The Council for the Socio-Cultural Development of Champa
P.O. Box 582792
Elk Grove, CA 95758-0049
Tel: (916) 743-2413; email: email@example.com
Sacramento, April 15, 2011
Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
United Nations, 2 UN Plaza
New York, NY 10017
Dear Secretariat of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues:
On March 18, we received an email from you informing us that our pre-registration was denied, for the tenth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Your letter stated, “Based on the information provided in your application form, it appeared that your organization is an NGO that works on ethnic issues based on the USA.”
However, although The Council for the Socio-Cultural Development of Champa is based in the US, we are actually representing the Cham people in Viet Nam, from where we emigrated. In other words, although we have been an accredited organization in the US since 2007, our concerns center the Cham in Viet Nam, not the Cham in the US. It may be confusing that we are based in the US, but we are Cham who were pushed from home due to the effects of war in our homeland. The Cham have become a transnational and diasporic people displaced by the upheavals of conquest and war, yet most of us still live in Southeast Asia.
The Cham are an Austronesian-speaking people considered indigenous to the region of south and central Viet Nam. The Cham presence in south central Viet Nam predates the Kinh (ethnic Vietnamese or Đại Việt) by at least 2,000 years, according to archaeological records. As a distinct polity, we first entered the written record (of China) in 192 AD. Our longstanding kingdom, Champa, occupied most of today’s central Viet Nam—from Quảng Bình to Đồng Nai provinces. Due to over 1,000 years of active trading through our ports, we are widely documented as the original inhabitants of that region, as noted by dignitaries, travelers, and merchants of Chinese, Indian, Khmer, Vietnamese, Indonesian, European, and Middle Eastern origin.
Beginning in the late fifteenth century, the Cham fled Vietnamese incursions into northern Champa, finding refuge in southern Champa, where most Cham live today. Some Cham territory in Viet Nam remained intact, in gradually eroding parcels, until 1832. Before 1975, the Cham possessed a territory reserved for economic activities of
their group. The abolition of this status has had a significant impact on the 2
socioeconomic development of the Cham people.
Like many indigenous people around the world, we are stateless. We predate (by over 1,000 years) the formation of the modern nation state. Yet as a stateless indigenous
people living today under the rule of a colonial power (Viet Nam,) our concerns are also not represented in any national or international contexts, due to conditions of subjugation, marginalization, dispossession, exclusion and discrimination. Meanwhile, encroachments to land rights and longevity have become more pronounced, since 1975 but also in light of governmental plans to build two nuclear power plants proximal to Cham territory.
In July 2010, UN Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Gay McDougall, issued a statement upon conclusion of her official visit to Viet Nam. In this statement, she wrote, “It is critical that the Government ensures that its economic growth is achieved without negatively impacting on the lives of minorities or deepening their poverty and that they share fully the benefits of growth and prosperity, while maintaining their distinct cultures and identities.” We agree completely with this statement. Yet the experience of the Cham in Viet Nam differs from these ideals put forth by Ms. McDougall. Instead of sharing fully in the ‘benefits’ of ‘growth and prosperity,’ we have seen little of these. In addition, we seem to be suffering in light of the country’s desire to invest in nuclear power.
Placing nuclear power within miles of the highest concentration of Cham people is indeed something that threatens our distinct culture and identity, by putting our very bodies in harm’s way (within a nuclear fallout zone,) as construction on the first plant begins in 2014. We are the last Cham remaining on ancestral lands, yet the Vietnamese government describes this nuclear project as taking place in ’empty’ lands. In 2008, we approached the Vietnamese government requesting that they reconsider their plans to build these power plants in Ninh Thuan province, so close to the Cham. Both Cham and Vietnamese people, in country, have also protested. However, to this day, none of our concerns have been acknowledged or addressed.
We are growing increasingly worried about the fate of the Cham people in Ninh Thuan province. We oppose nuclear power because of dangers associated with various elements of the process involved in the fuel cycle. “Downwinders” may be exposed to releases of radioactive materials that contaminate their groundwater systems, food chains, and the air they breathe. Adverse health effects, such as an increased incidence of cancers, non-cancerous thyroid diseases, and congenital malformations have been observed in many and diverse downwind communities exposed to nuclear fallout and radioactive contamination. We are also concerned with dangers related to long-term storage of highly radioactive nuclear waste as well as the possibly catastrophic results of a core meltdown. In the shadows of the ongoing nuclear accidents in Fukushima, Japan, we are all the more cautious and cautioning about the limits of nuclear safety.3
When attending the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, we would like to request that the Vietnamese Government execute their responsibilities to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in helping the indigenous Cham in Viet Nam. Although Articles 7, 21, and 26 are all relevant to the Cham, we consider the following two articles particularly relevant:
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resource.
States shall establish and implement assistance programmes for indigenous peoples for such conservation and protection, without discrimination.
2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that no storage or disposal of hazardous materials shall take place in the lands or territories of indigenous peoples without their free, prior and informed consent.
3. States shall also take effective measures to ensure, as needed, that programmes for monitoring, maintaining and restoring the health of indigenous peoples, as developed and implemented by the peoples affected by such materials, are duly implemented.
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources.
2. States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.
3. States shall provide effective mechanisms for just and fair redress for any such activities, and appropriate measures shall be taken to mitigate adverse environmental, economic, social, cultural or spiritual impact.
In order to receive accreditation from you as indigenous peoples AND an indigenous people’s organization, we are willing to provide historically-situated details/facts which demonstrate our eligibility of indigence: priority in time (over the ethnic Vietnamese Kinh), the voluntary perpetuation of cultural distinctiveness, self-identification as a distinct collectivity, recognition by other groups (including state authorities) as a distinct collectivity, and experiences of subjugation, marginalization, dispossession, exclusion and discrimination. We are also able to provide relevant details about our organization’s mission, board of directors, and anything else you would like.
Please consider granting us the accredited status of an indigenous people’s organization, so that we are able to attend the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. 4
Let us know what we can do. Whatever you need to acknowledge or accredit us, we can provide.
It seems to us that the UN would want to help the Cham in Viet Nam, especially in light of the UN recognition of Cham sacred architecture as being distinctly worthy of UNESCO World Heritage Status (since 1999.) According to UNESCO’s criterion iii for the World Heritage site: “The Champa Kingdom was an important phenomenon in the political and cultural history of South-East Asia, vividly illustrated by the ruins of My Son.” Yet we ask, are not the living descendants of Champa as worthy of
protection as our ancient temples and artworks? Or are our towers and sculptures more valuable if we are indeed ‘extinct’?
We would like to have a say in this matter of life and survival, if at all possible.