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Vietnam Assailed Over Khmer Krom Rights

A US-based advocacy group for the Khmer ethnic group in Vietnam has prepared questions to send to the UN’s Human Rights Council, criticizing the Vietnamese government over its treatment of the minority group.

The Khmer Kampuchea Krom live in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, in areas that once belonged to a former Cambodian state. Their treatment under Vietnamese authorities has come under scrutiny in recent months, with the release of a Khmer Krom monk from a Vietnamese prison and a recent report on their persecution by Human Rights Watch.

The New Jersey-based Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation says it will forward its own criticism of Vietnam to Geneva for an upcoming Rights Council meeting May 8, outlining the limited freedom of religion and expression Vietnam allows for its Khmers.

The questions were prepared for the council, comprised of 47 countries and 192 representatives, for Vietnam’s presentation on its human rights report, Thach Ngoc Thach, president of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Federation, told VOA Khmer.

Khmer Kampuchea Krom organizations from Europe will hold a rally in front of the Rights Council’s office as the Vietnamese delegation presents its case, he said, adding that his group had recently participated in an international religious freedom meeting in Washington and had established good rapport with some members of the Rights Council.

“Our hope is to see more attention brought to the Khmer Kampuchea Krom issue by the international community and liberal countries that love democracy,” he said.

Vietnam is signatory to international conventions on civil, political, economic and cultural rights, but the country is widely criticized for rights violations and restrictions of political freedoms. Vietnamese officials say the country’s rights record is improving.

“The Khmer Kampuchea Krom people come at a real disadvantage, in that they are quite vulnerable,” Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, told VOA Khmer by phone. “We apparently see that the Vietnamese government treats certain ethnic groups with real either skepticism or hostility.”

Human Rights Watch reported in January that Khmer Krom were being jailed for political expression and suffered other rights suppression.

Khmer Kampuchea Krom issues came under a spotlight in 2007, following the arrest of one of its former monks, Tim Sakhorn, who was running a pagoda in Cambodia’s Takeo province. He was defrocked by Cambodian Buddhist authorities, for allegedly fomenting unrest against Vietnam and claims he was taken by Cambodian authorities to Vietnam, where he was imprisoned until July 2008.

Tim Sakhorn returned for a visit to Cambodia this week but will have to return to Vietnam by April 17, according to local media reports. Rights groups say at least five Kampuchea Krom monks remain in Vietnamese detention.