Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 November 2014, 15:45 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Vietnam

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 16 July 2009
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Vietnam, 16 July 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a66d99fc.html [accessed 27 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Vietnam's 1992 Constitution affirms the rights of ethnic minorities and a number of positive government initiatives exist to try to respond to the needs of Vietnam's minorities and indigenous peoples. Yet despite these official programmes the perception of discrimination is widespread amongst Vietnam's minorities, who see the majority ethnic Viet or Kinh population continue to be favoured by current development, social and educational policies.

The Khmer Krom mainly inhabit the Mekong delta region in the south-west of Vietnam and are one of the largest minorities in Vietnam, numbering over 1 million. According to a Human Rights Watch report the Vietnamese government has been quick to suppress expressions of dissent among Khmer Krom communities and has banned their human rights publications. The government also tightly controls the Theravada Buddhism practised by the Khmer Krom, who see this form of Buddhism as the foundation of their distinct culture and ethnic identity. Five ethnic Khmer Buddhist monks remain in prison in Soc Trang province after participating in a peaceful protest in 2007 calling for greater religious freedom.

Khmer Krom farmers in the Mekong delta face increasing landlessness and poverty and in 2008 carried out land rights protests. In February police used dogs and electric batons to break up a land protest in An Giang province. Several protesters were injured and nine arrested.

Many Khmer Krom believe that the state's educational policies are specifically designed to assimilate them into the majority Kinh population, prevent them from accessing higher education, and weaken their culture and traditions centred around the Khmer language. Government policy is to encourage all ethnic groups to learn Vietnamese, and education is not provided in the medium of Khmer, though there should be a form of education that would permit the acquisition of functional bilingualism in both Khmer and Vietnamese. But public schools in the Mekong delta conduct the vast majority of classes in Vietnamese, with at most only two hours a week for Khmer literacy classes.

While the Mekong delta has a higher percentage of primary and secondary schools than Vietnam's seven other regions, it has the second lowest adult literacy rate and the lowest level of public school enrolments in Vietnam – with one-third of the nation's school drop-outs coming from the delta. A schoolmaster attributed the high drop-out rate to financial difficulties forcing students to go to work rather than school (70 per cent) and 'inability to learn' (30 per cent). A teacher said: 'Most of the students with bad learning capacity are of Khmer minority; they cannot speak Vietnamese well and cannot follow the study curriculum.'

The Khmer language is also not used in service provision by state authorities even where the Khmer Krom are the majority.

The 2008 USCIRF report on Vietnam highlighted government-sponsored harassment, detention and imprisonment faced by individuals and leaders of diverse religious communities and called on the US State Department to re-designate Vietnam a 'country of particular concern'.

Vietnamese law requires that religious groups register with the government. The government officially recognizes six religions – Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Cao Dai and Hoa Hao Buddhism – and also 29 'religious organizations', which include Theravada Buddhism, recognized in February 2008.

The Degar, often referred to as Montagnards, are a group of more than 30 minorities who continue to be discriminated against since siding with the USA during the Vietnam War. Frustration at the loss of traditional lands, religious restrictions, threats to their languages and cultures, as well as poor access to education and health services have combined in the past to spark large-scale demonstrations. In April 2008 Montagnard villagers calling for religious freedom were forcefully dispersed by police in Gia Lai and Dak Lak provinces. In May, Human Rights Watch reported the death in custody of Y Ben Hdok in Dak Lak. Police reportedly refused to allow his family or a lawyer to visit him and labelled his death a suicide. (See also Cambodia.)

The year 2008 saw the harshest crack-down on Catholics in Vietnam in decades. In August, when Catholics held peaceful vigils in protest at government plans to transform former church sites (seized during the 1950s) into a public park and library, the government defined these as illegal religious activities and used tear gas and electric batons to disperse them, wounding at least three.

According to International Rivers, Vietnam's largest and most controversial development project, the US $2.3 billion Son La Dam, will displace 91,000 ethnic minority people by the time it is completed in 2010. A September 2008 study found that the resettlement programme is facing significant challenges, such as a shortage of arable land and reduced availability of fresh water in the resettlement sites.

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