Our Story

About Montagnards Stand for Justice (MSFJ)

One million Montagnards living in the Central Highlands of Vietnam are one of the most at-risk and forgotten indigenous peoples of Vietnam. Pushed to the margins by the government, they are not cared for by the public, not even by the people in their own country.

“Montagnards,” a French term meaning “mountain people,” refers to the ethnic groups living in the mountainous regions, a term broadly used for the indigenous ethnic groups living in the Central Highlands of Vietnam and some areas of Cambodia and Laos. The majority of Montagnards converted to Christianity by Western missionaries in the early 20th century.

Many Montagnards fought alongside the US Special Forces during the Vietnam War. After the Vietnam War ended in April 1975, Catholic and Protestant churches in the Central Highlands were closed by the Vietnamese Communist government, and many Montagnards, including pastors and priests, were imprisoned, even killed, or forced to leave their homeland. With the gradual loss of their farmland to the Kinh people and the government’s ban on home churches, Montagnards joined protests to reclaim their confiscated land and demand Religious Freedom.

Protests by Montagnards in 2001, 2004, and 2008 were brutally suppressed by the police and military. Many Montagnards were prosecuted and imprisoned for charges of endangering national security.

To this day, some Montagnards of the Christian faith remain in prison, not to mention those who died in prison because they couldn’t bear it. Hundreds of Montagnards of the Christian faith have fled abroad, most of them to Thailand and Cambodia, seeking the protection of the international community.

In recent years, unable to completely suppress Christianity, the government has launched many propaganda campaigns to eliminate home-based Protestant groups and coerce Montagnard believers to join sects established and controlled by the government. The number of Montagnards living in the Central Highlands who practice Christianity seeking refuge and asylum in Thailand is increasing.

Currently, the community of Montagnards practicing Christianity at home faces four main issues:

• They are discriminated against;

• They are oppressed by the government regarding religion;

• The land of the majority of Montagnards, left by their ancestors, is either confiscated or occupied by the Kinh people.

• Their language and culture are being lost.

To address these issues, in July 2019, the Montagnards Stand for Justice (MSFJ) organization was established by three Montagnards seeking asylum in Bangkok. Since then, the organization has expanded with the participation of 15 members operating in Thailand, Vietnam, and the United States.

The mission of MSFJ is as follows:

• Empower Montagnards to confidently assert and fight for their religious freedom or beliefs.

• Preserve and uphold human rights for the people of the Central Highlands.

The goal of MSFJ is to build capacity for Montagnard communities in the Central Highlands.

MSFJ has implemented the following activities:

• Training knowledge and skills for core group members.

• Legal support for communities wanting to establish the right to practice their faith.

• Representing Montagnards in international forums.

Achievements of the MSFJ organization include:

• From 2019 to now, the organization has drafted more than 60 reports on human rights violations and religious freedom, which were then translated into English and sent to the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights/Religious Freedom.

• Thanks to legal guidance, about 60 Home Churches have peacefully organized Christmas celebrations without government interference.

• Participation in the 5th Southeast Asia Freedom of Religion or Belief (SEAFORB) Conference in 2019, held in Thailand.

• The Montagnard community commemorated the United Nations International Day Commemorating Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief on August 22, 2019, and 2020, with some incidents of harassment.

• 25 Montagnard communities commemorated International Human Rights Day on December 10, 2019, and 2020, with a few incidents of harassment.

• 80 Montagnard communities celebrated Christmas in December 2020.

• Arranged meetings between former Montagnard political prisoners and US and UK diplomats.

• Some Montagnards advocating for Religious Freedom or Belief have met with US diplomats, experts, and UN officials, EU diplomatic envoys, ASEAN and EU parliamentarians, and representatives of international human rights organizations at the SEAFORB Conference held in Bangkok in 2019 and 2020.

MSFJ | 2019