While Cambodia in theory offers full citizenship to members of its Khmer Krom minority, in practice, many members of the community remain in a legal shadowland, unable to access a wide range of rights, a new report released yesterday shows.
Despite a professed open-door policy to the ethnic Khmer group from Vietnam, an estimated 20 to 30 percent still lack identity cards, a fact that prevents them from voting and accessing employment.
The research, conducted by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), the Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT) and Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights and Development Association (KKKHRDA), focused on those without IDs, collecting answers from 264 respondents.
Khmer Krom are indigenous Khmer who live mostly in the southwest of Cambodia’s eastern neighbour. Estimates of their presence in Cambodia fluctuate wildly, with some groups claiming 1.2 million live in Cambodia and others saying there are as few as 80,000.
Over 90 percent of the respondents replied that they faced “many” or “some” problems in Cambodia, with 40 percent specifiying “discrimination by authorities and local Khmer”.
The study shows, however, that the root cause is mostly ignorance about rights, rather than active discrimination.
“Both Khmer Krom and local authorities lack understanding of the rights of Khmer Krom, and of how Khmer Krom can realise these citizenship rights in practice,” the report read.
But Cambodian laws governing nationality require either being born in Cambodia or being born to Cambodian parents, a definition that makes no specific exceptions for the Khmer Krom.
Son Chum Chuon, program director of KKKHRDA, said in an email that there was an “inaccurate perception” that Khmer Krom have always supported the opposition party.
“Some Khmer Krom people were suppressed, watched and intimidated by some local authorities in case they do not vote for the ruling party . . . They are forced to give up participation in the election,” he said.
Chum Serey, 34, came to Cambodia 12 years ago, because he found it difficult living in Vietnam without knowing how to read and write Vietnamese. He now lives in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district, but lacking documents, he has found life difficult there as well.
“I want to live here legally . . . because I also consider myself Cambodian,” he said.
Thach Sin, 41, moved to Cambodia almost 15 years ago. “When I was in [Vietnam], they called me a Cambodian, but now that I am in Cambodia, they call me yuon [a term for Vietnamese considered derogatory by many].”
The vendor, who lives in Slor Kram commune in Siem Reap province, tried in vain to apply for an ID. “The police told me that they cannot make an ID card for me because my surname is [Vietnamese],” he said.
He said that they told him to pay $200 to receive his ID card if he wanted to keep his family name. “I want to live here as a full citizen,” he said. “I am never able to vote.”
Calls to numerous government departments including several at the Ministry of Interior were not answered yesterday.