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Refugee laws ignored: report

Kampuchea Krom monks and supporters
Kampuchea Krom monks and supporters demonstrate against the Vietnamese government and appeal to the international community at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh last week. Pha Lina

Refugee laws ignored: report

Cambodian government officials have done little to enforce laws meant to protect the rights of Kampuchea Krom refugees, a recent report compiled for the UN says.

The five-page report, written by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), will be submitted to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights ahead of its 2014 periodic review of Cambodia and Vietnam.

“In the areas of civil and political rights enough mechanisms are in place to adequately guarantee the rights of minorities, however, the implementation thereof is severely lacking,” the report says. “It takes political will from the Cambodian government.”

Despite the Cambodian government’s official stance that those who live in Kampuchea Krom – an area of southern Vietnam that was once part of the Khmer empire – are considered Cambodian nationals, they face discrimination and difficulties when trying to claim refugee status or obtaining identity cards in Cambodia, the report states. When applying for ID cards, applicants must show proof their parents are of Khmer ancestry, proof of their occupation and a permanent address – documentation people fleeing discrimination in Vietnam rarely possess.

“They didn’t have the rights that other Cambodian citizens have,” said Denise Coghlan, Cambodia country manager for Jesuit Refugee Services, an Australian Catholic NGO that focuses on refugee rights. The exact legal status for Khmer Krom remains fuzzy, she said.

The Cambodian constitution guarantees religious freedom in the Kingdom, but the UNPO report notes Khmer Krom Buddhist monks suffer systematic harassment and persecution in Vietnam and Cambodia. Khmer Kampuchea Krom have been detained, tortured and had their freedoms of speech and assembly trampled upon, the report notes.

About 200 people gathered in Phnom Penh last week to demand the release of two Khmer Krom monks Liv Ny and Thach Thoeun, both 30, who were arrested by Vietnamese authorities on charges they associated with pro-Khmer Krom organisations abroad.

UNPO’s report mentioned that although protections guaranteed by the constitution are often ignored by authorities, their existence is a step in the right direction.

“Despite widespread violations of human rights inflicted upon members of the Khmer Krom and Degar [montagnard] minorities, the government of Cambodia should be commended for incorporating key human rights . . . in their national constitution,” the report notes.

In order to improve its human rights standing for minorities, Cambodia should simplify the process in which Khmer Krom refugees can apply for ID cards, commit to investigating allegations of abuses by law enforcement among other steps toward inclusiveness.

The Cambodian government’s Human Rights adviser, Om Yentieng, declined to comment yesterday.

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