July 6, 2007

UNPO Appeals to Halt Persecution of Khmer Kroms in Vietnam and Cambodia

As Cambodian authorities announced the deportation of Buddhist Abbot Tim Sa Khorn back to Vietnam despite his refugee status, UNPO issued an appeal addressing the continuous and systematic harassment and persecution of Khmer Krom Buddhist monks.

The Hague, 6 July 2007 – As Cambodian authorities announced the deportation of Buddhist Abbot Tim Sa Khorn back to Vietnam despite his refugee status, UNPO remains deeply concerned about the fate of multiple Khmer Krom Buddhist monks, as well as the larger Khmer Krom community, and has issued an appeal addressing their continuous and systematic harassment and persecution, including torture, arbitrary detention, and infringements upon their rights to free speech, free assembly, and free access to information and media.

On 8 February 2007, following a peaceful demonstration gathering 200 Khmer-Krom Buddhist monks calling for religious freedom, the Vietnamese government arrested, intimidated, defrocked and imprisoned nineteen Khmer-Krom Buddhist monks. Five of them are still currently imprisoned for allegedly organizing the demonstration.

On 27 February 2007, in response to these arrests, a peaceful demonstration was organized by Khmer-Krom Buddhist monks living in Cambodia in front of the Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh. A few hours after the demonstration, Eang Sok Thoeun, a monk who took part to the demonstration was found dead with his throat slit in a temple in Cambodia. Local Cambodian authorities had his body buried immediately and did not authorize his family to organize a formal Buddhist funeral service for him.

On 20 April 2007, Khmer-Krom monks demonstrating peacefully in front of the Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh were met with violence, resulting in the injury of Lim Yuth, a 23-year-old monk.

On 30 June 2007, Tim Sa Khorn, Abbot of the North Phnom-Denh Temple in Cambodia was summoned to meet the Head Monk of the Takeo province. After the meeting, the Cambodian authorities and the Head Monk accused him of using the temple as a place “to propagate activities that divide the relationship between Cambodia and Vietnam”.  The Cambodian police ordered the Head Monk to defrock him.

On 3 July 2007, General Khieu Sopheak, Spokesman for the Cambodian Minister of Interior, announced that Tim Sa Khorn, who had been living in Cambodia since 1979, had been sent back to Vietnam, as reported in the Cambodian Daily. His whereabouts remain unknown.

UNPO is greatly disturbed by these recent developments, which follow a number of similar incidents. UNPO condemns in particular the persecution of Khmer individuals associated with the Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation (KKF), a Member representative organ of UNPO recognised for its non-violent principles and dedicated work in promoting human rights and the rights of the Khmer people.

UNPO has therefore appealed to Ms. Hina Jilani, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Ms. Asma Jahangir, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, Ms. Leila Zerrougui, Chairperson of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, as well as Ms. Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and numerous foreign embassies in Cambodia and Vietnam to:

- call upon Cambodian authorities to respect their obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and end the refoulement of Khmer-Krom monks seeking refuge in Cambodia;

- call upon Vietnamese authorities to end their arbitrary and unlawful persecution of the Khmer Krom community, including that of Buddhist monks and individuals associated with the Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation (KKF);

- urge the Government of Vietnam to assure that Mr. Tim Sa Khorn is being granted his full range of human, civil, and political rights;

- remind Vietnamese authorities of their obligations under international treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment, as well internationally recognised standards of justice;

- raise the issue of human rights in their relations with representatives from the governments of Cambodia and Vietnam, in particular with respect to minorities such as the Khmer Krom; and

- urge those to use their mandates to investigate and question Cambodian and Vietnamese authorities on issues relating to the treatment of indigenous and minority people, such as the Khmer Krom.