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Citizens without a voice: Khmer-Krom people living in the Vietnamese legal system

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Last month as I had casual conversations with a few villagers from Serei Oudum Village, Tual Ta Mok (Binh Phuoc) province, Kampuchea-Krom. I came to learn about a recent heartbroken story of a Khmer-Krom man being sent to prison because he did not understand the Vietnamese law. As the incident is conveyed to me, I shared them below and hope that your awareness could help bringing justice for voiceless Khmer-Krom people like him in Kampuchea-Krom.


Brushing gently against a grey metallic object, a Khmer-Krom man endures the heat. He is a seller of scrap metals, and today, he's searching for old American war-era shells. It's his lucky day and he has found good scraps for sale.

But, what he found, scraps relics and shells of the distant past, will bring no luck or fortune. The Khmer-Krom man is stopped by police, interrogated, and hold in detention for potential charge of collecting weapon and arms material to "conspire" against the state.

In the face of it all, anyone can see how absurd this looks. The police who live side-by-side with these Khmer-Krom citizens themselves may even find their own justifications hard to swallow sometimes.

For this poor villager, a scrap seller, he is jailed with "conspiring" against the state with well equipped army.

Far too often, justice in Vietnam is more about making "examples" than actual justice, and fairness. It is a system that seeks to "make example" of and intimidate its citizens against phantom crimes and possible trump up activities against the state that have no basis in reality - this is specifically true for its Khmer-Krom citizens, a people without any legal voice and representation in the Vietnamese court.

In its paranoia stemming maybe from its own political uncertainty from a globalize world, the Vietnamese government is forgetting its own motto - people walks first, government follows behind. When the people are educated, healthy, happy and prosperous the government is prosperous.

Rather than taking the opportunity to educate this man and his community about the danger of collecting war relic scraps and potentially dangerous explosives, the man is imprisoned and the community is stiffen in fear.

"I know this is wrong. He is a simple man scrapping for a living. The law is harsh and unfair, but if we speak for him we can be listed as his co-conspirators", tells one villager.

So if his friends, family, and fellow villagers cannot speak for him. Who else? Without neither legal representation nor the courage to speak on his behalf from friends, the scrap seller becomes another unheard voice - silenced away through the Vietnamese legal system.