Written by Sothy Kien
On February 13th 2008, Australia’s newly elected Prime Minister; Kevin Rudd will make a historic apology to its indigenous peoples, the Aboriginal Peoples.
Since Britain invaded Australia 220 years ago, hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal people have been killed, displaced or forced to assimilate into the British culture and ideals.
As early as mid 1800s, thousands of Aboriginal children were brutally taken from their parents and given to the white Australians, judged by them as unfit to be parents. They were sent to children’s homes, starved and told that they a shameful bunch to society.
Known as the Stolen Generation, one cannot begin to comprehend the heartache and grief that they went and continue to go through.
Today, it seems that life is getting a bit better for the Indigenous Australians.
The long awaited apology by Australia’s current Prime Minister to the Stolen Generation will be one that stops the nation and perhaps the world as Australia takes a brave step in righting past wrongs.
While the majority of Australians and perhaps the world are celebrating such an event, others are not, asking why should they be the ones apologising for something that their forefathers did.
If we do not bear the sins of our forefather, when will the hate stop and forgiveness start?
Australia is not the only guilty party with its treatments of its indigenous peoples. Canada and United States of America have had their share of bad history. In the southeast countries, Cambodia, Philippines and Vietnam are on top of the list of human rights violators.
For the Indigenous Khmer Krom Peoples of current day Vietnam, an apology as such from the Vietnamese communist government seems like a speck in the horizon. Far and a long time in coming if at all.
Especially if the first step of recognising that Khmer Krom people are the indigenous peoples of the Mekong Delta is not yet achieved.
Two years ago, during the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Vietnam government representatives claimed that it was up to the minority people to determine who are indigenous. However, no legislation or initiative is in place to promote such an act only empty words to further falsify and deny the existence of indigenous peoples such as the Khmer Krom people of the Mekong Delta and the Montagnards of the central Highlands.
“It begins, I think, with the act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the disasters. The alcohol. We committed the murders.….. We practised discrimination and exclusion.” - Paul Keating, former Prime Minister of Australia 1991
If the Khmers Kampuchea-Krom Federation did not enlighten the issue of the Khmer Krom to international community, would Vietnam place its indigenous peoples as a priority?
How much longer will the Vietnamese communist government continue to deny that it was never their lands in the first place?
Indigenous Khmer Krom Buddhists in Kampuchea-Krom (1909)
Their basic fundamental freedoms and rights continue to be severely restricted. The Khmer’s unique culture is changed at will by Vietnamese officials. Some Khmer Buddhist temples are no longer a place of peace and meditation but a working office for communist officials. Buddhist monks are disrobed and imprisoned for organising peaceful demonstrations to demand their religious rights.
More disturbing still, Vietnamese officials are resorting to the use of violence in public to silence land activists. These are just a small portion of crimes coming to international light.
What else is happening behind closed doors? Who is bringing justice to these people, if the only justice served is one ruled by the violator?
Perhaps the Vietnamese government never introduced or initiated the Stolen Generation but the discriminatory actions against the Khmer Krom are no less degrading or inhumane.
For over two hundred years the majority of world knew nothing about the existence of Khmer Krom people. France knew and Cambodia knew but they were abandoned to the hands of the Vietnam, a race bent on colonising all of the current Vietnam regardless of the human price tag.
How many of our ancestors died trying to defend their religion, culture and nation? How many were buried deep to their neck and used as a stand for hot tea, a well known quote by Khmers, “do not spill the master’s tea?” How many Khmer Krom women became widow or were raped, used and abused by the Vietnamese officials?
How many were forced to abandon their ancestral home and land, uprooted and dump to a small aliquot of land with no means to make their traditional living?
Today, hundred of thousands remain homeless and jobless. Children as little as five are without education and hunt the rubbish rubble for scrapes of leftover food. Thousands more are dying because they cannot afford to take their sick mother, father or siblings to a medical centre in Prey Nokor (renamed Ho Chi Minh) city.
Vietnamese people and officials, often refer to the Khmer people as “backward” or “uncivilized” a description which shows their contempt towards the indigenous peoples.
How would you feel if you were called “backwards” as if you were dump and stupid? Treated worse than a dog and told to do everything according to the ideals of the Vietnamese communist government?
If the very roots you and your ancestors have created and practiced for centuries were forced to one side and you to speak, dress and act Vietnamese? If you were a peaceful Buddhist monk who stood up for your religious beliefs only to be hammered on the bench of a prison table like a nail standing out of place?
In the eyes of the Khmer Krom people, Vietnam has much to be sorry for.
Much to be sorry about.
The pain and the suffering that the Khmer Krom people endured since Vietnam started its southward (Nam Tien) ambition to occupy the Mekong Delta in the early 1600s is something Vietnam cannot deny.
When will the cycle of hate stop? In 10 or twenty years or will it run its course of another century before our children of today learn to love and respect one another?
If one travels through Kampuchea-Krom, one can see the statue and pictures of Ho chi Minh everywhere. No one can doubt that Vietnamese communist government is proud of the father of liberation, one that freed Vietnamese people from the French colonisation. When will the day come when Vietnam stops being so proud of its nationality that it works to destroy the nation of another because they think they are far more superior than us?
Vietnam did not like having the French colonising them but we like it even less being doubly colonised by first the Vietnamese then the French. Now it is Vietnam that continues to colonise us and change our way of life to suit that of its nation without fear of justice or consequence.
“It was our ignorance and our prejudice. And our failure to imagine these things being done to us. With some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds. We failed to ask - how would I feel if this were done to me?” - Paul Keating, former Prime Minister of Australia 1991
For the western countries such as Australia, USA and Canada, the gross actions were perpetrated by their forefathers in the past, but in Vietnam these inhumane and atrocious acts are still being committed.
When will Vietnam stop being defensive and learn the importance of saying sorry as the first step of reconciliation for the sake of not only Khmer Krom but deeper still for all of human kind?
Using Australia’s prime example of Sorry Day we ask that Vietnam stop committing atrocious acts against the indigenous peoples of the Mekong Delta, Vietnam today.
We ask that Vietnam stand forth and be a positive role model for other Asian countries by apologising to those they have hurt in order to conquer their lands as the first step to reconciliation.
We ask that you start NOW.