Reflection on the new term “Real Indigenous Peoples”
On July 31, 2012, The Wall Street Journal wrote an article: “Your New Human Rights Council: Vietnam invents a U.N. procedure to silence critics” regarding the Vietnam’s aggressive campaign to blackball the Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation (KKF) to secure the accreditation with ECOSOC. This article had brought up serious concerns about what Vietnam had tried to do by silencing the critics about its human rights violation record. To rebuild its image, especially trying to become an official member of the Human Rights council for the term of 2014-2016, Vietnam did not attack directly after the KKF delegation delivered speeches at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in 2013 and 2014.
This year, the UNPFII was held from April 20 to May 1. This year marks 11 years since the KKF delegation has attended this forum. The delegation submitted speeches for most of the agenda topics and were able to deliver three speeches. The team’s speeches provide constructive recommendations that requested the Forum and Vietnam to implement so the Indigenous Peoples, especially the Khmer-Krom in Vietnam, could enjoy their fundamental rights as enshrined in the UNDRIP. Surprisingly, after the delegation of KKF delivered the speeches, Vietnam’s delegation immediately requested the forum to respond to the KKF’s speeches. The delegation of Vietnam at the forum might forget that Vietnam is now an official member of the Human Right Councils. Instead of thanking the KKF delegation for providing the constructive recommendations and asked for open dialog, the Vietnam delegation directly attacked the KKF that made the people attending the forum wonder what the Vietnam delegation hoped to achieve by doing so. The aggressive languages that Vietnam delegation used in their responses were the same as in the speeches attacking KKF in previous years and left many indigenous people feeling uneasy.
The first accusation that Vietnam brought up against KKF was that KKF should not be given opportunity to speak at the forum because KKF presented false information to the forum for KKF’s political aims. This is not the first time that KKF was accused by Vietnam. KKF is merely a Human Rights movement organization to advocate for the fundamental rights for the voiceless indigenous Khmer-Krom peoples in Vietnam. KKF delegation has brought the Human Rights violation of the Khmer-Krom in Vietnam to the organizations of the UN, such as: the UNPFII (since 2004), EMRIP (since 2005), Vietnam’s UPR review (2009, 2014), the Vietnam’s UN Treaty review: CEDAW (2007 and will participate in July 2015), CERD (2012), CRC (2012), and CESCR (2014), and to governments, such as: the United States, Canada, Australia, and the European Parliament. The information that KKF provided in its reports are the true information that was reported directly to KKF from the Khmer-Krom people in Kampuchea-Krom. KKF also provided useful information to the UN Special Rapporteur and UN Independent Expert before they went to Vietnam. If KKF provides falsified information as Vietnam has been accusing, the representatives of the UN organizations and special procedures would not allow KKF delegation to meet them.
The second accusation that Vietnam accused KKF was that KKF has no right to represent for any group in Vietnam. Vietnam is a communist lead-party government. The delegation of Vietnam proudly said that, the basic rights of the people in Vietnam are protected in Vietnam’s constitution. In reality, those rights are just mentioned in the Vietnam’s constitution, but not implemented. In Vietnam, the government does not allow to form any independent association. When the Khmer-Krom human rights violations are committed by the government, the Khmer-Krom people have nowhere to ask for help in defending their rights. Venerable Thach Thuol and Venerable Lieu Ny stood up to demand the teaching of the Khmer language and freedom in practice Khmer-Krom Theravada Buddhism. They were arrested and sentenced to imprisonment since 2013. They were not allowed to hire lawyers or defend themselves in front of the Vietnamese court. There are Khmer-Krom people working in the government, but those Khmer-Krom people are being used to oppress their own people, not to protect and defend for the Khmer-Krom’s rights. This is the reason why it is very important to have an organization like KKF based abroad to help bring the human rights violations against the Khmer-Krom to international spotlight which offended Vietnam which caused them to discredit KKF.
The third accusation by Vietnam was that KKF carries politically motivated acts for the disintegration of Vietnam. Vietnam used to accuse KKF in a similar fashion at this forum. When people in Vietnam stood up to demand for their rights, the Vietnamese government always uses this type of accusation to arrest and imprison them. KKF does not have any hidden agenda. The purpose is to help advocate for the rights of the voiceless Khmer-Krom. KKF has been invited to meet various government officials before these governments engaged in human rights dialog with Vietnam. If KKF is such an organization as Vietnam accused, KKF would not have a chance to meet and submit human rights violations documents to the countries like United States and Australia.
The last accusation that Vietnam accused KKF was that KKF is not an indigenous organization and showed to the forum that Vietnam successfully stopped KKF to attend the World Conference on Indigenous Issues last year. KKF is an organization that is created by the indigenous Khmer-Krom peoples who escaped their beloved homeland, Kampuchea-Krom, after 1975. Because Vietnam denied recognizing the Khmer-Krom in Vietnam as the indigenous peoples that is why Vietnam keeps accusing KKF is an indigenous organization. Vietnam has tried to silence KKF for many years, but it is impossible. The world is encouraging people to speak for their rights and try to protect the indigenous people’s language, culture and identity. Ironically, as an official member of the UN Human Rights Council, Vietnam has violated the right to self-identity of the Khmer-Krom because they want to be recognized as the indigenous peoples on their ancestral land. Trying to silence KKF at UNPFII, the delegation of Vietnam even invented a new term “Real Indigenous Peoples”. This is a demeaning term because if they are not “Real Indigenous Peoples”, what exactly would Vietnam define as “real”?
It is time for Vietnam to realize that they will not gain anything from continuing their accusations against the KKF. The organizations of the United Nations and the countries that respect and promote democracy and human rights will not tolerate this type of behavior. The more Vietnam accuses the KKF, more attention will be drawn to the wrong doings by their country. If Vietnam wants to be a respectful country and show its commitment as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, they should start listening and seriously taking the recommendations to implement them rather than working to silence those who are trying to advocate for basic human rights.