Open Letter to the President of Vietnam – Mr. Tran Dai Quang Appeal to Return the Sacred Land to the Temple

Open Letter to the President of Vietnam – Mr. Tran Dai Quang 

Appeal to Return the Sacred Land to the Temple 

Pennsauken, 17 April 2017 

Embassy of Vietnam 

Att.: Mr. Tran Dai Quang, President of Vietnam 

1233 20th St NW, Suite 400 

Washington, DC 20036 

 

Dear Mr. President: 

 Recently, there was disturbing news on the social media regarding a land dispute between a Khmer-Krom temple and local Vietnamese families who built their houses illegally on the Khmer-Krom temple’s lands. The Khmer- Krom Buddhist followers in the Mekong Delta anonymously contacted our Internet Radio, Voice of Kampuchea-Krom, to express their concern and to ask for help in appealing to your government to return the sacred land that has been confiscated from the Khmer-Krom temple. 

The confiscated land belongs to the Khmer-Krom temple, named “Me Pang”, located at the 4th commune, Phong Phu village, Cau Ke district, Tra Vinh province (p 4, Xã Phong Phú, Huyn Cu Kè, Tnh Trà Vinh). The temple was built on this land before 1975 and later moved to a new location where currently the temple is located. Even though the temple is not located on this land, the Khmer-Krom Buddhist monks and villagers in this commune have continued to organize Buddhist ceremonies every year on this land. 

During 1993 and 1994, there were some Vietnamese families asking the temple if they could temporary build shelters to live on the temple’s land. They promised that they would move out when the temple needed the land back. Since the temple did not need to use the land yet they agreed for them to living there temporarily. One of those families is the family of Mr. Phan Van Cua who later secretly bribed the local government to get the land title without the consent of the temple. The temple has been filing complaints with the court of Cau Ke district for almost a decade, but the court keeps denying justice for the temple. The court keeps using tactics saying that the temple does not have the land title to claim ownership. Using same tactic, the other Vietnamese families living on the temple’s land now refuses to move out as well. 

As indigenous peoples practicing Theravada Buddhism and living on their homeland in the Mekong Delta for thousands of years, our people believe that our temple’s land is the sacred land and that no one can take away their temple’s land. The Khmer-Krom temples’ lands in Mekong Delta have never had a land title. The court of Cau Ke district has been using the tactic to demand the temple land title in order to resolve the dispute. This clearly shows that the court is against the belief of the Khmer-Krom and violates Article 24.2 of Vietnam Constitution: “The State respects and protects freedom of belief and of religion”. 

In this regard, we would like to urge you to help to investigate this issue to find justice for our Khmer-Krom temple. Hopefully, the temple will be able to get back the confiscated lands to organize the ceremony peacefully without disturbing the people living on the temple’s land. 

 

Regards, 

 

Venerable TT Dhammo 

KKF Director of Religious Affairs 

Sacred Land Must Be Returned - Open Letter

KKF Human Rights Council Side Event Opened by Special Rapporteur on Religious Freedom and Belief

–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.

Human Right Watch Vietnam Press Release – 2015

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.”

Continue reading “Human Right Watch Vietnam Press Release – 2015”

Vietnam Must Obligate Its Commitments to Human Rights Council

On November 12, 2013, Vietnam was elected to become a member of the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC) to uphold its commitments to promote and protect human rights as set forth in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 60/251. Despite being a member for almost a year, Vietnam has not demonstrated a serious commitment to the protection or the promotion of human rights for people around the world. Instead Vietnam continues to violate the fundamental rights of the people living in Vietnam, especially the Indigenous Khmer-Krom Peoples living in the Mekong Delta and its surrounding areas.

On June 20, 2014, Vietnam rejected 45 key recommendations out of 227 recommendations made by Member States during its Second Cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) held on February 5, 2014. The recommendations rejected contained important core fundamental human rights which the people in Vietnam need the most, such as freedom of religion, freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of forming independent associations.

Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief was invited to visit Vietnam from 21 – 31 July, 2014. The last visit of former UN Special Rapporteur, Mr. Abdelfattah was in 1998. In concluding his 10 days visit to Vietnam, Mr. Bielefeldt noted that “I received credible information that some individuals with whom I wanted to meet had been under heavy surveillance, warned, intimidated, harassed or prevented from travelling by the police.”

Continue reading “Vietnam Must Obligate Its Commitments to Human Rights Council”

Thank You Letter From Mr. Thach Vien, Chair of KKF

Mr. Thach Vien At KKF Europe


On behalf of Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation, I would like to express deep appreciation to our monks, fellow compatriots, and foreign friends that joined us – this past June 8th at Pothivongsa Buddhist temple – in the 65th year commeration on the transfer of Kampuchea-Krom to be under the painful colonialism of  Vietnam.

This successful event have greatly encouraged us. As a fighter in this non-violent struggle, I am especially encouraged to recieve the active support of international institutions and organizations, including the European Union.

The numerous contribution and recommendations from your Venerable Monks, community members, and foreign friends during this assembly will serve as a example of unity and cooperation that will help to awaken consciousness of Khmers to this painful history of colonialism, to remind Khmers of our painful struggle, and not be neligent so that history do not repeat itself anew.

In closing, I want to share with you all these pictures as memories and pray that all the sacred object of this world, follow and protect all of you. May you be met with  happiness and prosperity always.

Sincerely Yours,
Thach Vien
Chairman, Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation
[Read Khmer Version]

Continue reading “Thank You Letter From Mr. Thach Vien, Chair of KKF”

KKF Put Forth Questions and Recommendations for US-VN 18th Session of Human Rights Dialog

Open Questions and Recommendations for the 18th Session of the U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue

Silence of Indigenous Voice and Prosecution of Khmer-Krom Religious Leaders in Vietnam
Venerable Thach Thuol, Venerable Lieu Ny Facing Unjust Trial

On May 9, 2014, the U.S. Department of State released a Media Note regarding to the 18th session of the U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue that will be held from May 12-13, 2014 in Washington DC. According to the Media Note, “Freedom of expression, rule of law, disability rights, freedom of religion, labor rights, and other human rights issues will be raised over the course of the two days.”

On behalf of the voiceless Khmer-Krom in Vietnam, we hope that the following questions and recommendations would be discussed frankly in the dialog:

 

Rights to Freedom of Expression, Press and Information

In its national report submitting to United Nations Human Rights Council on 8 November 2013, Vietnam claims that “The rights to freedom of expression, press and information are enshrined in the Constitution and laws…” Unfortunately, Vietnam continues to arrest and imprison bloggers.

Vietnam also claims that “By March 2013, there are 812 print newspapers and 1,084 publications…” 812 print newspapers and 1,084 publications”. In reality, there are no publicly-run or privately-run media operating in Vietnam. Human Rights documents are not even allowed to be distributed so the people can learn about their rights. For example, Vietnam allowed the UNDRIP to be translated to Vietnamese (http://www.na.gov.vn/nnsvn/upload/images/Attach/Quyen_cua_nguoi_thieu_so%20va%20ban%20dia.pdf), but this document is not allowed to be freely distributed in Vietnam. Thus, there are very few Indigenous Peoples that know about the existence of this document.

 

Questions:

  1. How does Vietnam guarantee Freedom of Expression if it continues to have the “Penal Code, Article 258” in its constitution?

  1. In recognition of those who exercised their basic right to speak, will Vietnam release Venerable Thach Thuol who was sentenced for 6 years in prison in September 27, 2013 for conducting an interview expressing his concern about practicing Theravada Buddhism in fear?

    Continue reading “KKF Put Forth Questions and Recommendations for US-VN 18th Session of Human Rights Dialog”

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