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 (Ấp 4, Xã Phong Phú, Huyện Cầu Kè, Tỉnh 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.
Venerable TT Dhammo
KKF Director of Religious Affairs
In the occasion of the holiday season and the arrival of the New Year, on behalf of the Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation (KKF), I would like to wish you and your family a joyful, bright, healthy, prosperous and happiest new year ahead. Happy New Year!
In 2015, the KKF members and leaders have travelled around the world: New York City, Washington DC, San Francisco, Montreal, Paris, Brussels, Geneva, The Hague, Kuala Lumpur, etc, to let the world know what the issues that the voiceless Khmer-Krom people in Vietnam are facing. The achievement that KKF received has helped to build a strong foundation for the KKF to move to the next level in the journey to seek the fundamental rights for the indigenous Khmer-Krom peoples.
Besides sending KKF representatives to attend the annual UN meetings of UNPFII in New York City in April and EMRIP in Geneva in July, I would like to highlight some important activities that KKF had successfully completed:
In March, KKF sent a delegation to attend the 28th regular session of the UN Human Rights council in Geneva when the Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights, Farida Shaheed, and Special Rapporteur on freedom of Religion or Beliefs, Heiner Bielefeldt, presented reports on their missions to Vietnam. Mr. Bielefeldt opened up a side event for Religious Freedom in Vietnam and The Mekong Delta, co-organized by the KKF.
From February to May, KKF delegations made many trips to Washington DC to meet the US Houses of Representatives, the representatives of the US Department of State, regarding religious freedom in Vietnam. KKF representatives also attended the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum 2015 Wisma MCA, Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur in April.
In May, KKF representatives attended the Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations of ECOSOC reviewing the KKF application. The Committee spent more than thirty minutes just to review KKF application which led to a frank discussion. The Committee could not come to a decision and sent three questions to KKF for clarification. KKF responded to the questions in September. To clarify the mission of KKF, we responded “Building, not breaking up, the self and the state is the core belief of the KKF”. The Committee will resume starting on January 25, 2016.
June is always a busy month for KKF. The Khmer-Krom around the world organized the June 4th event to commemorate the tragic day that the Khmer-Krom lost their fundamental rights living on their ancestral land. In the same month, KKF delegation went to meet the representatives of the European Parliament in Brussels and UNHCR in Geneva. The meeting with UNHCR representatives helped answer all the concerns regarding the problems of the Khmer-Krom refugees seeking for asylum status in Bangkok. After June, many Khmer-Krom refugees in Bangkok received asylum status and migrated to live in North America and Europe. KKF delegation also attended the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter at the City Hall of San Francisco. The UN Secretary-General was also present to deliver a remarkable speech at this special event.
In July, KKF delegation attended the 61st Session of the UN CEDAW reviewing Vietnam in Geneva. Prior to attending this meeting, KKF submitted the alternative report in May to inform the CEDAW experts on the main issues facing Khmer-Krom women in Mekong Delta for its pre-session meeting. It was promising to see that the Vietnamese government allowed the NGOs from Vietnam, even those NGOs were established by the government, to attend as well.
In August, KKF organized the Khmer-Krom Day in Montreal, Canada. It had been the biggest event. The city of Montreal started recognizing this event and provided support. In September, a KKF representative attended the UN Sustainable Development Goals meeting in New York City.
On November 20, KKF has been accepted as an official member of the UN Department of Public Information (UN DPI). In order to be a member of UN DPI, KKF had to prove that it is a legitimate organization that truly works to protect and promote human rights for the voiceless Khmer-Krom in Kampuchea-Krom. As a member of UN DPI, the KKF will be given 6 passes (1 for head of the organization, 3 for adult members, and 2 for youths) to participate in any UN meetings in both New York City and Geneva.
From 7-8 December, KKF delegation attended the 6th annual sustainable innovation forum 2015 (COP21) in Paris. From December 18-20, more than 100 KKF members travelled from around the world to attend the KKF year-end meeting in Tacoma, Washington state, to update the KKF members about their activities in their chapters and provide recommendations for the KKF’s resolution for 2016.
Taking this opportunity, I would like to highlight some important progress on what KKF has been advocating for the Khmer-Krom in Kampuchea-Krom to enjoy:
As an organization advocating for the fundamental rights of the Khmer-Krom, KKF has urged Vietnam to have an open dialog at the UNPFII for many years to address the issues that the Khmer-Krom people are facing instead of continuing to accuse and attempt to discredit KKF’s genuine advocacy. Today, KKF is an official member of DPI. It shows that the works KKF has been advocating for have positively contributed to the mission of the various United Nations institutions focusing on fundamental freedoms.
The KKF’s 2016 plan of action has laid out the framework for KKF to move to the next level. 2016 is also the year that Vietnam will have new leaders elected into office by January. Hopefully, Vietnam’s newly elected leaders will have an open-mind to accept the recommendations from the civil society organizations in and outside of Vietnam so people in Vietnam could enjoy the fundamental freedoms, especially the religious freedom. Venerable Lieu Ny and Venerable Thach Thuol are still being imprisoned. They should be released in this coming year. Moreover, engaging in open dialog with civil society organizations should help Vietnam to successfully combat corruption that cause many provinces in Mekong Delta, such as Ca Mau and Bac Lieu, where majority of Khmer-Krom reside, to face budget crisis. The Khmer-Krom employees who work for local government in these provinces have concerned that they might not be able to receive their salaries in 2016.
As the New Year dawns, we will keep our Khmer-Krom spirits and determination unshaken. May the New Year bring our beloved Khmer-Krom FREEDOM-JUSTICE-DEMOCRACY!
Thach Ngoc Thach
President, Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation
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.”
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.”
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.
Chairman, Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation
[Read Khmer Version]
Open Questions and Recommendations for the 18th Session of the U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue
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.
How does Vietnam guarantee Freedom of Expression if it continues to have the “Penal Code, Article 258” in its constitution?
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?