Desecration of Hmong graves discussed

Minnesota state senator Mee Moua is leading the delegation that visited Thailand.

by Anna Ewart

A group of community representatives is visiting Thailand this week to address the desecration of more than 900 Hmong graves that occurred in 2005.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman sent the delegation to discuss options for bringing peace and reconciliation to the families affected by the incident, according to a City of St. Paul news release.

The desecration occurred at Wat Tham Krabok, a Buddhist monastery located in the Saraburi province in northern Thailand. The corpses were removed from their graves and dismembered by teams of Thai workers.

Minnesota state senator Mee Moua is leading the delegation. Bob Hume, spokesperson for Mayor Coleman, said Moua is accompanied by her husband Yee Chang, human rights lawyer Maya Diokno, the mayor’s policy associate Va-Megn Thoj and state senate majority leader Lawrence Pogemiller.

The delegation will be visiting the Wat Tham Krabok monastery, which was a Hmong refugee camp during the 1980s and 1990s.

There, the representatives will meet with heads of the monastery and local Thai government officials. They hope to meet with higher level government officials if possible.

Barbara Frey, director of the Human Rights Program at the University, said she is providing counseling and expertise to the group.

The program became involved when Frey was approached by a former student who told her what was occurring in Wat Tham Krabok. In spring of 2006, Frey discussed it with her Human Rights internship class, which took on the case as a project.

Frey also wrote a formal communication to the United Nations requesting action be taken to address the exhumation of these bodies.

According to this document, the desecration of the graves is a human rights violation because of Hmong religious beliefs.

The Hmong practice animism and ancestral worship. Bodies are traditionally considered sacred and should remain intact in both life and death.

According to the program, the exhumation and mistreatment of the bodies was caught on tape and photographed.

About 15,000 former residents of Wat Tham Krabok have resettled in the United States and about 4,000 of them now live in Minnesota.

State Representative Cy Thao said he was unable to join the delegation because of personal reasons but wants to bring closure to the affected families. He said there are Minnesota families that are very upset about the desecration.

Chu Pheng Lee is a leader in the St. Paul Hmong community. He said the desecration of these graves is a major issue for Hmong people in St. Paul and around the country. He said he would like to see some kind of resolution come from the trip.

The Thai government said the bodies were removed because of water quality complaints. The monks from the monastery said relatives were notified and given time to claim the bodies. The program disputes both of these claims.

Frey said she would like to see the Thai government return the remains of bodies it’s still holding and prohibit any further desecration of Hmong graves.

“This is a practice that has been going on in Thailand. This isn’t the first time it happened,” she said. “We want acknowledgment that it’s inappropriate treatment and a violation of the rights of these families.”

The group returns from the trip Sept. 29.