Khmer Krom Background

The Khmer Krom are a group of ethnically Khmer people living in modern day southern Vietnam, in the region of the Mekong River delta referred to as Kampuchea Krom (Lower Cambodia). According to Vietnamese census data there are 1.2 million Khmer Krom people in Vietnam, but independent estimates suggest the number is as high as 7 million in Vietnam, and 8.2 million worldwide.[1] The Khmer Krom share a common language, religion, and culture with the Khmer majority of Cambodia. They are subject to widespread human rights abuse in Vietnam, and receive little support from the international community.

History of Khmer Krom

The Khmer Krom first arrived in Kampuchea Krom hundreds of years ago, when it was part of the Khmer Empire. However, over the course of the 17th to 19th centuries Khmer control over the region weakened and Kinh (Viet) people started to move to the region. In 1949 the French colonizers officially handed the region over to Vietnamese control. When Vietnam gained independence in 1954, Kampuchea Krom became part of the new state of South Vietnam. During this time period the Khmer Krom were subject to forced assimilation policies, restricting freedom of religion and education in the Khmer language.

After the Vietnam War, the new, united Vietnamese socialist government began to reduce private land ownership, and implemented land seizures from many Khmer Krom. As well, the rise of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in 1975 created further human rights abuses. By this time, as many as 200 000 Khmer Krom were living in Cambodia, with immigration increasing as fighting along the Cambodia-Vietnam border intensified. Khmer Krom were often viewed by the Khmer Rouge as “Vietnamese heads with Khmer bodies,” and were accused of being spies and allies of the Vietnamese. Due to the Khmer Rouge’s hostile attitude towards the Vietnamese, many innocent Khmer Krom were killed because of the assumed affiliation between the groups.

After the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, the living conditions of the Khmer Krom remained substandard. The policies of both the Vietnamese government and Khmer Rouge had left many Khmer Krom landless, with little social support.

Current Conditions for Khmer Krom in Vietnam

Today, Khmer Krom are subject to serious human rights abuses regarding their freedom to maintain a distinct identity from the Vietnamese majority. The Vietnamese government strictly controls Khmer Krom religious freedoms, limiting their practice of Theravada Buddhism, the majority religion of Khmer and Khmer Krom people. As well, they impede Khmer Krom children from receiving an education in Khmer, and have abolished literature on Khmer history and culture, punishing anyone who distributes related information. On top of all this, the Vietnamese government suppresses public advocacy for Khmer Krom rights, muzzling those who attempt to speak out. The Vietnamese government has defrocked, imprisoned, and tortured numerous Khmer Krom monks because of their outspoken criticism of national unity policies that are seen as suppressive of the Khmer Krom identity. The Vietnamese government carries out these punishments despite the peaceful nature of Khmer Krom protests.

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