21 March – International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – Monday, 21.3.2011

The Mirror, Vol. 15, No. 709

The situation of considerably large groups of people in Thailand and Vietnam, who identify themselves a Khmer – the Khmer Surin and the Khmer Krom – make it often into the media, often with reference to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1992, when their rights are in danger. The rights mentioned in the UN declaration includes a list of rights to which persons belonging to minorities are entitled, including the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, and to use their own language.

People from ethnic minorities in Vietnam, who fled to Cambodia hoping to be accepted as asylum seekers in some countries, often claim similar religious and cultural oppression like some Khmer Krom people do.

There is, of course, also awareness of the presence of people of Chinese and Vietnamese ethnic backgrounds, some of whose ancestors came to Cambodia a long time ago, while others came recently. And there is an awareness of the the Cham population – mainly Muslim.

Actually, there are more than 20 ethnic minority groups in Cambodia, but many are often not specifically identified by their ethnic group when they make it into the press, but they are just called “minority people” who often claim to suffer from land grabbing.

That they have a wide variety of different identities, related to their languages and cultural practices, is hardly taken up in detail. We reproduce here a list of their different ethnicities:

*- Khmer Loeu – a general term use to designate all hilltribes in Cambodia, though they have different identities in two major groups:

    Mon-Khmer Speakers:

  • Kachok
  • Krung (divided into three different dialect groups: Krung, Brao, and Kavet)
  • Kraol (with the subgroup of the Mel)
  • Kuy
  • Phnong
  • Tampuan
  • Stieng
  • Mnong
  • Samre (with the sub-groups of Chong, Sa’och, Somray, and Suoy)
    Austronesian Speakers:

  • Jarai
  • Rhade

*- Tai

  • Thai (not including modern Thai expatriates)
  • Lao
  • Shan
  • Kula

*- Hmong-Mien

  • Miao
  • Hmong
  • Yao

They are all to be considered – they, their identities, their rights – according to the following UN document. But in the press, they show mostly up only when there are conflicts with Cambodian or foreign land concession holders.


The main point of reference for the international community regarding the rights of minorities is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, adopted by the General Assembly in 1992. It includes a list of rights to which persons belonging to minorities are entitled, including the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion and to use their own language. It also contains measures which States could implement to create an environment conducive to the enjoyment of such rights, for example, through encouraging public knowledge of the history, traditions, language and culture of minorities existing within their territories and enabling persons belonging to minorities to participate fully in the economic progress and development of their country. States are also asked to implement national policies and programs with due regard for minority interests. The cornerstones of the Declaration are the principles of non-discrimination, effective participation and protection and promotion of identity.

The Declaration was inspired by Article 271 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which is the most widely accepted legally binding provision on minorities. In terms of monitoring, human rights treaty bodies (in particular the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and Human Rights Committee) as well as special procedures have been paying increasing attention to situations and rights of persons belonging to minorities.

Since 2005, the focal point at the United Nations is the Independent Expert on minority issues whose mandate is to promote the implementation of the 1992 Declaration. In 2007, the Forum on Minority Issues was established to provide a platform for promoting dialogue and cooperation in that field as well as thematic contributions to the work of the Independent Expert.

Consistent with the provisions of the 1992 Minorities Declaration, the 2001 Durban Declaration and Program of Action urged Governments to create favorable conditions and take measures that would enable persons belonging to minorities within their jurisdiction to express their characteristics freely and to participate on a non-discriminatory and equitable basis in the cultural, social, economic and political life of the country in which they live. The Durban Program of Action specifically calls for the creation and implementation of policies that promote a high-quality and diverse police force free from racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. One of the Program’s recommendations is that in recruiting for public employment, including the police force, States ensure the participation and representation of all groups including minorities. States are also urged to design, implement and enforce effective measures to eliminate the phenomenon of “racial profiling.”

What kind of attention did the minorities in Cambodia get on this 21 March 2011 – the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination?

Norbert KLEIN

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