart: One was grabbing the side of the cart, and the other had his leg in a sitting position not consistent with a dead body, Tu said. Questions were raised as to how many of the dead were actually injured and then left to die.
Restricting the Press
The tight control that the Vietnamese government places on the coverage did not go unnoticed.
Explaining how the references to Uighurs and Xinjiang were promptly deleted from official news outlets, Huynh Ngoc Chenh (Huỳnh Ngọc Chênh), a well-known journalist, told RFA Vietnamese that any news relating the China must be cleared by government censors.
“Any news must get approval ‘from above.’ Almost all such news must use the text from (state-owned wire service) VNA and cannot use news you developed yourself. That’s what happens with news related to China. Xinjiang is even more sensitive and must get directions ‘from above.'”
In Xinjiang, Uighurs have complained of harassment and discrimination by the dominant Han ethnic group, and violent clashes between the two ethnicities have resulted in even more violent crackdowns by the Han-dominated Chinese security forces.