--Press Release March 11, 2015--
Geneva (March 11, 2015)- Special Rapporteur (SR) on Freedom of Religion or Beliefs, Heiner Bielefeldt, opened up a side event for Religious Freedom in Vietnam and The Mekong Delta, co-organized by the Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation (KKF). The SR gave an overview of the reality that exists for indigenous peoples and religious minorities in Vietnam, speaking of the contrast between the surface appearance and the actual systemization of control over religious life and institutions within the country. “Religious life is only possible within certain established channels. These channels are very narrow and religious communities have to cope with lots of difficulty,” says Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt.
Asking if there is a problem with religious freedom, the SR stated that there is a “big problem” with religious belief and freedom. “To be fair religious life is possible.. it is open and accessible, and people do access them,” but they do so “within the established channel.” Examples were given of groups requiring to request for permissions beforehand to hold religious events and where failure to accept the central decisions were equated to a “rebellious spirit” and were responded by the government with police raids, destruction of house of worships and imprisonment for some people.
While Vietnam has some policies to open up for religious freedom, “harsher persecution under the criminal code” remains for groups that wishes to assert religious autonomy.
The religious life is under strict “grip of the government control ” and is used to promote patriotic values. “People insisting on [religious] autonomy, freeing themselves from grip of government control and even infiltration. Religion is established to also provide courses on Marxist Leninism. It is not only control but instrumentalizing religion.” The reality is that public and religious life are being monopolized by the government.
Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt concluded his participation in the side event by thanking the people who had the courage to meet with him despite the harassment and intimidation they received. Regarding reports that were given to him by NGOs such as KKF, the Montagnard people, and other stakeholders, Heiner said, “I am inclined to say reports are credible. I have also to say that this visit was complicated because reprisals took place even while I was there during the visit. Our sources were harassed and intimidated many of them sometimes before and after meetings. Some people even had worse experiences including physical attacks. This really raises issue of reprisals which is a very serious one inflicted on people that cooperate with UN mechanisms. It undermines the entire HR work of the UN. It will be further addressed. UN HR Council takes issue of reprisals very seriously. Thanks to very courageous people in Vietnam who do not let themselves be intimidated and they continue their work cooperating across religious lines.”
The side event was moderated by Dr. Joshua Cooper, from the Hawaii Institute for Human Rights, and KKF representatives, Miss Thivanada Kim, and Mr. Don Lam and Ms. Sothy Kien..
GENEVA (3/11/2015) KKF representatives met with special rapporteur on Religious Belief, Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt on pre-session for side event co-organized by KKF.
Dr. Cooper spoke about the cooperation between religious groups in coming together to prepare the reports for the SR, the persecutions of Khmer-Krom Buddhists and Degar Christians. He spoke about instrumental role of outside human rights defenders in not only making the violations known, but also in their intervention efforts such as the case of Venerable Ly Chanda who were defrocked and tortured, but was eventually able to secure refugee status in a third country working with the UNHCR.
Sothy Kien, provided an overview of the constraint of cultural freedom faced by the Khmer-Krom people. The issue of self-identity and the threat of being labeled belonging to a “separatist” group for asserting one as being “Khmer-Krom” makes the people afraid to call themselves by how they identify themselves. She clarified that “Krom” does not mean ‘separatism’, it simply means below or under, which refers to the historical identity the Khmer people attached to themselves when they were separated from the Cambodian kingdom.
On the topic of reprisal, KKF representatives explained the top-down structure of control imposed by the government of Vietnam on their religious institution, which prior to 1975 were self-organized and functioning autonomously. It was noted that such control clearly violates the principle of separation between state and religion which is fundamental to having true religious freedom.
On this point, KKF panelist points out the pressure placed upon temple abbots across the provinces to assume memberships with the government created PUBA (Patriotic Unified Buddhist Association), a mechanism to interfere and control Khmer-Krom’s religious life. Using these tools, the Vietnamese government monitored, control and removed religious leaders who they saw as posing a threat to their political and cultural narrative of Vietnam and its various ethnic and indigenous groups - such were the cases of Venerable Ly Nieu, and Venerable Thach Thoeun from Tra Set Temple, Kleang.
The event ended with positive notes and engaged audiences; among a few were NGO group who had for the first time found the religious and cultural situation in Vietnam, through the rapporteur’s report, “shocking”, and “eye-opening.”
KKF appreciates the effort of the Special Rapporteurs to Vietnam that made the reality of the Khmer-Krom and other persecuted groups in Vietnam known, and validate what we had reported for so long. We thank the SR on the Field of Cultural Rights, Ms. Farida Shaheed on her report in regards to culture and her recommendations to Vietnam. We would like to thank the SR on Religious Belief, Mr. Bielefeldt, for his time and comprehensive report on the actual reality of religious freedom situation today versus what appears on the surface.
While noting that severe restriction remains, and needs to be addressed, we applaud the direction that Vietnam has taken to invite UN experts, and urged continued dialogue with all shareholders to ensure that real progress are made and the rights as declared on paper in the country’s constitution are fully exercisable and enjoyed by all citizens.
And finally, we look forward to connecting with future experts and NGOs working in Vietnam to promote human rights, religious and cultural freedom, and the recognition of the Khmer Krom people as the indigenous peoples of the Mekong Delta and its surrounding regions. The full reports of SR can be found via
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15678&LangID=E for Religious Belief and A/HRC/25/57/Add.1 - Office of the High Commissioner for Human … for Cultural Rights.
Press Source: Human Rights Watch
For Immediate Release
Vietnam: Tight Control of Critics, Democracy Advocates in 2014
No Light at the End of the Tunnel for Activists
(New York, January 29, 2015) – The human rights situation in Vietnam in 2014 continued to be characterized by one-party rule, politically motivated convictions, lack of labor rights, widespread police abuse, and an escalating land crisis, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2015. The Vietnamese government kept tight control over freedom of expression and association as bloggers, human rights defenders, labor and land rights activists, and religious and democracy advocates continued to face harassment, intimidation, physical assault, and imprisonment.
“Vietnam’s revolving door of political prisoners continued in 2014, with some coming out but an even greater number of peaceful activists going into the country’s prisons as convicted criminals,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Many of these releases were made to gain international favor, but the fact that the number of people convicted was more than double those released undermines the Vietnamese government’s attempt to put forward a face of reform.”
Happy New Year 2015 Messages by KKF President
What a year 2014 has been! From the Universal Periodic Review in February to our annual UNPFII, EMRIP to a successful Europe Mission in November, KKF has worked around the clock to keep the Khmer-Krom issues in the international spotlight.
This year has proved most challenging, but KKF has once again proven that it can rise to all challenges with it phenomenal force of dedicated and passionate volunteers across the world, working together to bring a voice for the millions of voiceless Khmer-Krom living in Kampuchea-Krom.
Taking this opportunity, I would like to highlight some of our activities at the local and international level to keep the world aware of our people’s issues. In February, Vietnam was up for its second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review and was questioned by 106 diplomats represented for their own countries. KKF was able to submit a Shadow report to the Human Rights Council prior to its review and lobbied with States in order for them to ask questions on our behalf. On June 20th, Vietnam rejected 45 key recommendations out of 227 relating to core fundamental human rights, such as freedom of press and express, Freedom of Religion and Association. The rejection of such key recommendations has shown the world that Vietnam does not fully obligate its commitment as a member of the Human Rights Council.
On Sunday April 6th 2014, members of the Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation (KKF) participated in the Annual Khmer New Year Celebration in Long Beach, California, USA.
Cladded in the colors of Khmer-Krom flag of red, blue and yellow, the procession was led by a group of Cha Yum performers dancing to the rhythm of the drums.
In front of the beautifully decorated float, stood a proud Oknha Son Kuy, one of the most renowned and recognized Khmer-Krom heroes from Kampuchea-Krom, who was behead by the Vietnamese Court of Hue in 1841 in exchange for the right of the Khmer-Krom people to live according to their culture, tradition and religion customs.
“We are proud and delighted to work in the collaboration with the Khmer Krom Association of Southern California, and the Khmer Krom Buddhist Temple in Long Beach, California to represent our Khmer-Krom,” says Mr. Prak Sereivuth, KKF Vice President.
A KKF Booth was also set up after the parade allowing visitors to come and ask questions about peaceful advocacy of the organization and the people it represents.
“There were American people as well as Cambodians who came and asked us about the Khmer-Krom map and to learn about our human rights issues,” says Mr. Prak Sereivuth.
Thousands of Khmer-Krom Buddhist monks and people in Kampuchea-Krom are also flocking to their local temples to prepare and celebrate the Khmer New Year, a three day event celebrated by Khmer communities around the world from 14-16th of April 2014.
According to a report by the Voice of Kampuchea Krom (VOKK) on the 13-14th February 2014 a Khmer Grammar book that was published in Thailand and sent to Kampuchea Krom was seized by Vietnamese authorities and prohibited from distribution.
Entitled, “វេយ្យាករណ៍ខ្មែរសង្គ្រោះ” the Khmer Grammar book was originally written by Thach Ek in Kompong Spean (rename Cau Ke) District, Preah Trapeang (renamed Tra Vinh) province and was printed and published by Venerable Thach Chan Dara, a Khmer Krom Buddhist monk studying in Thailand.
The book was sent to be distributed to Khmer Krom teachers and students as a reference guide to the Khmer language. Upon its arrival in Kampuchea-Krom on the 13th of February 2014, 10 police officers began to ask questions in regards to who created the book, published it and how was it sent over. Two books were given to the local Vietnamese authorities so the content of the book could to be examined. However,the Vietnamese authorities returned the next day and confiscated all the books, stating that it was against the Vietnam law and that content of the book was not approved by the Vietnam Government and they were prohibited from distributing it.
“I have asked permission from the creator of this book to publish it because I thought it was important for our studies,” says Venerable Thach Chan Dara in the interview with VOKK.
Venerable Thach Chan Dara has expressed his concern over the confiscated books, stating that the book was about Khmer grammar and did not contain anything political content that would oppose the Vietnamese Government.
“There is nothing lawfully wrong about this book. It does not contain any political content, or go against the Vietnam government. It serves to promote and encourage students and teachers to read and learn more about our Khmer language,” Venerable Thach Chan Dara adds.
The creation and publication of Khmer books, history and culture continued to be closely monitored and prohibited by the Vietnamese Government. This example clearly shows that there are no Freedom of Press in Vietnam contrary to what what the Vietnamese government has stated in their recent Universal Period Review in Geneva on February 5th 2014.