Archive for ‘Hmong’

January 21, 2015

Laos, Hmong NGO Coalition Appeals to United Nations Human Rights Council to Sanction Lao Government Over Egregious Violations

Press Release

Laos, Hmong NGO Coalition Appeals to United Nations Human Rights Council to Sanction Lao Government Over Egregious Violations

January 20, 2015,

Washington, D.C., Geneva, Switzerland, and Vientiane, Laos

Center for Public Policy Analysis

The Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) and a coalition of non-governmental organizations, including prominent Lao and Hmong human rights groups, is appealing to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to sanction and condemn the government of Laos during its pending Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the country’s human rights practices.  The NGOs have released a ten-point (10 point) appeal to the member nations of the United Nations Human Rights Council slated to convene in Geneva today to take up the review of Laos’ controversial human rights record.

“Because of the important Universal Periodic Review of Laos’ deplorable and egregious human rights violations by the United Nations in Geneva, a coalition of non-governmental organizations, and Lao and Hmong human rights groups, are appealing to the member nations of the UN’s Human Rights Council  to vigorously hold the government of Laos, and its military and communist leaders, fully accountable for a myriad of serious and systemic human rights abuses,” said Philip Smith, Executive Director of the CPPA in Washington, D.C. “Some of the leaders in Laos are clearly guilty of crimes against humanity, up and above their horrific human rights violations.”

“The one-party Marxist government in Laos, which is a de facto military junta run by the Lao People’s Army, continues to systematically engage in enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings of political and religious dissidents as well as minority peoples, including the ethnic Hmong,” Smith stated. “The Lao government’s ongoing, and intimate, military and diplomatic relationship with North Korea is also deeply troubling and has resulted in the brutal forced repatriation by Laos of North Korean refugees back to the Stalinist regime in Pyongyang that the asylum seekers have fled.”

Smith continued: “We are calling upon the Lao government to immediately provide unfettered, international access to missing civic leader Sombath Somphone and well as prominent Laotian and Hmong political dissidents,  including the leaders of the Lao Students’ Movement for Democracy who have been imprisoned for over 15 years after leading peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations in Vientiane in 1999.   We are also very concerned about numerous Hmong refugee leaders, forcibly repatriated from Thailand to Laos in recent years, as well as notable opposition leaders, such as Moua Ter Thao, who have disappeared into the Lao prison and gulag system, and who also appear to have been subject to enforced disappearances at the hands of Lao military and security forces.”

“The continued persecution, and extrajudicial killing of Lao and Hmong refugees and asylum seekers in the jungles of Laos, as well as horrific religious freedom violations against Hmong Christian and animist believers, are serious human rights violations that the United Nations in Geneva should hold the Lao government accountable for, and call their leaders forward to address,” said Vaughn Vang, Executive Director of the Lao Human Rights Council, Inc. (LHRC). “The Lao military is still heavily engaged in ethnic cleansing and large-scale illegal logging operations, involving military attacks and starvation of Hmong civilians, driving more and more minority peoples from their ancestral lands, including the Hmong people, who are still being forced from the mountains and the jungles of Laos, where their only option is to flee to Thailand, and other third countries, to seek asylum from persecution and death.”

The following is the text of the ten-point appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva:

We appeal to the member nations of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to vigorously press the Lao government and military on its repeated and deplorable human rights violations.  We request that the member nations of the UNHRC hold the authorities in Laos, and the Lao government and military, accountable for their egregious human rights violations, which must be condemned by the international community, and we further petition Laos to:

1.)1.) Provide immediate and unconditional international access to arrested civic activist Sombath Somphone, and all information related to his arrest and imprisonment;

2.) 2.) Provide immediate and unconditional international access to arrested student activist leaders of the Lao Students’ Movement for Democracy who were arrested following peaceful, pro-democracy protests in Vientiane, Laos, in October of 1999;

  1. 3.) Provide immediate and unconditional international access to all Lao Hmong refugee camp leaders of the Ban Huay Nam Khao (Huai Nam Khao) refugee camp in Thailand who were forcibly repatriated from Thailand to various camps and sites in Laos, including secret locations, in 2009;

4.)4.)  Stop the Lao military’s ongoing attacks against civilians, and illegal logging, especially in highland and minority populated areas; Provide immediate and unconditional access to international human rights monitors and independent journalists, to closed military zones, and military-controlled areas in Laos, where deforestation, illegal logging, military attacks, enforced starvation, and human rights violations continue against vulnerable minority peoples in Laos, including the ethnic Hmong people;

5.)5.)   Cease religious persecution of Laotian and Hmong religious believers, including Animists, Christians, Catholics and other faiths, who seek to worship freely, and independent of Lao government monitoring and control;

6.) 6.) Cease the forced repatriation of North Korean refugees and asylum seekers who have fled political and religious persecution in North Korea to Laos and Southeast Asia;

7.)7.) Provide immediate and unconditional international access, especially to human rights monitors and attorneys, as well as independent journalists, to various high-profile Hmong-Americans imprisoned, or subject to enforced disappearance, in Laos, including Hakit Yang, of St. Paul, Minnesota, and his colleagues;

8.)8.) Provide immediate and unconditional international access, especially to human rights monitors and attorneys, as well as independent journalists, to the high-profile Hmong opposition and resistance leader  Moua Toua Ter recently repatriated from Thailand to Laos in 2014;

  1. 9.) Provide immediate and unconditional international access, especially to human rights monitors and attorneys, as well as independent journalists, to the two imprisoned Hmong translators, and alleged Hmong opposition members, who allegedly accompanied European journalist Thierry Falise, French cameraman Vincent Reynaud, and their American translator and guide, Rev. Naw Karl Mua in 2003, during their investigation into the Lao military’s persecution and attacks against the Hmong people, as documented by the Committee to Protect Journalists;

10)10.) Provide information, the whereabouts, and the fate of the accused Ban Vang Tao ( Vang Tao /Chong Mek border crossing point) alleged resistance and opposition leaders, and their alleged accomplices,  reportedly involved in the July 2000 cross border attack on a Lao government customs post; International access should be granted to these individuals who were forcibly repatriated from Thailand to Laos prior to their trial, and court proceedings, in Thailand, as documented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); We are concerned about credible reports that these Lao citizens have been subjected to enforced disappearance, torture and extrajudicial killing by the Lao government;  We request that the Lao government provide immediate and unconditional international access by human rights attorneys and international journalists to the accused Laotians who were unfairly denied a court trial in Thailand on the Ban Vang Tao case, since there is no independent judiciary or independent news media in Laos.

The ten-point appeal to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva was issued by the CPPA, LHRC, United League for Democracy in Laos, Inc., Lao Students’ Movement for Democracy, Laos Institute for Democracy, Lao Hmong Students Association, Hmong Advance, Inc., Hmong Advancement, Inc., Lao Veterans of America, Inc., and others.



Jade Her or Philip Smith

Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA)

Tele. (202) 543-1444

2020 Pennsylvania Ave., NW

Washington, DC 20006, USA

October 24, 2014

Vietnam Veterans of U.S. Secret Army in Laos Urge Congress to Act

Center for Public Policy Analysis

Vietnam Veterans of U.S. Secret Army in Laos Urge Congress to Act

Washington, October 24, 2014 03:45 PM

The Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) and Lao- and Hmong-American leaders are meeting with key members of the U.S. Congress, and Senate and House offices on Capitol Hill, urging the passage of legislation to grant burial honors, and benefits, to veterans who served in the U.S. Secret Army in Laos during the Vietnam War.

Meetings are being held with the offices of Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Carl Levin (D-Michigan), Bernard Sanders (I-Vermont), Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), Diane Feinstein (D-California), Barbara Boxer (D-California), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and Al Franken (D-Minnesota), who support the bill, “The Hmong Veterans’ Service Recognition Act” (S. 200; S. 2337). In the House, Lao- and Hmong-American leaders are slated to meet with Congressmen Jim Costa (D), Devin Nunes (R), Paul Cook (R), and Jeff Denham (R) of California, the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and others.

“The Lao- and Hmong-American veterans and their families seek to educate policymakers and Congress about the unique and historic role of the veterans in covert support of the U.S. Special Forces, CIA, and clandestine U.S. Air Force units in Laos during the Vietnam War,” said Philip Smith, Executive Director of the CPPA. “It is important to honor these extraordinary veterans with burial honors.”

Colonel Wangyee Vang, National President of the Lao Veterans of America Institute (LVAI) stated: “We are grateful for the support of over fifty members of Congress and appreciate their efforts to advance legislation to honor our veterans and their families with burial benefits.”

“The community in Anchorage, and across America, is requesting that the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, led by Chairman Sanders and Vice Chairman Burr, and Senators Begich and Murkowski, continue to work to pass our veterans bill,” said Pasert Lee, President of the Hmong Alaska Community, Inc.

“We are talking to our Senators, and Congress, about the sacrifices of Hmong veterans in assisting the United States to secretly combat the North Vietnamese Army’s invasion of the Kingdom of Laos during critical years of the Vietnam War,” commented Richard Xiong, Vice President of the LVAI.

“It is important that President Obama and the White House also remember and support our Lao Hmong veterans and this bill,” concluded Erik Xiong, Secretary of the LVAI.


Christy Her or Philip Smith

Center for Public Policy Analysis
Tele. (202)543-1444
February 21, 2014

Laos Steps Up Security in Hmong Villages Amid Prisoner Concerns

Laos Steps Up Security in Hmong Villages Amid Prisoner Concerns

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Authorities in Laos have stepped up security in a northeastern province where ethnic minority Hmongs are concerned over the health and treatment of three members of their community imprisoned for illegal possession of firearms, sources said.

The three elderly men among a group of 14 convicted a year ago for having firearms in Xiengkhuang province are believed to be in poor health, a source in the province said.

Hmongs believe that Pa Cheng Cha, in his early eighties, and Pa Yelor and Cher Wa Lor, both in their early sixties, have not been treated well in prison and never received a fair trial after their arrest following a police raid in 2012, according to the source.

In response to the concern about their cases, authorities in Xiengkhuang, the birthplace of Hmong war hero General Vang Pao, have ordered villages to bolster their security forces to monitor Hmong people’s activities, he said.

“Each village has been ordered to step up its own security,” he told RFA’s Lao Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“In general, it is part of a campaign to alert people in the villages to be observant in helping the security forces,” he said.


The three men are serving terms of between 15 and 18 years in prison, according to the local Vientiane Times newspaper.

They were arrested along with 11 others in July 2012 after police patrolling Phonsavanxay village in Xiengkhuang’s Paek district found an AK-47 rifle and 100 rounds of ammunition.

Villagers were taken in for questioning, leading to the discovery of others with rifles and handguns only police or soldiers are allowed to possess, according to the newspaper.

Of the 11 other men, five were sentenced to 15 years in prison and six given one-year terms.

According to the paper, Pa Cheng Cha, Pa Yelor,  and Chea Wa Lor are serving imprisonment of 18, 17, and 15 years respectively.


Lao authorities have long been wary of opposition among the Hmong, many of whom say they face persecution from the government because of their Vietnam War-era ties with the United States.

Thousands of Hmong fought under CIA advisers during a so-called “secret war” against communists in Laos.

General Vang Pao, who spearheaded the 15-year CIA-sponsored war, died in the United States in 2011 at the age of 81.

The outspoken opponent of the Lao government emigrated to the United States after the communists seized power in his country in 1975.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Somnet Inthapannha. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

April 13, 2013

Laos: Coalition Opposes U.S. Taxpayers’ Funding of Bomb Removal From Vietnam War

Laos: Coalition Opposes U.S. Taxpayers’ Funding of Bomb Removal From Vietnam War

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Published: Friday, Apr. 12, 2013 / Updated: Friday, Apr. 12, 2013 01:26 PM

WASHINGTON & VIENTIANE, Laos — The Center for Public Policy Analysis (CPPA) and a coalition of Lao and Hmong non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are opposing a controversial multi-million dollar U.S. Department of State project to remove unexploded Vietnam War-era ordnance and bombs from Laos.

In opposition to the project, which the State Department is presently promoting with a U.S. tour, the NGOs are citing increased human rights abuses as well as religious and minority persecution in Laos. The organizations are also raising concerns about the recent arrest and abduction of Laotian civic activist Sombath Somphone, widespread government corruption in Laos and illegal logging by Lao and Vietnamese military-owned companies.

The Lao government’s support for North Korean (DPRK) is also being cited.

“We oppose U.S. funding for bomb removal in Laos, given the Lao regime’s ongoing persecution and killing of the Laotian and Hmong people,” said Vaughn Vang, Director of the Lao Human Rights Council (LHRC).

“Before any further funds are given for bomb removal efforts in Laos by U.S. taxpayers, the Lao regime must release Sombath Somphone, and jailed Lao Students for Democracy (LSFD) protest leaders, as well as information about the three Lao-Americans from Minnesota who disappearance in Laos at the hands of the Lao police and military in January,” stated Bounthanh Rathigna, President of the United League for Democracy in Laos (ULDL).

“Many Laotian and Hmong-Americans advocate cutting all U.S. foreign aid to Laos given the Lao government’s recent arrest of Sombath Somphone and its role in the disappearance of three Lao-Americans from Minnesota,” said Khampoua Naovarangsy, President of the Laos Institute for Democracy (LIFD).

The coalition of NGOs opposed to U.S. funding for the bomb removal program in Laos include the CPPA, ULDL, LIFD, LSFD, United Lao for Human Rights and Democracy, Hmong Advance, Inc., Hmong Advancement, Lao Veterans of America, Lao Veterans of America Institute and others.

“No U.S. taxpayers’ money should be used for the clean-up of bombs and unexploded ordnance in Laos from the Vietnam War-era, while corrupt Lao officials are engaged in brutal human rights violations, religious persecution, the abduction of civic activists, and ethnic cleansing waged against many of their own Lao and Hmong people,” said Philip Smith, Director of the CPPA in Washington, D.C.

“The Lao military continues to drop bombs and launch horrific and bloody attacks against peaceful civilian minority communities, including the Hmong people, in the mountains and jungles of Laos,” Smith stated. “The Lao Peoples Army (LPA) continues to attack and heavily shell and bomb its own freedom-loving people, with artillery and aircraft, and is engaged in widespread illegal logging in Laos in cooperation with Vietnam Peoples Army-owned companies.”

“Currently, the one-party communist regime in Laos is routinely engaged in machine-gunning, rocketing, bombing, and starving to death many innocent Laotian and Hmong civilians, and religious and dissident communities, in the mountains and jungles of Laos, including groups of Christian and Animist believers,” Smith observed.

“Given the U.S. budget crisis, there is growing opposition to this misguided and highly questionable bomb-removal project in Laos,” Smith commented. “Clearly, Laos should meet basic conditions, including the release of Sombath Somphone, and imprisoned Lao student and dissident leaders, before any further U.S. foreign aid is provided.”

“Moreover, the Lao military and politburo are closely allied with North Korea,” Smith stated. “No U.S. taxpayers’ money should go toward bomb removal programs in Laos until the Lao regime ends its cooperation with Stalinist North Korea.”

October 23, 2012

The Science of Racism: Radiolab’s Treatment of Hmong Experience


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Submitted by Kao Kalia Yang on October 22, 2012 – 10:17pm

photo courtesy of author

On September 24, NPR show Radiolab aired a 25-minute segment on Yellow Rain. In the 1960s, most Hmong had sided with America in a secret war against the Pathet Lao and its allies. More than 100,000 Hmong died in this conflict, and when American troops pulled out, the rest were left to face brutal repercussions. Those who survived the perilous journey to Thailand carried horrific stories of an ongoing genocide, among them accounts of chemical warfare. Their stories provoked a scientific controversy that still hasn’t been resolved. In its podcast, Radiolab set out to find the “fact of the matter”. Yet its relentless badgering of Hmong refugee Eng Yang and his niece, award-winning author and activist Kao Kalia Yang, provoked an outcry among its listeners, and its ongoing callous, racist handling of the issue has since been criticized in several places, including Hyphen. When Hyphen’s R.J. Lozada reached out to Kao Kalia Yang, she graciously agreed to share her side of the story for the first time. What follows are her words, and those of her uncle.


I was pregnant.

In early spring, a dear friend of mine, noted Hmong scholar and historian, Paul Hillmer contacted me to see if I knew anyone who would be willing to speak to Radiolab, an NPR show with 1.8 million listeners worldwide. On April 26, 2012 I received an email from Pat Walters, a producer at Radiolab, saying the show was looking for the Hmong perspective on Yellow Rain for a podcast. Pat wrote, “I’d love to speak with your uncle. And no, I don’t have a single specific question; I’d be delighted to hear him speak at length.” There were two New Yorker stories on Yellow Rain, and neither of them contained a Hmong voice, so Radiolab wanted to do better, to include Hmong experience. This seemed like an important opportunity to give the adults in my life a voice to share stories of what happened to them after the Americans left the jungles of Laos in 1975. I asked Uncle Eng to see if he would be interested. He was. I agreed to serve as interpreter. Before the date of the interview with Pat and Robert Krulwich, one of the show’s main hosts, I wrote Pat to ensure that the Radiolab team would respect my uncle’s story, his perspective, and the Hmong experience. I asked for questions. Pat submitted questions about Yellow Rain.

On the date of the interview, Wednesday May 16th, 2012 at 10 in the morning, Marisa Helms (a Minnesota-based sound producer sent by Radiolab), my husband, and I met with Uncle Eng’s family at their house in Brooklyn Center. In customary Hmong tradition, my uncle had laid out a feast of fruits and fruit drinks from the local Asian grocery store. He had risen early, went through old notebooks where he’d documented in Lao, Thai, Hmong, and a smattering of French and English, recollections of Hmong history, gathered thoughts, and written down facts of the time. The phone lines were connected to WNYC studios.

Pat and Robert introduced themselves and asked us for our introductions. The questions began. They wanted to know where my uncle was during the war, what happened after the Americans left, why the Hmong ran into the jungles, what happened in the jungles, what was his experience of Yellow Rain. Uncle Eng responded to each question. The questions took a turn. The interview became an interrogation. A Harvard scientist said the Yellow Rain Hmong people experienced was nothing more than bee defecation.

My uncle explained Hmong knowledge of the bees in the mountains of Laos, said we had harvested honey for centuries, and explained that the chemical attacks were strategic; they happened far away from established bee colonies, they happened where there were heavy concentrations of Hmong.  Robert grew increasingly harsh, “Did you, with your own eyes, see the yellow powder fall from the airplanes?” My uncle said that there were planes flying all the time and bombs being dropped, day and night. Hmong people did not wait around to look up as bombs fell. We came out in the aftermath to survey the damage. He said what he saw, “Animals dying, yellow that could eat through leaves, grass, yellow that could kill people — the likes of which bee poop has never done.”

My uncle explained that he was serving as documenter of the Hmong experience for the Thai government, a country that helped us during the genocide. With his radio and notebooks, he journeyed to the sites where the attacks had happened, watched with his eyes what had happened to the Hmong, knew that what was happening to the Hmong were not the result of dysentery, lack of food, the environment we had been living in or its natural conditions. Robert crossed the line. He said that what my uncle was saying was “hearsay.”

I had been trying valiantly to interpret everything my uncle was saying, carry meaning across the chasm of English and Hmong, but I could no longer listen to Robert’s harsh dismissal of my uncle’s experience. After two hours, I cried,

“My uncle says for the last twenty years he didn’t know that anyone was interested in the deaths of the Hmong people. He agreed to do this interview because you were interested. What happened to the Hmong happened, and the world has been uninterested for the last twenty years. He agreed because you were interested. That the story would be heard and the Hmong deaths would be documented and recognized. That’s why he agreed to the interview, that the Hmong heart is broken and our leaders have been silenced, and what we know has been questioned again and again is not a surprise to him, or to me. I agreed to the interview for the same reason, that Radiolab was interested in the Hmong story, that they were interested in documenting the deaths that happened. There was so much that was not told.  Everybody knows that chemical warfare was being used. How do you create bombs if not with chemicals? We can play the semantics game, we can, but I’m not interested, my uncle is not interested. We have lost too much heart, and too many people in the process. I, I think the interview is done.”

Before we hung up the phone, I asked for copies of the full interview. Robert told me that I would need a court order. I offered resources I have on Yellow Rain, news articles and medical texts that a doctor from Columbia University had sent my way, resources that would offer Radiolab a fuller perspective of the situation in Laos and the conditions of the Hmong exposed to the chemicals. My uncle gave Marisa a copy of a DVD he had recorded of a Hmong woman named Pa Ma, speaking of her experiences in the jungles of Laos after the Americans left, so that the Radiolab team would understand the fullness of what happened to the Hmong. After we hung up the phone, there was silence from the Radiolab team.

On May 18, I emailed Pat:

I can’t say that the experience of the interview was pleasant, but it is over now. I’ve had a day and some hours into the night to think about the content of the interview. My heart hurts for what transpired. Our dead will not rise into life. The bombs fell. The yellow powder covered the leaves and the grass, and the people suffered and died. We can only speak to what we experienced, what we saw.” I followed up on my offer of resources, “I said that I had old newspaper clippings that a doctor from Columbia sent me. I do not want it aired that I offered material I did not follow up on. If you want them, let me know. I will make photocopies and send. If you’ve no time to look through them before the completion of your show, then please also let me know so I don’t waste more heart in the effort.

On May 21st, Pat wrote back, “I’m editing our piece now and I will certainly send it to you when it’s finished. Unfortunately, I don’t think time will allow me to review the articles you mentioned.” He ended the email with a request for me to listen to an attached song to identify whether it was Hmong or not.

On August 3rd, 2012 my husband and I went in for our first ultrasound. Our baby was 19 weeks old.  The black screen flickered to life. I saw a baby huddled in a ball, feet planted on either side, face turned away. The room was very silent. I prodded my baby to move. I thought the volume hadn’t been turned on. The technician was quiet. She did her measurements. She left the room. The monitor was on. I tapped my belly, asked my baby to move, so I could see if it was a boy or a girl. Two doctors came into the room. The younger one held onto my feet. The older one said, “I’m sorry to tell you. Your baby is dead.” On August 4th, after 26 hours of induced labor, listening to the cries of mothers in pain and then the cries of babies being born, I gave birth to a little boy, six inches long, head swollen with liquid, eyes closed, and his mouth open like a little bird.

On August 6th my cell phone rang. It was Pat, and he wanted me to call into an automated line at Radiolab reading the credits for the segment in Hmong. I told him I had just lost my baby. I told him I didn’t want to. He said, “If you feel better, you can call in.” I didn’t feel better.

On September 24, 2012 Radiolab aired their Yellow Rain segment in an episode titled “The Fact of the Matter.” Everybody in the show had a name, a profession, institutional affiliation except Eng Yang, who was identified as “Hmong guy,” and me, “his niece.” The fact that I am an award-winning writer was ignored. The fact that my uncle was an official radio man and documenter of the Hmong experience to the Thai government during the war was absent.  In the interview, the Hmong knowledge of bees or the mountains of Laos were completely edited out.

The aired story goes something like this: Hmong people say they were exposed to Yellow Rain, one Harvard scientist and ex-CIA American man believe that’s hogwash; Ronald Reagan used Yellow Rain and Hmong testimony to blame the Soviets for chemical warfare and thus justified America’s own production of chemical warfare. Uncle Eng and I were featured as the Hmong people who were unwilling to accept the “Truth.” My cry at the end was interpreted by Robert as an effort to “monopolize” the story. They leave a moment of silence. Then the team talks about how we may have shown them how war causes pain, how Reagan’s justification for chemical warfare was a hugely important issue to the world — if not for “the woman” — because clearly she doesn’t care. There was no acknowledgement that Agent Orange and other chemicals had long been produced by the US government and used in Southeast Asia. The team left no room for science that questioned their own aims. Instead, they chose to end the show with hushed laughter.

The day after the show aired, critical feedback began streaming in on the Radiolab website. People from around the world began questioning the segment, particularly Robert’s interrogation of a man who survived a genocidal regime. My cry had awakened something that was “painful,” and made people “uncomfortable.” Pat wrote me to ask me to write a public response to the show so Radiolab could publish it in the wake of the critical response and the concern of its audience.  I wrote one.  My response was,

There is a great imbalance of power at play. From the get-go you got to ask the questions. I sent an email inquiring about the direction the interview would go, where you were headed — expressing to you my concern about the treatment of my uncle and the respect with which his story deserves. You never responded to the email. I have it and I can forward it to you if you’d like. During the course of the interview, my uncle spent a long time explaining Hmong knowledge of bees in the mountains of Laos, not the hills of Thailand, but the mountains of Laos. You all edited it out. Robert Krulwich has the gall to say that I “monopolize” — he who gets to ask the questions, has control over editing, and in the end: the final word. Only an imperialist white man can say that to a woman of color and call it objectivity or science. I am not lost on the fact that I am the only female voice in that story, and in the end, that it is my uncle and I who cry…as you all laugh on.

Pat did not publish my response.

Instead, on September 26th, Jad Abumrad, the other main host of Radiolab, wrote a public letter offering more “context” to the Yellow Rain segment. There was no mention of the fact that they did not take up my offer to look at additional resources that would complicate their assumptions. My friend Paul Hillmer had offered academic research by another Ivy-league scientist that called into question the Harvard professor’s conclusions, which the team had refused to look at. Jad wrote about journalism and integrity and how Radiolab stands by Robert’s “robust” approach to Truth, the “science” of the matter.

Radiolab went into the original podcast and altered it. In Jad’s words, he “inserted a line in the story that puts our ending conversation in a bit more context.”

Many Radiolab listeners used the Jad response as a platform to dialogue and critique the show further.

On September 30th, Robert wrote a response to address concerns about the Yellow Rain segment.  He wrote, “My intent is to question, listen, and explore.” He apologized for the “harshness” of his tone.  He stated,

In this segment, our subject was President Reagan’s 1982 announcement that he believed the Soviets had manufactured chemical weapons and were using them on Hmong people in Laos — and a subsequent announcement by scientists at Harvard and Yale that the President was wrong, that the so-called ‘weapons’ were not weapons at all, but bees relieving themselves in the forest. While there had been previous accounts of this controversy, very few journalists had asked the Hmong refugees hiding in that forest what happened, what they’d seen. That’s why we wanted to speak with Mr. Yang and his niece, Ms. Yang.

Robert did not mention the research they did not look at. He did not mention the Hmong knowledge of bees. He did not mention the racism at work, the privileging of Western education over indigenous knowledge, or the fact that he is a white man in power calling from the safety of Time, his class, and popular position — to brand the Hmong experience of chemical warfare one founded on ignorance.

The tides of audience response shifted. Whereas the majority of listeners were “uncomfortable” with what transpired, and had called fervently for apologies to be issued to Uncle Eng and the Hmong community, some of them were beginning to say, “Robert is a journalist in search of truth.” Others wrote, “At least the Hmong story was heard.” Few questioned the fullness of what had transpired; many took the “research” of Radiolab to be thorough and comprehensive, despite the fact that sound research by respected scholars and scientists believing that Yellow Rain was a chemical agent used against the Hmong was not discussed or investigated. Dr. C.J. Mirocha, the scientist who conducted the first tests on Yellow Rain samples and found toxins, and whose work has never been scientifically refuted, was not interviewed. The work of researchers who argued against Meselson’s bee dung theory was also never mentioned.

On October 3rd, my husband and I had a spirit releasing ceremony for Baby Jules. The day was cold. The wind bit hard. The ground was dry without the autumn rains. We buried the memory box from the hospital beneath a tall tree, much older than us, an old tree on a small island. We wrote letters to Baby Jules on pink balloons and released them into the sky. I wrote, “Baby Jules, there is no need to be scared. You have been so brave already.”

On October 7th, I received an email from Dean Cappello, the Chief Content Officer at WNYC, notifying me that Radiolab had once more “amended” the Yellow Rain podcast so that Robert could apologize at the end, specifically to Uncle Eng for the harshness of his tone and to me for saying that I was trying to “monopolize” the conversation. I listened to the doctored version. In addition to Robert’s apologies — which completely failed to acknowledge the dismissal of our voices and the racism that transpired/s — Radiolab had simply re-contextualized their position, taken out the laughter at the end, and “cleaned” away incriminating evidence.

On October 8, I wrote Mr. Cappello back:

Dear Mr. Cappello,

Thank you for writing me directly. I appreciate the gesture. When I lived in New York for several years, I became a fan of your radio station, and grew to believe in the work you all do there in furthering understanding.

I just listened to the amended podcast this morning. I am struck by how many times a podcast on truth can (be) doctored, to protect itself. I don’t know how much you are aware of in regards to this matter, but I believe there are certain things you should know very directly from me:

My uncle and I were contacted by Radiolab because they said they wanted to know the Hmong experience of Yellow Rain. Ronald Reagan and American politics were not at all mentioned in any of the correspondences between me and Radiolab. For the show to say that we were not “ambushed” and that they have been completely honest with us from the beginning is a falsehood.

Before the interview, I wrote Pat specifically to tell him that I wanted to make sure Radiolab would respect what my uncle had to share about the Hmong experience of Yellow Rain.

During the course of the entire, unedited interview — which I really hope that you have listened to — Pat and Robert dismissed my uncle’s experiences again and again for two hours, thus in the edited version: you hear me cry. Robert argues this was because my uncle and I got angry and couldn’t buy the “truth” of what the scientists were saying, but that is not what happened.

During the interview, I told Pat and Robert that I had additional resources about what happened in Laos, that complicate the “bee crap” theory, and that I would be happy to share them. After the interview, despite the fact that it left us feeling horribly, I honored my words and wrote Pat offering the additional resources. Pat wrote back saying that Radiolab didn’t have enough time.

When the show aired, I was distraught to hear all that had been edited out: particularly, my uncle’s deep knowledge of bees and the mountains of Laos, as well as his official role as documenter for the Thai government on with the Hmong during this time. As well, I was shocked to hear my uncle reduced to “Hmong guy” and me to “his niece” while everyone else on the show was introduced with their titles and official affiliations. This, amongst other aspects of this show, showed a side of Radiolab and a clear privileging of Western knowledge that was far from the truth.

After the show aired, as criticism appeared on their site, Pat wrote me asking me for a public statement of how I received the show. I did so and he refused to publish it, instead Jad’s further “contextualization” was put up. Not only was this disrespectful but it was a complete dismissal of my voice on the matter. *I reiterate what I wrote to Pat, only a white man can say a woman of color is trying to “monopolize” a conversation he has full power of in the asking of questions, the editing, and the contextualizing and dares to call it “objectivity” and science.

My uncle and I agreed to an interview on the Hmong experience of Yellow Rain. We spoke honestly and authentically from where we were positioned. We did not try to convince anybody of what we lived through, merely, we wanted to share it. Our treatment by Radiolab has been humiliating and hurtful not only during the interview, the editing process, and the airing of the original podcast, but in the continued public letters by Jad and Robert to their audience, and revisions to the original segment — that continue to dismiss the validity of our voices and perspectives, and in fact, silences them.

While I will not presume to know the intentions of the hosts, I am responding to you very directly about what transpired, and what they continue to do. While I respect the work of journalism, I believe that journalistic integrity was lost in the ways Radiolab handled my uncle and the Hmong story.

I appreciate what you have to say about the role of journalism and the fact that many of your colleagues are now interested in pursuing more of the Hmong story. I have a proposition for you: that one of your colleagues do a story on the Hmong experience of what happened in Laos after the Americans left, a story that will respect the Hmong voices, and redeem all of our faith in good journalism that transcends cultures and revives history so that our shared realities become more whole. I am happy to help in any way I can. I cannot afford to give in to cynicism.

For Radiolab specifically, my uncle has put together a small message in English for the many listeners who have responded to him compassionately and kindly. I want Radiolab to air his message to their audiences, so that his voice can be heard and his message of love and human rights can be delivered. It is short, and it is a clear reflection of where he is positioned in all of this…as he has said to me throughout this whole travesty, “Me Naib, bullets didn’t kill me, so how can words uttered on airwaves I cannot see hurt me?” — even as he suffers before me.

I await your response to this email.

There has yet to be a response.

I am no longer pregnant. I am no longer scared. I, like my baby, have been so brave already.


Introduction by Hyphen columnist Kirti Kamboj

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