Aug 20, 2007

UNPO Demonstrates with Khmer Krom in Paris

UNPO has joined demonstrations organized by the Khmer-Kampuchea Krom Federation (KKF) in Paris, aiming to raise awareness of human rights violations in the Mekong Delta and the recent arrest of the Ven. Tim Sakhorn.

UNPO has joined demonstrations organized by the Khmer-Kampuchea Krom Federation (KKF) in Paris, aiming to raise awareness of human rights violations in the Mekong Delta and the recent arrest of the Ven. Tim Sakhorn.

The Hague, 20 August 2007 – After Australia and the United States of America, it was France’s turn to stage a Khmer Krom demonstration. Organised by the Khmer Kampuchea-Krom Federation (KKF) numerous members of the Khmer Krom Diaspora, Buddhist Monks, and supporters filled Paris’ “Esplanade de Droits des l’Homme” (Human Rights Plaza) on Sunday 19 August 2007, raising awareness of the human rights violations from which their communities continue to suffer.

The Khmer Krom are the indigenous people of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam, and became a UNPO Member in 2001 where they are represented by the KKF. Since this time they have been actively involved in the organisation’s nonviolent struggle for the betterment of the human right situation in their region. As part of a broader assimilation policy, Khmer Krom Buddhists Monks have in particular been targeted for persecution. Breaches of their basic human rights have become increasingly common as they are identified as the primary bearers of the distinct language and cultural identity of the Khmer Krom people. Particular concern has been expressed most recently at the growing infringement upon the right to religious freedom, the right to freedom of speech, and the right to freedom of assembly.  

The recent defrocking and subsequent disappearance of the Ven. Tim Sakhorn, a Khmer Krom Buddhist Monk living in Cambodia, has also raised concern amongst Khmer Krom communities. As the religious leader of a temple which assisted Khmer Krom refugees fleeing persecution in Vietnam, many viewed the Ven. Tim Sakhorn as an important defender of both refugees and human rights. Recent reports suggest however that he has been returned to Vietnam by Cambodian authorities, where he is now under detention and charged with “undermining national unity.” The KKF and UNPO have both appealed extensively for his release, as well as for greater protection for the region’s human rights defenders. The well attended demonstration in Paris represented a further opportunity to bring his case to international attention, ensuring above all that he is not forgotten.  

[Further information about the Ven. Tim Sakhorn]

[Read the UNPO appeal]

In light of these recent developments the KKF has organized a number of demonstrations around the world. In Paris, Khmer Krom Buddhists, both from France and beyond, gathered across from the Eiffel Tower at the Esplanade des Droits de l’Homme, protesting human rights violations and calling for the safe return of the Ven. Tim Sakhorn. Colourful and lively protests were interrupted only by a moment of prayer, led by attending Khmer Krom Buddhist Monks, and remembering those who have suffered, and who still suffer, from human rights violations and persecution. Signatures were collected for a series of petitions, with the general public educated also about the ongoing situation in the Mekong Delta and the rich history of the Khmer Krom.

Amongst the many speakers were representatives from the Khmer Krom  in the Netherlands, Lyon (France) and Grenoble (France), as well as representatives from the Cambodian Associated League for Human Rights in France, and the Association for the Victims of the Khmer Rouge Genocide. Later in the afternoon a delegation, which included a UNPO representative, marched to the Cambodian Embassy, delivering an appeal to the Cambodian government, urging further support for the Khmer Krom and in particular for the Ven. Tim Sakhorn.

UNPO delivered also an appeal, urging the Cambodian government to pressure its Vietnamese neighbours to respect international human rights standards, and to remember their own obligations to protect human rights defenders and those who seeking refuge within their borders.  

[UNPO appeal to H.E. the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the Republic of France]

Against the backdrop of the peaceful prayers of an ancient culture, the Buddhist Monks and the many old and young gathered in the name of peaceful manifestation, it is hard to understand the justification of Vietnamese authorities for the continued severe repression of the Khmer Krom.