Sept. 4, 2006
 
PARALLEL UNIVERSE: German Human Rights Activist Rebecca Sommer Deserves Nobel Peace Prize for Work with Hmong Refugees
 
By David M. Kinchen
Editor, Huntington News Network
 
Hinton, WV (HNN) – My nominee for a Nobel Peace Prize is a German human rights activist and documentary filmmaker named Rebecca Sommer. Chances are you’ve never heard of her – unless you’re a regular reader of Huntington News Network.
 
In a story posted on HNN headlined:
 
‘Hmong Persecuted and Treated Like Animals in Laos’, Sommer, based in New York, blasted the treatment of ethnic Hmong in Laos and the Hmong refugees held in Thailand’s prisons. Here’s a link to the Sept. 2, 2006 HNN story:
 
http://archives.huntingtonnews.net/national/060902-staff-hmong.html and here’s a link to an Aug. 20, 2006 story on HNN on the Hmong refugee situation:
 
http://archives.huntingtonnews.net/national/060820-staff-hmong.html
 
Sommer belongs to a U.S.-based human rights group that has accused the Laotian government of a “horrific campaign to virtually annihilate remaining pockets of Hmong living in hiding, in restricted zones in the communist state.”
 
Sommer, who is also the UN representative for the Society for Threatened Peoples international, in consultative status to the ECOSOC, spoke at a Bangkok press conference after showing “rough cuts” from her forthcoming documentary “Hunted Like Animals” at the Foreign Correspondents Club. The film features interviews with Hmong refugees who accuse Lao troops of murder, gang rape and use of chemical weapons. It reportedly includes footage smuggled out of Laos by the Fact Finding Commission in recent months.
 
She said the film “stemmed from interviews with hundreds of people from the ‘conflict zone.’”
 
Her goal: to convince the U.N. and other decision makers – including those in Thailand – to pressure Vientiane (the capital of Laos) to end what she called a “genocide” of Hmong hiding in small, isolated groups in the Xaysomboum restricted zone.
 
“As long as Laos continues to persecute the Hmong in the conflict areas, Thailand will have Hmong refugees,” Sommer said, adding that all the recent refugees come from the conflict area and “those who can make it will do everything they can to escape to Thailand – they have no other choice. In a world in which so-called human rights bodies – including official U.N. ones whose minds are made up long in advance – seem to be obsessed with one tiny democratic nation in the Middle East, Sommer’s graphic and horrifying stories should resonate throughout the world. Here’s an example from her press conference and the story as posted on HNN: “I filmed women which got gang-raped by the military units until they escaped to Thailand, one got pregnant and her child of rape is with her in the camp. It was horrible, to see the despair of these emotionally destroyed women. Their testimonies are most important to prove that surrendering is not a real choice, and will be included in my film.”
 
While the U.S. was generous in offering refugee status to Hmong asylum seekers who fought on the U.S. side during the Vietnam War, it’s not offering similar status to the latest refugees. Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey said at an Aug. 31, 2006 Bangkok press conference that the U.S. didn’t wish to attract other Hmong to come to Thailand to wait for resettlement in the U.S.
 
Last year, U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, D-MN, urged action on the Hmong refugees. Here’s a link to his letter to the United States U.N. representative.:
 
http://www.senate.gov/~dayton/news/details.cfm?id=240711&. Minnesota is home to many Hmong refugees who were brought to the U.S. after the Vietnam War. Here’s another site with recent details of the Hmong situation:
 
http://www.inlao.net/Forums/WBBlog.aspx?tp=1665
 
I know I don’t have a choice in the matter, but my vote for Nobel Peace Prize goes to Rebecca Sommer, a courageous human rights advocate and filmmaker.