A local minority-rights advocacy group has called on the government to end the mistreatment of Khmer Krom people and recognize their rights as citizens of Cambodia as the world marks International Human Rights Day on Tuesday [10 December 2013].
The Khmer Krom, or “lower Khmer,” refers to ethnic Khmer people living in the Mekong Delta region of what is now southern Vietnam.
The Minorities’ Rights Organization (MIRO) said in a statement on Saturday that Cambodia is failing in its obligations to respect the rights of Khmer Krom, as well as ethnic Vietnamese, residing in Cambodia.
“The human rights situation of these people leaves a lot to be desired,” MIRO said.
“Khmer Krom Buddhist monks and people in Kampuchea Krom [in Vietnam] are often arbitrarily arrested, detained and imprisoned for years without proper investigation or legal representation.”
The government fails to intervene when Khmer Krom are persecuted in Vietnam, while those in Cambodia who seek national identification cards are made to change their Vietnamese names and places of birth, the group added.
“The Khmer Krom living in Cambodia live in fear of being arrested and deported back to Vietnam, where they may face persecution and unwarranted lengthy prison sentences,” the organization said.
In addition, the report said that the government is ignoring the rights of ethnic Vietnamese born and raised in Cambodia, who exist in a kind of limbo as they struggle to obtain legal identity documents, “fearfully anticipating forced deportation and living in crude, dangerous floating houses with no basic rights.”
Council of Ministers spokes-man Phay Siphan said that there was no merit to MIRO’s claims that the government does not respect the rights of Khmer Krom and Vietnamese minorities. He noted that human rights are enshrined in the Constitution.
“In Cambodia, we are not al-lowed to abuse anyone’s human rights,” he said. “The Cambodian law protects everyone, even animals.”
However, Mr. Siphan conceded that the government is “still looking for a good way to approach” the issue of Khmer Krom people living in Vietnam, because it involves a foreign government.
“I hope a political solution can be found for that,” he said.