More From Alder's Ledge

August 18, 2015

Mercenary Heart

Why We Care For Some,
And Yet Neglect All Others...
(PLUCK series)

(Athens woman repeatedly kicks Romani child...)

The image of the 'humanitarian' is one that far too many try to hide behind. As for me, and most the team here, being called a 'humanitarian' is one of the greatest insults we could ever strive for. For me the term is one I have come to regard with a tremendous amount of disdain. It is nearly as much a disgraceful title to me as labeling oneself a Democrat, Republican, or by any other political or religious affiliation. For it is a title that the bleeding hearts hypocritically hide behind, an image of caring for all of humanity while tragically wrapping one's self in a given flag of their choosing. It is a term that carries no real weight or meaning. It is hollow and only serves to mask the one wearing it in much the same way cowards hide behind Guy Fawkes while reading from scripts. It's inherently heartless.

It may very well be part of human nature, and if it is then I've lost something inside, to first focus on one's own particular group before branching out to help others. We even came up with a term for it and yet rarely apply said term to it... ethnocentrism. 

Rally Around The Family

We have all heard of Gaza, the West Bank, and the rest of Palestine's many oppressed regions. We have all seen pictures and heard the stories of Palestinians suffering under Israeli occupation and oppression. Of course this is not how large portions of 'humanitarians' see it. And by me pointing out the fact that we have (those of us they spend all day preaching to) I will undoubtedly be called a Zionist or some deviation of that talking point. Yet that isn't really my intent.

Endless hashtags and real life efforts are constantly made to help bring justice to the Palestinians. This is an admirable goal and far worthwhile effort on behalf of those who do dedicate so much of their time to it. But it's often not a 'humanitarian' cause. It is more often than not a religious and/or political goal by those who so strongly defend it. While there are those who dedicate their time to this cause with the end goal bringing the recognition of Palestinians' basic human rights, there are also those who (the majority) want far more than that. 

"From river to sea, all of Palestine will be free"

This is not the slogan of a purely 'humanitarian' cause. Do I agree with the premise of it? Yes. But can I agree with the proposed belief that those who promote it are somehow humanitarians? Hell no. 

This is most evident when somebody like me, arguably the natural born enemy in the eyes of so-called humanitarians, steps out and defends the rights of Palestinians. One would expect that the people pushing the slogan mentioned above would find it relieving to see a Jewish voice speaking out for Palestinians. And one would be wrong. Because, as time has proven rather repeatedly, there isn't a place for Jewish voices that don't agree 100% with the rest of the message. The only Jewish voices allowed are those that can be groomed, maintained, and propagandized for the cause. All others that dare go against the grain are more or less the enemy.

Now, like I have stated before, the humanitarian is supposed to be a person who cares about all of humanity. Yet in "humanitarian" causes such as Palestine/Israel the root of the cause becomes rather clear when just barely scratching the surface. The less than humane responses show a more political and racial undertone to what should had remained a cause centered around the actual people it affects.

The first of these is the response that immediately questions the "Jewishness" of the Jewish voice Palestinian supporters don't agree with. This is best shown when Palestinian supporters (largely not Palestinians themselves) immediately start in with myths taken right out of Nazism. Some will go as far as to start questioning the bloodlines of Jewish people to outright proposing that no "real Jews" even exist today. Of course this is hard to combat when one is the source of their frustration. And even harder to segregate from the true supporters of Palestinian rights when they themselves will not cull the racists among them.

The political undertones are brought to the surface when Palestinian supporters routinely and intentionally use the words "Zionists" and "Jews" interchangeably. While more honest supporters of Palestine can and often do recognize that Jews lived in Palestine long before Israel was created, these problematic supporters do not. Their agenda focuses around the goal of isolating Jews on one end of the spectrum while disproportionately amplifying the voices of Muslims they agree with. To do this many will downplay the damage groups like Hamas and Hezbollah do to the already fragile peace process. And much like the Israeli leadership, they will always downplay the atrocities their side commits while exaggerating the actions of the others side. And this is where the mixing of the words Zionism and Judaism come into play. By accusing "Jews" of every atrocious act they belittle the actions of Zionists and create an atmosphere in which all Jews are the "enemy".

Of course I could use just about any conflict or genocide currently happening in the world to illustrate how people who call themselves "humanitarians" are far less than concerned with humanity. And in every scenario I could show just how their priorities center around group specific interests rather than that of all the people involved. So lets jump to another part of the globe and try this again.

In Southeast Asia the "humanitarians" we deal with on a daily basis have come to the conclusion that the Rohingya people are the "world's most persecuted people". This is of course highly inaccurate as it makes a claim that is both unfounded and incapable of being proven. Yet the focus on humanitarian issues in Southeast Asia is routinely monopolized by humanitarians dead set on centering it all on one particular group.

In neighboring Bangladesh the Jumma tribes of the Chittagong Hills have suffered colonization, ethnic cleansing, and military occupation for literally centuries. Their oppressors have included the British, Indians, Pakistanis, and Bengalis. Yet the story of their persecution has largely been overshadowed by that of the Rohingya on the flood plains to their east. They are a people who's story directly mirrors that of the Rohingya and yet even Rohingya activists seem oblivious to their plight.

Venturing down the peninsula to Vietnam there are the Montagnards (Degar tribes) who suffer routine harassment for their religious and cultural beliefs. They have been through massacres since the 9th century and have seen their homeland occupied for nearly just as long. The military and politicians in Vietnam all work tirelessly to make their ghetto like villages miserable while creating discriminatory laws against the Montagnards. And over the last several years there has been an exodus taking place in the forests between Vietnam and Cambodia. Yet once again the focus on humanitarian issues is not permitted to venture away from the Arakan. And once again the humanitarians who say they care for all of humanity remain deaf to the sounds of suffering in Vietnam's hills.

Examples like these are numerous in Southeast Asia. One only has to look to the Karen, Kachin, Shan, Chin, and Kokang in Myanmar itself. This doesn't even include the tribes in the Philippines or the Hmong in Vietnam and Laos. Even with this broader picture you would have to widen it even more to focus on the tribal peoples of Nepal and how their cultures are facing extinction if nothing changes. Yet none of these are put into focus as so-called humanitarians demand the world only center it's attention on one particular group in Southeast Asia.

Now I myself have and often do focus my attention on the Rohingya in Myanmar. My team here at Alder's Ledge do a lot well beyond this blog (which has countless posts covering the Rohingya) to help. Yet we also make certain that the focus we give Southeast Asia also covers all other peoples and all other causes that arise. We center our attention on the tribal groups and persecuted minorities while also focusing on Southeast Asia's rampant sex trade and human trafficking.

The main reason for highlighting this is to bring everyone who reads this back down to reality. The world is much larger than any stretch of dirt and far more vast than any given individual group of people. The pain and suffering of people across the globe can obviously not be covered by one give person or any particular group. Yet the reasons why we tend to block out other people's stories and ignore their pain is something worth thinking about.

In Europe the popular social cause of the day is oddly focused on America's police and black communities. Yet Europeans have an entire minority that they have treated far worse for far longer a period of time... the Romani people.

In America the focus when it comes to humanitarian causes is almost always focused outward. And when it does center in on Americans it almost always gets focused on America's black population. Yet America has indigenous communities that are disappearing under a system of coerced assimilation. Many of America's indigenous youth can't speak the native languages of their ancestors. And even shift the focus to Native Americans for a minute would overlook the plight of countless immigrant groups that also suffer exclusion in American society due to a host of reasons.

So what is the answer to all of this?

Is there even a such thing as a true humanitarian?

"Fatal To Prejudice"

In all honesty there probably isn't such a thing. When it comes down to it we all have less than pure intentions when it comes to helping others. While I do believe that there are plenty of people who deeply care for others... I don't believe there are as many people out there who actually deeply care for all of mankind. But that's not to say that people can't learn to do so.

Taking time away from a given cause to focus your attention on a different one isn't the end of the world. The Palestinians will, as sad as it is, probably be just as oppressed tomorrow as they are today. And the Rohingya will most likely need just as much help even if you aren't the one there for them today. Yet you (and this is the less than "pure" intentions behind most of this work) do have a need to grow. It is the reason why people decide to reach out beyond themselves and help others. A thirst to grow and leave a mark on the world around them. And chances are that you started with groups to which you can relate and have something in common with.

One of the best ways to grow as a person is to reach well beyond the boundaries of what is comfortable and familiar. It creates in us a greater understanding of the world around us while ironically also generating endless questions about the world we encounter along the way. By helping people who we have no real connection to we come to better understand cultures and places we previously only had preconceived notions about. As Mark Twain put it, "travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness". Which is exactly why more of us need to reach out to causes beyond our own.

It would be interesting to see just how differently the approach to our own personal causes might be if more of us spent some time focused on other causes first. Yet in writing this I am more aware that it will most likely be met with hostility and resentment rather than seen as the challenge it was meant to present to you the reader. So with that said, I would hope that most of you will understand this wasn't written out of spite or frustration but rather was a blunt analysis of everyone who calls themselves humanitarians. If you consider yourself one then this is meant to show you how I personally believe we can do better.

July 17, 2015

When Simply Staying Alive Becomes Resistance

The Struggle of Bangladesh's Indigenous Peoples
(part of The Darkness Visible series)

Marma Children in the Chittagong Hill Tracts

Where Dreams Go To Die

We are all born with the desire to have certain things in life. We are born to desire a certain degree of freedom in this life. We are born with a fire inside that rages within us till we can quench this hunger for liberty. It is the natural state of man to crave freedom. It is why we are restless when we are deprived of it. It is why we feel hollow when it is stolen from us and replaced with one form of tyranny or another. It is a fire that either creates within us the desire to sustain our own freedoms or destroy the world as we know it till we can obtain said freedoms. All of human history attest to this.

It is no wonder that societies deprived of their basic human rights, their essential liberties, begin to reflect the symptoms of a staving body. Their minds become fixated upon what the hunger for it. They show it in their view of the world. They show it in the expressions of joy when they get a passing taste of it. But mostly... they show it in the ways they resist those who oppose their rights and keep them trapped in this state of hunger. 

For generations now the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh's Chittagong Hill Tracts have been forced to dream of what it would be like to be free in their own homeland. They have been deprived of the rights that their ancestors once enjoyed. They have been kept in a perpetual state of craving what others enjoy daily while they are forced to suffer. For generations now the indigenous peoples of Bangladesh's Chittagong Hill Tracts have simply stayed alive as an act of defiance to a nation that continually pushes them toward extinction. 

This is both what they resist and how they defy a nation. 

This is just a glimpse of what they endure.

The Jumma Tribes Of
The Chittagong Hill Tracts 

To understand the struggle one has to understand the people themselves. This article will not be able to, as no one article ever could, give you a full introduction to the indigenous tribes of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. So in addition to this post we would like to invite all our readers to research and find reliable sources (some posted in the links below) to understand the Jumma tribes more than what we have written here. 
There are eleven tribal groups that are indigenous to the Chittagong Hill Tracts. These include the Bawm, Chakma, Khumi, Khyang, Lushai, Marma, Uchay, Mru, Pankho, Sak, and Tanchangya peoples. Each are linguistically, culturally, and ethnically different from the Bengali majority that lives on the plains below the Chittagong Hills. They have distinct cultures that focus heavily on their traditional ways of life and individual religious beliefs. While the Chakma and Marma, numbering around 350,000, are mostly Buddhists the remaining tribes are comprised of Hindus, Christians, and traditional religions unique to their tribal groups. 

The traditional cultivating practices of the indigenous peoples lends to their collective name of Jummas. It is a system, called jum, of small patchwork fields that rotate in both location and the crops planted in them. It is also a system that the government of Bangladesh attempts to prevent the indigenous peoples from using. 

The Chittagong Hills stretch along the the southeastern border of Bangladesh, Inida, and Myanmar (Burma). It is a stretch of land that contains thick forests and mountain lakes. While difficult to cultivate, the Chittagong Hills do offer enough arable soil for the indigenous peoples to support their communities. 

In 1971 the Jumma tribes were practically the only inhabitants of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Their ancestral land had been exploited under Pakistan's rule yet had not been occupied in the way it would be once Bangladesh gained independence. From the very start of Bangladesh's rule the Jummas began to lose lands to the new tyrant ruling over them. 

First Came The Military

In the late 1970s the president of Bangladesh, Ziaur Rehman, signed into law a series of programs designed to create a government-run "population transfer" in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. His government immediately sat out to displace as many of the Jumma tribal groups as they could in the shortest period of time they could manage. These dictates issued the orders to begin creating a system of military installations that would gut the Chittagong Hills and divide the tribal peoples. Within just a matter of years the Bangladeshi army had created hundreds of military camps across the mountain tops along the roads they paved through the heart of the Chittagong Hills. This was a campaign to divide and conquer the Jumma peoples. 

When the Jumma peoples began to resist the military occupation of their homelands in 1976 the Bengali army moved in even more troops. By 1977 the Bengali military had begun a full scale assault on Jumma lands by ordering Jumma tribes off their land to make way for more roads and military camps. When Jumma tribes dared to stand and fight for their lands the army of Bangladesh willingly committed massacres and torched Jumma villages. The direct response to resistance was the placement of military camps on and near Jumma villages. Any route the Jumma could take to move from one village to the other was suddenly blocked by checkpoints. The strategy had shifted to complete isolation and starvation of the Jumma people in less than a year of resistance efforts by the Jumma tribes. 

The Jana Samhati Samiti, with a military wing, attempted to negotiate with Bangladesh some form of peace between the Jumma tribes and the Bengali military. Yet from 1976 till December of 1997 the government of Bangladesh only sought to forcibly expand it's presence in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Their aim was to displace the vast majority of the Jumma tribes and drive as many of the indigenous civilians as the could out of Bangladesh. This aim was made clear as the number of Jumma peoples internally displaced rose to 100,000 while the number of Jumma refugees fleeing the country rose to 70,000. 

As Bengali troops sat out to put Jumma villages to the torch the issue of rape became ever more prevalent. From 1971 on through 1994 the military of Bangladesh has been reported to have committed over 2,000 rapes of indigenous women in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. This is in part due to the fact that Bangladesh's army was given permission to engage in rape as a means of displacing Jumma families and keeping the victims silent after atrocities were committed. Jumma women were raped both for the fact that Bangladesh had indoctrinated it's troops in the belief that the Jumma women were subhuman and the enemy. In addition it was seen as a way of keeping Bengali soldiers motivated and a perverse way of keeping moral of the troops high in the isolation of the Chittagong Hills. 

It has also been reported several times that Bangladesh's military committed at least 13 large scale massacres of indigenous peoples during the Jummas' struggle to resist occupation. These attacks are often denied by Bangladesh and attributed to "crossfire" incidents. This became very clear when in August of 2013 the government of Bangladesh tried to explain away the deaths of 776 indigenous peoples as "victims of crossfire". The main problem with this explanation is that from 2004 to 2013 the government of Bangladesh only lost 18 soldiers during combat operations. The sheer number of deaths involved in these incidents disproportionately falls in favor of Bangladesh while offering only slaughter as an explanation when talking about indigenous deaths. 

After the Peace Accords of 1997 were signed the military of Bangladesh was supposed to begin dismantling it's camps that now choke the Chittagong Hills. Of the more than 500 military camps installed since the 1970s, Bangladesh has only closed a meager 29 camps. And most of these have simply been moved to other areas of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Of course the government of Bangladesh does come up with excuses for building even more military camps today; such as how they most recently used the migrant crisis in the Andaman Sea as a reason for military expansion.

Today the government of Bangladesh keeps over 1/3rd of it's military in the Chittagong Hills at any given time. The UN called this "excessive" in it's most recent review of Bangladesh's failure to implement the 1997 Peace Accords. The UN went on to note that having 1/3 of the military occupying an area of land that constitutes less than 1/10th of Bangladesh's territory was unjustifiable. It also noted that the Jumma people themselves account for less than one percent of Bangladesh's population and yet are the most policed portion of the overall population. 

Unlawful Settlers

When president Ziaur Rehman began his displacement of the Jumma people he started a program of offering Bengali citizens bribes to uproot and settle on Jumma lands. According to UN mandates, to which Bangladesh has agreed, this policy of displacement not only violates international law but also the human rights of the Jumma peoples. Namely the ILO Indigenous And Tribal Populations Convention No. 107, to which Bangladesh agreed and signed in 1972. 

Yet in spite of having agreed to international laws which prohibit the displacement of indigenous peoples the government of Bangladesh pushed forward with it's policies. Between 1971 and 1997 the government moved more than 500,000 illegal Bengali settlers onto indigenous lands. Each and every one of these settlers were encouraged by bribes from the government and promises of "free" and "open" land in the Chittagong Hills. They were told that areas would be provided for them and all they had to do was squat on lands not their own. 

From the start the Bengali settlers found themselves at odds with the indigenous population of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Settlers were prone to set up their unlawful settlements near military camps. And since the military camps were inevitably placed directly on indigenous lands this led to the intended conflict. 

Settlers were encouraged by the military to engage in evictions of their own. Bengali men were told that they had the right to utilize rape in order to force Jumma families from their homes. This was an aspect of the settlements that rapidly became one of their defining characteristics. It became so problematic that Bangladesh has resorted to telling doctors in the Chittagong Hills to exclude any evidence of rape when reporting on Jumma women and young girls. And yet at the same time the government of Bangladesh is quick, at times quicker than the actual facts, in reporting the rape of any Bengali squatter in the Chittagong Hill tracts. 

 One such case of Bengali rape of a Marma girl took place as recently as January of 2015. The eight year old girl was on her way home when a Bengali plantation owner brutally raped her. The savage attacker had left the girl to bleed out after his barbaric assault. Yet the hospital staff refused to communicate in the girl's native language and the doctors were unclear as to how they would record the attack. The perpetrator of the rape was not reported to have been arrested. And this is not an isolated incident. It is in fact far too common throughout the Chittagong Hills. 

In 2014 alone there were 75 reported cases of sexual violence against indigenous women in the Chittagong Hills. These 75 cases account for the sexual assaults of 117 indigenous women (57% of these cases also involved children). Of these cases a total of 21 involved gang-rape, 55 were victims of physical assault in addition to rape, seven of the victims were murdered, and 11 involved abductions of indigenous women. Yet despite these staggering numbers the reality is that the majority of rapes in the Chittagong Hills go unreported due to both societal and religious stigmas surrounding the crime itself. 

One could continue by detailing how in 2013 there were 175 reported incidents of sexual violence being committed against indigenous women in the Chittagong Hills (49 of which involving gang-rape). Or how of all the identified rapists from January of 2010 to December of 2011 were never convicted for their crimes against indigenous women and girls in the Chittagong Hills. But the numbers aren't as important here... it's the lives of the victims (who are increasingly ending up dead and are more often now below the age of 18) and their families that matters. This is an aspect of Bangladesh's occupation that is overlooked because it isn't something anyone wants to talk about. It is a part of the genocidal occupation that leaves scars which time itself cannot heal. And yet Bangladesh refuses to put an end to the culture of impunity that allows both Bangladesh's military and it's Bengali settlers to rape indigenous women without ever facing the consequences.

The illegal Bengali settlers are also allowed to forcibly evict and attack the Jumma without facing any legal consequences. Nearly every time the Bengali settlers attack and burn Jumma homes, villages, temples, and crops the army of Bangladesh offers support for the hordes of illegal settlers. This is most evident during incidents as that which occurred in Burighat, Naniarchar on December 16th of 2014.

This was a deliberate attack in which over 500 Bengali settlers marched into a Chakma village with the intent of destroying the entire village. The attack would last for almost two hours before the Bengali assailants would return to their own village. The attackers burned over 50 Chakma homes and several Chakma shops during the attack. They also looted and vandalized the Karuna Bihar Buddhist Temple, making off with several bronze statues. 

This attack was immediately followed by Bengali settlers attempting to take the land upon which several Chakma homes had previously stood. The illegal settlers attempted to pressure the military into offering them protection as they squatted on the land they had just torched. Meanwhile the Chakma tried desperately to keep what was being stolen from them. In the end, the government of Bangladesh blamed the Chakma and rewarded the illegal settlers with rice and cash for their assault on indigenous homes. 

This the climate in which genocidal attacks are permitted to occur. This is the work of a government that has refused to allow peace to once again come to the Chittagong Hills. It is the deliberate attempt to ethnically cleanse the indigenous peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. A government so determined to undermine indigenous rights that it would unlawfully settle over 15,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar on the lands of Jumma tribal peoples. This is the face of a government devoid of any sense of morality. 

So Why Does The World Remain Silent?

It is unreasonable when presented with the facts to think that anything in the Chittagong Hill Tracts will change without pressure being applied to Bangladesh from the outside. The government of Bangladesh has carried out it's crimes for generations. It has shown that it is willing to commit the same crimes against humanity as is Israel, Myanmar, North and South Sudan, Eritrea, and any other genocidal regime. 

Yet when it comes to the issue of indigenous peoples facing genocidal regimes the outside world has a long legacy of remaining silent. We tend to respond to genocide only when it is too late. But in the case of indigenous peoples, we tend not to respond at all. Their fate is one that we have relegated to history books and the storylines of romanticized movies. 

In the case of Bangladesh there is also the fact that the perpetrator is often seen as an impoverished nation struggling to provide for it's own people. This is an image that Bangladesh is all to happy to perpetuate as it openly claims (with yet another lie) that there are supposedly no indigenous peoples in Bangladesh. And thus it's conflict in the Chittagong Hill Tracts is one that it continues to lie about by calling it anything but what it is... genocide. 

As for the twitter realm of humanitarians...

The issue of Bangladesh's genocide in the Chittagong Hills is one that does not currently fit the prevailing narrative. It is a genocide in which the perpetrators are Muslims while the victims are Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, and those of indigenous religions. For this reason it does not gain the same favor as that of the Rohingya, Palestine, or the Uyghur of China. And this is an aspect of the silence that should be more damning than all others... but it's one never admitted to. 

There are currently more Bengali settlers on Jumma lands than there are Jumma tribal members. This is a genocide that is already passed the breaking point. It is one that is now headed for completion as the world continues to watch in silence. It is a genocide that needs addressed. And it is one that must be stopped soon before the damage is irreparable. 

We as a world community must start screaming for all those who are suffering in the Chittagong Hills (and across the globe) regardless of their race, religion, social standings, or creed. We must not only scream for the Jumma people but help their voices be heard. We must amplify their voices whenever and wherever we can.

If you call yourself a humanitarian these are not suggestions.

If you call yourself anything related to such a word as that.... then this is your fight as well.

Articles used in the research of this article:
(not all sources listed)

Survival International

Dhaka Tribune 


Cultural Survival

The Citizen (India)


University of Notre Dame

The Daily Star

Asian Tribune 


Asian Center For Human Rights

January 21, 2015

We Shall Remain...

Vietnam's War On Indigenous Peoples

(Degar children)

When America went to war in Vietnam it did it without any real understanding of what conflicts were resting just beneath the surface. In the province of Gia Lai this failure to understand past conflict only served to draw the battle lines a little clearer. The Montagnard peoples of Vietnam's central highlands had a long standing conflict with Vietnam's ethnic majority. It was one not of their choosing. And it was one in which America only served as yet a new ally in an endless battle.

The Montagnard people, or Degar people in their language, had been pushed into the mountains long before colonialism. They are culturally, linguistically, and ethnically distinct from the Vietnamese majority. It was these differences that had built a barrier between them and the Vietnamese. An it was this barrier upon which colonialism preyed. The Degar had battled to survive amongst invading Vietnamese, French, and American rulers. It is in those mountains and forests that the Degar have showed the world that they will remain.

"Sons Of The Mountain"
Degar Resistance 

(Degar Resistance, 1962)

The history of the Degar tribes (including the Jarai, Rhade, Bahnar, Koho, Mnong, and Stieng) has been one of resisting foreign invasion. They were once coastal tribes that farmed the lowlands, hunted in the forests, and fished the coastal waters. In the ninth century the Vietnamese and Khmer began encroaching upon their lands. And within a short time period the Degar tribes earned their name by claiming the Central Highlands of Vietnam. They fiercely defended what other ethnic groups had seen as undesirable mountainous areas. Their tribes, around 30 tribes in all, were ethnically distinct yet shared many cultural and social structures which helped them unite in defense of the last homeland they had left. 

When colonialism began in Southeast Asia the Degar tribes were at first left alone. Then came the introduction of the Roman Catholic missionaries in the 19th century. Only a small amount of the Degar tribes embraced the Roman Catholics. Most simply wanted the French to keep the Vietnamese off their lands. And for that matter... also wished the French would stay off their lands as well. But then came the American missionaries with their version of Christianity. Colonialism under the French, with American influence, had brought a new faith to the Degar tribes. By 1930's the Degar people were beginning to adopt Christianity into their cultural practices. 

Then came the communists.

 (Degar boys work as guerrilla soldiers during The Vietnam War)

Colonialism was a brutal source of tyranny in Vietnam as a whole. The French had to combat traditional beliefs and practices in Vietnam to maintain a profit at the expense of the Vietnamese people. Without oppressive practices and a repressive power structure, French colonialism in Southeast Asia would had collapsed much more rapidly. It was no surprise that once communism arrived in the northern parts of Vietnam that the French began to lose control. Communism could be manipulated to fit the cultural structure of Vietnamese society. French exploitation could not. 

Vietnam was set to fall to the communists as France began to retreat toward the south. Those loyal to the French became targets. Everything that resembled the French colonial rule had to go. And this meant the religion the French had spread across a country that was predominately Buddhist. For the Degar people of the Central Highlands this was just one more aspect of the conflict that already existed between them and the Vietnamese. 

Ho Chi Minh set his eyes upon the Central Highlands as the communists sought out to rid Vietnam of anyone loyal to the old masters. Northern Vietnamese guerrillas and regular soldiers began to push into Degar lands. Then came the Americans...

As America began it's war against the communists the Degar people found an ally. The Degar would be pawns in America's war. Yet for them it was a role that allowed them to remain on their lands. It was a war in which they had to choose the better of two devils. The communists offered them nothing but death even if the Degar would fight the Westerners. The Americans offered them a chance to remain on their lands even if there was a horrific price to be paid in their own blood. 

The Degar peoples resisted. Just as they had done for centuries. The Degar tribes did not fight for French or American colonial rule. They did not fight to keep Vietnam free of communist rule. They simply resisted so that they could remain on their ancestral homeland. The war may have very well been a struggle between two political systems, but for the Degar it was one of survival. The Vietnamese had been the ones to push the Degar tribes to these highlands in the first place. During the war the Vietnamese threatened to push the Degar off the last strip of land they had left to call their own. 

The legacy of standing up to Vietnamese aggression is one that still haunts the Degar tribes today. Vietnam went on to win the bloody war against American aggression. The fact that the Degar tribes had sided with the Americans is a memory that has not yet been forgotten. And it is one that is still used for political gains by land-grabbing Vietnamese politicians and military leaders. 

(Degar protest in front of The White House)

Today the Degar people are oppressed in ways that directly mirror the atrocities committed against them in centuries past. The government of Vietnam is directly responsible for the confiscation of Degar lands, the forced conversions of Degar peoples, the continual violence perpetrated against Degar civilians, unlawful and arbitrary arrests of Degar tribal members, and the persistent harassment of Degar villages. The government of Vietnam cordons off Degar lands from the outside world as it blocks access to the Degar people it so readily persecutes. All the while the government of Vietnam exploits the natural resources of Degar lands by allowing Vietnam's elite to sell off it's lumber, lands for plantations, and controlling access to the water sources on Degar lands.

Continual persecution has led many Degar to unite in ways that have blurred the lines between the many different tribes of Degars. Vietnam's harsh treatment of the Degar has led to mass protests within Vietnam (always met with violent oppressive actions by the state) and mass protests in countries that Degar refugees have resettled in. In 2001 the Degar marched on provincial cities across the Central Highlands to demand the return of their ancestral homelands, basic religious freedoms, their basic human rights to be recognized, and ethnic recognition by the Vietnamese government. Since then the oppressive measures taken by Vietnam have only increased. 

Vietnam has sent large numbers of police and military into the Central Highlands in an attempt to seal off the region from outside eyes. Churches (homes used as churches) have been burned in retaliation for Degars preaching the Christian faith. Leaders of the Degar community have been rounded up and sentenced to lengthy prison sentences (many still awaiting trial while being kept in prison). Women and Degar youth are constantly harassed by the military as Degar families are kept as prisoners on their own lands. And the border with Cambodia is heavily monitored in an effort to keep the thousands of Degar refugees from fleeing Vietnamese oppressive rule. 

Meanwhile the government of Vietnam hides behind claims that the Degar are terrorists that are dead-set upon damaging national unity and breaking away from Vietnam. These are claims that have yet to be proven by a regime that forbids foreign journalists and aid workers from entering the Central Highlands. While the regime uses these claims to crackdown on Degar tribes (essentially stripping them of all basic human rights) it outright refuses any outside government to investigate the claims. 

So while Vietnam carries out what has all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing, the outside world is left to watch. While Vietnam behaves in much the same way as Burma does in the Arakan... the outside world once again ignores signs of what has the potential to become (if it has not already been) genocide.