Status: Unrecognised Indigenous Group
Population: 7 million
Capital City: Prey Nokor, later named Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City
Area: 67'700km² (in Vietnam)
Religion: Theravada Buddhism and Roman Catholic
UNPO REPRESENTATION: Khmer Kampuchea-Krom Federation
The Khmer Krom are represented at UNPO by the Khmer Kampuchea-Krom Federation (KKF). They were admitted as a member of UNPO on 15 July 2001.
Kampuchea-Krom means "Cambodia Below" or "Southern Cambodia". The Khmer Krom describe themselves as the "Cambodians of the South”. Kampuchea-Krom was the southernmost territory of the Khmer Empire. Once known as (French) Cochinchina, it is now located in the South-western part of Vietnam, covering an area of 67,700 square kilometres bordering Cambodia to the north, the Gulf of Siam to the west, the South China Sea to the south and the Champa's territory to the northeast. Prey Nokor, later Saigon and now Ho Chi Minh City, was one of the most important commercial cities in Kampuchea-Krom.
The Khmer Krom people have inhabited the south-western part of the Indochinese peninsula since 4,290 years BC. The famous ‘Khmer Empire’ rose to prominence in the 9th century and began to decline in the 13th century. However, ever since the 1600s the Khmer have struggled to defend their territory from their Vietnamese and Siam neighbours, a struggle that came to a head in the 19th century. Facing potential invasion, Khmer King Ang Duong appealed to one of his allies, French Emperor Napoléon III, for assistance. French troops arrived in 1858 and took power over the Vietnamese invaders by signing a first convention of subservience in 1862. They then colonised the area under the name of “French Cochinchina”. When the whole territory of Kampuchea-Krom (Cochinchina) was pacified with the participation of the Khmer Krom, a second convention was signed in 1867, that was applied over the whole Kampuchea-Krom. But after a century of French colonisation of Kampuchea-Krom (French Cochinchina), on 4 June 1949, France gave this territory to Vietnam instead of giving it back to Cambodia, under the Law n°49-733, modifying the status of French Cochinchina.
Since then Kampuchea-Krom has been under Vietnamese administration, much to the detriment of the Khmer Krom population. They are denied the right to freely practice their religion and pass on their culture, and are generally treated as second-class citizens. The mission of the KKF is to seek freedom, justice and the acceptance of the right to self-determination for those Khmer Krom who are living under the oppression of the Vietnamese socialist government, through the use of nonviolent measures and the implementation of international law.
UNPO MEMBER PERSPECTIVE
The KKF is an organisation that represents over eight million Khmer-Krom, including members of the diaspora.
KKF is led by the members of Board of Directors. The KKF Board of Directors is democratically elected every four years by the members from around the world including Australia, Cambodia, Canada, France, Italy, New Zealand, and the United States.
KKF Board of Directors consists of: Chairman, President, Vice-President, Director of Administration, Chair of Senior Council, Chair of Representatives Council, General Secretary, Treasure, Director of Planning, Director of Information, Director of Women, Director of Youth, and Director of Religious Affairs.
The President, who leads the executive committee, is responsible for daily operations of the federation.
Besides KKF Board of Directors, KKF is also led by the Presidents of Regional, Continental, and local chapters.
The objective of the KKF is to campaign with the principle of nonviolence for the recognition of the rights of the indigenous people of Kampuchea-Krom, in accordance with international conventions.
Land is of the utmost importance for the Khmer-Krom. Today, most of the members of the community are farmers in the Mekong delta, a very rural area. Without land, many find themselves without any means to support their traditional livelihood of rice farming. Thus, land rights are also a precondition for their right to the preservation of their culture and right to a livelihood. However, after 1975, the possession of land was made illegal as part of the Land Reform Acts, enacted to implement the Proletarian Revolution.
The main purpose of land reform was to eliminate the vestiges of feudal and colonialist exploitation and to provide the landless and the land-poor a collective means of production. To enforce this reform, they expropriated land owners to redistribute them among the other part of the population. In the Mekong Delta, the Khmer-Krom were inhabiting most of the lands because the majority were farmers. A small amount of their lands were eventually returned to the Khmer-Krom by the Vietnamese authorities but, it is an inferior amount compared to the land that was originally taken.
There are two main problems in zones which have sizable Khmer-Krom settlements: salt deposits and flooding.
The salt deposits in the soil are sapping the coastal areas of their fertility. In the district of Duyen Hai, the rice yield has decreased by between 50 percent and 90 percent in the last 30 years. These salt deposits worsen with the increased use of irrigation systems using the waters of the Mekong. The irrigation canals proliferate in the regions of An Giang, Long Xuyen and Can Tho.
Flooding is an intensifying factor to this problem. It also causes a large number of deaths every year and destroys vital harvests. These floods are due to the rains of July to October. The resulting swelling of the water of the Mekong is exacerbated by the weak slope of the river, low dams, weak drainage of the surrounding river lands and the continuing problem of deforestation.
The Khmer-Krom have struggled for years to have the use of Khmer allowed in schools and public places, but the Vietnamese government has remained intractable on this issue and no satisfactory result has been achieved. In many instances, Khmer-Krom have been harassed, jailed and generally persecuted for speaking, learning or teaching Khmer language. Vietnamese authorities severely restrict the publication of books or documents in Khmer.
The current teaching of the Khmer language in public schools attended by Khmer-Krom students is not sufficient to really allow Khmer-Krom children to learn their native language. Khmer classes are only provided for two to three hours a week. Thus, most of the young Khmer-Krom cannot read or write their own language.
Recently, the seals of Khmer-Krom temples, usually made of writings in Khmer language, have been completely switched to Vietnamese.
Religious freedom and freedom of association
The Khmer-Krom have centered their community on a strong belief in Buddhism since 365BC. The Theravada Buddhism is not just a religion, but it is part of their unique cultural self-identification. Since 1975, living in a one-party Communist state, the Khmer-Krom have been practicing their Theravada Buddhism in fear.
The Vietnamese government tactically established the state-sponsored religious association, called “Patriotic United Buddhist Association (PUBA - Hội Đoàn Kết Sư Sải Yêu Nước)”, only for Khmer-Krom to practice their Theravada Buddhism. The Vietnamese government uses this association as a showcase to show to the international community that Vietnam allows the Khmer-Krom to form its own Buddhist association. However in reality, the Vietnamese government uses this association to control and degrade the way the Khmer-Krom practice their religion.
The Vietnamese authorities largely view Khmer-Krom monks as "a threat to national integrity". Many monks are active campaigners for religious freedom and land rights and as such, are frequently harassed and imprisoned by authorities.
The situation did not improve with the adoption of a Law on Belief and Religion, passed by the 14th Vietnamese National Assembly, on 18 November 2016. This law requires all religious groups to register with the authorities and report on their activities, however, this registration can be refused for unknown reasons.
The Communist Party recognises 39 religious organisations within 14 religions, including Protestantism and Theravada Buddhism. The latter are represented in the Communist Party-affiliated Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS), which interferes heavily with the day-to-day operations of Khmer-Krom pagodas.
The Vietnamese government offers a small amount of salary to most of the Abbots (head monks) who are leading the PUBA in each province throughout Mekong Delta.
Buddhism does not allow for monks to receive any salary and therefore, if they do receive a salary, they have to follow orders from the government. Thus, when the Khmer-Krom Buddhist monks and Khmer-Krom Buddhist followers stand up for their religious rights, the Vietnamese government orders the Khmer-Krom PUBA Buddhist leaders to arrest, defrock, and imprison them, with the aid of Vietnamese police.
The KKF notes that the Vietnamese authorities use the Law on Belief and Religion to silence whoever complains about their religious rights being violated. Indeed, the law bans religious activities that infringe on national defence, security, sovereignty and social order and safety; harm social ethics, personal lives and assets; offend other persons’ honour and human dignity; prevent the performance of civil rights and obligations; and disunite the nation, religions and among belief and religion followers and non-followers.
This attitude toward religious institutions also constitutes a violation of the freedom of association. Despite the government claiming that there are currently “460 associations, social – professional organisations whose geographic scope of activity are nation-wide or inter-provincial” (statement made by the Vietnamese government during its 2nd Universal Periodic Review), only the associations under the government’s control are allowed to operate in Vietnam, as demonstrated with religious associations.
Beside the Law on Belief and Religion, which reinforces fears of government oppression ostensibly on grounds of public order, national security or “national unity”, articles of Vietnam’s Penal Code still criminalise in ambiguous terms “propagating against, distorting or defaming the people’s administration” (article 88) and abusing communicative freedoms or the freedom of religion to “infringe upon the interests of the state” (article 257).
As of today, Venerable Thach Thuol, a Khmer-Krom Buddhist monk, has been imprisoned since 2013 for peacefully claiming his right to teach Khmer language in his temple school. Mr Thach Thuol had also been interviewed by the Voice of Kampuchea-Krom, the Khmer-Krom’s internet radio, on 23 December 2010, regarding the rights of the Khmer-Krom to freely practice their religion in the Mekong Delta.
Freedom of expression, the press and information
Despite Vietnam claiming that “the rights to freedom of expression, press and information are enshrined in the Constitution and laws” (Vietnam, 2014), the authorities continue to arrest and imprison bloggers. The media are under the direct supervision of the Communist Party and the only independent sources of information – bloggers and citizen-journalists – are the targets of persecution from the State, including police violence (Reporters without Borders).
According to a January 2017 circular, Vietnam now has the right to block “ill-intended and toxic” online content, which “responsible entities” shall take down or adapt according to the authorities’ request, within 24 hours (to our knowledge, this circular is not available online but this news was reported by several media such as the Saigon Times on 19 January 2017 and Vietnam Breaking News.com).
Overall, the whole media landscape – newspapers, editors, the radio, television – is still under governmental control. Some of the websites providing human rights information and reporting human rights violations, including the KKF website, are currently being blocked by Vietnam. Khmer television programmes that are broadcasted a couple of hours per week are the vector of the government’s propaganda. This explains why the Khmer-Krom people wishes to turn to satellite television programmes broadcasting from Cambodia, which the Vietnamese government prevents them from doing (KKF).
The Khmer-Krom who are arrested are sometimes victims of enforced disappearances. This was the case for Venerable Thach Thuol and Veneral Lieu Ny and their two Khmer-Krom Buddhist followers, Thach Tha and Thach Phum Rich, arrested on 20 May 2013. Their whereabouts remained unknown until they were brought to court on 27 September 2013.
The Khmer-Krom children are not able to learn the rights of the child, as stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in their Khmer language. The Khmer-Krom children are not allowed to study their true history in their native language.
There are no magazines or booklets in the Khmer language, for Khmer-Krom youth to express their opinions that are independently produced without the interference of the Vietnamese government. Khmer-Krom youth who are in high school have very limited access to public forums to express their opinion, especially on the internet.
The Khmer-Krom people are the poorest people in the Mekong Delta region. The poverty of the Khmer-Krom affects the livelihoods of the Khmer-Krom youth and their future. In recent years, the percentages of Khmer-Krom students dropping out of school are alarming as they have to help their parents on the farm or look for employment to help provide for their families. Without education, the future of Khmer-Krom youth is bleak.
There are millions of Khmer-Krom people in Kampuchea-Krom, but very few hold a Master Degree or Ph.D. Vietnam has sent thousands of Vietnamese students to study abroad, especially in the United States, Canada, and Australia. However, the Khmer-Krom students do not receive these benefits.
Khmer-Krom students receive no benefit from scholarships that are generously offered by international governments and organizations, due to the repressive policies of the Vietnamese government. Outside efforts to support Khmer-Krom advancement in education are usually blocked because the government of Vietnam ties these efforts to political motives.
Vietnam has ratified three international conventions that explicitly guarantee the right to health: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Most of the Khmer-Krom people do not know of the existence of those international conventions. They do not understand that the health problems they face are human rights violations.
Since 2003, blindness in Khmer-Krom communities of the Soc Trang province is still a prevalent issue. There are thousands of Khmer-Krom people who are affected by blindness of either the left or right eye, and in some case both eyes. The main problems that cause the blindness are from contaminated drinking water from their surroundings which are largely polluted by pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. This problem has been reported to the Vietnamese government, but the Vietnamese government has taken no action largely because the victims are primarily Khmer-Krom.
Vietnam claims that it provides free healthcare services to ethnic minority populations, but the free healthcare service is not really free as the government claims. In order to receive a free Health Insurance card, the Khmer-Krom must be from a Khmer-Krom family that is categorized as “Hộ Nghèo”, which means a “household poverty”. When they are sick, they go to the hospital and are treated as second-class citizens because they only pay about 5% of the total bills. Thus, despite the claim of free healthcare, they still face charges and discrimination. Some Khmer-Krom patients cannot even afford to pay that 5% and end up selling their farmlands or belongings in order to receive medical treatment.
If Khmer-Krom families are not categorized as a ‘household poverty’, their family members have to buy insurance. However, most Khmer-Krom barely make enough money to have food for their family. Thus, most of them do not have insurance. When they are sick, they go to the local hospital in their village. Some diseases cannot be treated by the doctors at the local hospital and they are sent to the hospital in the city, but many Khmer-Krom patients cannot afford the treatments and die as a result.
KHMER KROM MEMBER PROFILE BROCHURE
For more information on the Khmer Krom, including:
UNPO Member Perspective
Culture and Environment
Please download our Khmer-Krom Member Profile Brochure.