This project has centered on actions occurring at Wat Tham Krabok, a Buddhist temple in Thailand's central Saraburi province. For over twenty years this temple hosted a makeshift refugee camp for Hmong people who had fled Laos and feared forced repatriation. In the past couple of years all but a few hundred of these refugees have been resettled in the United States, with 4,000 coming to Minnesota in 2004.
The temple, the largest of its kind, was never officially recognized as a refugee camp for the Hmong. It was established by tens of thousands of refugees who fled to Thailand after the communist takeover of Laos in 1975. The much-revered Abbot Luang Phaw Chamroon Parnchand headed the monastery from around 1960 until his death in 1999. The Thai government tolerated Abbot Phra Chamroon's generosity and acceptance of the Hmong at Wat Tham Krabok because of the importance of the monastery and the Abbot's standing in Thai society. When Phra Chamroon died in 1999 his brother Luang Phaw Charoen Parnchard became the Abbot. The new Abbot allowed the Thai Government, in the form of the military, to intervene in the control of the camp. The Thai military registered all the Hmong living at the camp and planned to move them to a remote military base in Eastern Thailand. In response to this action and ongoing advocacy by Hmong Americans, the United States agreed to resettle the refugees from Wat Tham Krabok.
It is estimated that there were approximately 2,000 Hmong refugees buried on the grounds of Wat Tham Krabok and other private land adjacent to the monastery. In mid October 2005, an ethnic Chinese organization, the Bhoti Pavana Foundation, and later, the Buddha Dhamma organization, began exhuming the graves at Wat Tham Krabok. A video shot later that month showed hundreds of Thai workers arriving by the busloads, accompanied by an ambulance and other official Thai Government vehicles. Many eyewitnesses reported the exhumations. Some of the Hmong refugees were able to photograph and videotape the operation, which showed the desecration of the sacred burial sites and the treatment of individual corpses in vivid detail. The families remaining in the camp sent these pictures and videos to their relatives in the United States, hoping they could do something to help.
According to media accounts, at least 900 corpses had been disinterred as of December 10, 2005. The Thai government claims the bodies are being disinterred because of water quality complaints and that the bodies are being treated with respect and properly cremated according to Thai tradition. The actions of those disinterring the bodies make it evident that those claims are not true. Video footage of the desecration shows crews dismembering the bodies and using knives and sometimes bare hands to cut off the decomposing flesh, the bones are then boiled and in some cases burnt over a fire pit to rid all flesh from the bones, then the skeletons are carefully scrubbed and cleaned, then reassembled and removed from the camp. Then all the flesh and other refuse (clothes, coffin slabs and debris, and general garbage from the workers) are thrown back into the grave and the grave is left open. If the bodies were being removed for reasons of sanitation they would not have been treated in this way. This also raises the question of why there are sanitation issues at this point in time when all but 300 refugees have already left the camp. The real danger of water contamination from these graves, if true, would have had serious consequences for the 20,000 plus residents of Wat Tham Krabok for the past 15 years, and yet Wat Tham Krabok did nothing to stop it or prevent it, or at least inform its residents of such dangers.
The monks of Wat Tham Krabok have stated that Hmong relatives were given a chance to claim the bodies and make other burial arrangements, but the relatives insist they were not notified and those who have tried to make other arrangements have been told that they have no right to do so. After having received word of the desecration, Minnesota State Senator Mee Moua sent several urgent petitions to the offices of several United States Congressional representatives and the United States Department of State to inquire and request that the Thai Government immediately halt the exhumations and start a full investigation of the events at Wat Tham Krabok. To date, Senator Moua's requests have not been answered other than an acknowledgement of one receipt of the claim from the Office of the National Human Rights Commission in Thailand.