Sep 01, 2021

Denied Recognition: Vietnam's refusal to recognize the indigenous and religious rights of the Khmer Krom

The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) and its member, the Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation (KKF), have launched a report detailing the suffering caused to the indigenous Khmer Krom people of South East Asia caused by the refusal of the government of Vietnam to recognize the indigenous and religious rights of the Khmer Krom and to suppress those seeking to have those rights upheld. Alongside the launching of the report, the UNPO has asked UN Special Procedures to investigate systemic issues arising from this conduct, as well as the impact of dam-building projects along the Mekong River that are destroying the Mekong Delta, the traditional homeland of the Khmer Krom.

The report follows the issuance of a "Joint Allegation Letter" set ot the governmnet of Vietnam by UN independent experts related to the arrest and arbitray detention of Mr. Doung Khai for his human rights work regarding the rights of the Khmer-Krom people, including his efforts to disseminate the UN Declration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The report highlights that Mr. Khai's case is just one of many instances in which the government of Vietnam has suppressed efforts to attain recognition of indigenous and religious rights for the Khmer Krom people. And it shows the impact that the lack of recognition of these rights has on the lives of the Khmer Krom people.

On 22 June 2021, independent UN experts issued a Joint Allegation Letter (JAL) to the Viet Nam government concerning the arrest and arbitrary detention of Mr. Duong Khai for his human rights work regarding the rights of the Khmer-Krom people, including his efforts to disseminate the UN Declration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Mr. Duong Khai had been working together with other Khmer-Krom youth and had made several posts on Facebook regarding a recent translation into both Vietnamese and Khmer language of the UNDRIP. Over one hundred police officers surrounded his house and confiscated his phone, computer and some one hundred copies of the UNDRIP that had been translated into Khmer. The UNPO are pleased that the international community has recognized and called out these extremely concerning actions of the Vietnamese authorities, who have regularly subjected the indigenous Khmer-Krom community to discriminatory policies and direct human rights violations

In the letter, UN experts express serious concern “that these reported threats may be connected to his efforts to disseminate United Nations documents, in particular the promotion and translation of the UNDRIP, and may have chilling effect on any expression, by all those, including human rights defenders, who draw attention to minority and indigenous people’ s issues in the country.” The endorsers of the JAL include the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. The letter requests Viet Nam to provide detailed information on the measures it is taking to protect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples and ensure that all necessary interim measures be taken to halt the alleged violations and prevent their recurrence.

The UNPO have been campaigning for many years to have the international community recognize the harms being committed by the Vietnamese authorities against the Khmer-Krom people, and are extremely grateful to the UN Special Rapporteurs for taking up this specific case, which is indicative in itself of the increasingly common threats indigenous communities globally face when seeking recognition and respect for their rights.

Despite this positive development concerning the case of Mr. Duong Khai, the UNPO remain highly concerned over the situation of the wider Khmer-Krom community in Viet Nam. In recent times, Viet Nam have exhibited increasingly authoritarian tendencies, whereby the Government frequently uses the police to intimidate, harass, assault and detain political opponents and civil society.

2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation’s (KKF) membership to the UNPO, and in recognition of that the organizations have jointly published a report documenting the ongoing human rights violations suffered by the indigenous Khmer-Krom people in Viet Nam caused by the lack of recognition of the indigenous and relgious rights. The report details numerous violations of civil and political rights relating to language, religion, freedom of expression and assembly and arbitrary detention. These violations, in turn, have led to the endemic poverty, lack of access to land and unsustainable farming practices, inadequate representation in civil and political life and broader violations related to the Khmer-Krom’s economic, social and cultural rights.

The joint submission emphasizes the need for increased awareness and response to the discriminatory policies and human rights violations enacted upon the Khmer-Krom. At the foundation of these policies is the refusal to confer indigenous status by the Government. This lack of recognition is a clear manifestation of Vietnam’s refusal to grant the Khmer-Krom access to their internationally recognized rights and cooperate in good faith to realize the rights set out in international instruments, including the UNDRIP.

Recognizing the immediacy of the harms being inflicted upon the Khmer-Krom people by the state of Viet Nam, the UNPO urges the international community to pressure the Viet Nam government to cease the ongoing human rights violations and arbitrary criminalization of self-determination activists. We urge the Viet Nam government to promote and protect human rights as enshrined in the international human rights standards and respect the procedures of the UN Human Rights Council including Special Procedures.