WASHINGTON DC - A Congressional subcommittee held a second hearing on human rights in Vietnam on Tuesday, which included testimony from a Khmer minority representative.
The Khmer Kampuchea Krom are ethnically Khmer people living in southern Vietnam, which once belonged to Cambodia. The Khmer Krom people say they continue to suffer rights abuses under the Vietnamese government.
Tran Mannrinh, a Khmer Krom minority, said the invitation to speak before the US House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations, demonstrated that they had not been forgotten.
In an interview with VOA Khmer, Tran Mannrinh said, at the hearing, that Vietnam has failed to respect the rights of indigenous people like the Khmer Krom. “The government of Vietnam does not do it at all,” he said.
Vietnamese authorities are currently holding two Khmer Krom monks and have defrocked a third, he said. The US should use its improved relations with Vietnam to press for better respect for human rights, he said.
Khmer Krom are among minorities not allowed to practice their faith or follow their traditions in Vietnam, Tran Mannrinh said. Khmer Krom monks cannot be ordained without permission from the authorities, which rarely comes, he said.
“Today, Vietnam wants to buy modern weapons from the US,” he said. And that requires Congressional approval. That means the US Congress has some say in how Vietnam adheres to human rights norms.
Rep. Chris Smith, who chaired the hearing, said that though relations between the US and Vietnam are improving, the latter “has continued to violate a wide range of fundamental human rights.”
Smith, who wants Vietnam to be re-listed by the US State Department as a country of concern, said at the hearing that Vietnamese authorities have a practice of “confiscating land” as a form of persecution of ethnic or religious groups.
“The government has unlawfully taken property belonging to families that include many Vietnamese-Americans,” he said. “Not only is land forcibly taken, but any compensation provided by the government is far below the fair market value. If the rightful owners do not accept what is offered or show resistance, security forces are dispatched to overwhelm any opposition and brutally suppress them. This arbitrary taking of real property not only violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but even Vietnam’s own domestic laws.”
Venerable Danh Tol, a Khmer Krom monk imprisoned by Vietnamese authorities in 2007 who now lives in the US, also spoke at the hearing. He said the Vietnamese government continues to repress the religious practices of the Khmer Krom.
“Khmer Krom monks do not have freedom of expression, cannot access information, because access to information is considered a revolution by the monks,” he said. “That’s why communist Vietnam always prevents monks’ rights.”