40 YEARS LATER: US HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS & THE DEPORTATION OF CAMBODIAN-AMERICAN REFUGEES

The Universal Periodic Review of the United States of America

Second Cycle | Twenty-Second Session of the UPR | Human Rights Council

Southeast Asian Freedom Network 

2015 marks 40 years since Southeast Asian refugee communities were displaced by militarism and war, and began being resettled in the US. In recognition of our community’s deep resilience and power in the face of struggle, we continue our fight for justice and declare the following systemic US human rights violations against the Cambodian community over the course of the last five decades:

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 3. Right to Life, Liberty and Security Between 1965-1973 the US dropped 2,756,941 tons of bombs, in a secret and illegal military campaign, across the countryside of Cambodia, which was an internationally declared neutral country. The destruction of 8 years of bombing led Cambodia into the hands of the rising, and genocidal leadership of the Khmer Rouge. April 17, 2015 will mark 40 years since the Khmer Rouge marched on Phnom Penh and vacated the city, forcibly leading families and children into the Killing Fields for the next 3 years, 8 months, and 20 days. During this time nearly 2 million people, approximately 21% of our population, lost their lives to genocide.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25. Right to Food, Shelter and Health Beginning in the 1970s, there was a mass influx of Southeast Asians to the US due to war and political upheavals in their countries. A total of 1,146,650 Southeast Asians were resettled in the US from 1975-2002. Upon our arrival, the structures of support needed for our community to heal, survive, and grow, were not in place. Families were exploited for cheap labor, apartments and houses were falling apart, and as refugees we experienced deep trauma and mental health issues. A 2004 survey revealed that 70% of Cambodian-Americans exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the loss of family members, experience of labor camps, and war.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26. Right to Education, & Article 7. Right to Equality Before the Law Most Southeast Asian refugees were resettled into inhumane conditions in impoverished neighborhoods, making us vulnerable to poverty, crime, violence, structural disadvantage, racism, discrimination and profiling. Many young people fell through the cracks in an under-resourced education system unfit to meet their needs, leaving only 65% of Cambodian-American youth graduating from high school. Many enter into a highly functional and highly funded School-to-Prison Pipeline. Law enforcement agencies in cities across the country began coding Cambodian communities as “gang infested” and we were surveilled and profiled for arrest and incarceration. Over-policing of our community led to racial profiling, police brutality, and high incarceration rates, higher than any other Asian ethnic group in relation to the size of our population.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 10. Right to Due Process, Article 16. Right to Family Unity, & Article 9. Right to Freedom from Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, Exile In 1996, the US passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) and Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). These laws expanded “aggravated felony” to include offenses that are neither aggravated nor felonius under criminal justice law, but lead to deportation under immigration law. Judicial discretion and individualized deportation hearings were eliminated for those being deported for such “aggravated felonies,” leaving individuals stripped of their right to due process. Deportation for “aggravated felonies” also became permanent with no right to return, and was applied retroactively, leading to international human rights violations regarding proportionality of punishment, double jeopardy, and fairness under the law.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 21. Right to Democracy On March 22, 2002 the US signed a Repatriation Agreement with Cambodia and began deporting Cambodian-Americans. This agreement was signed without transparency, insight, or accountability to the community impacted. It was signed swiftly and secretly. Repatriation Agreements must be seen as human rights contracts, because they impact the livelihood and survival of individuals and families. These agreements need to reflect the unique conditions and experiences of the diaspora they apply to, and participating countries must be accountable to the impact of deportation on the diaspora, as well as the history and conditions of their displacement. As such, the creation of such agreements must be done through transparent, open, and democratic processes that prioritize the will of the people and insight of directly impacted communities.


As a Cambodian-American refugee community, we have been rooted in an intergenerational struggle over the last five decades to keep our families together against unjust forces of US militarism, war, systemic poverty, education inequity, imprisonment, institutionalized racism, discrimination, and deportation. With over 500 Cambodian-American families broken apart since 2002, and over 4000 more awaiting the same fate, our human rights fight today, is deportation.

REQUESTED ACTION

We call for immediate recourse to begin to rectify over five decades of US human rights violations that have torn Cambodian families apart from Cambodia to the US, and back again:

  1. We call for an immediate suspension of US deportations to Cambodia.
  2. We call for an open review process of the US-Cambodia Repatriation Agreement, which includes and prioritizes democratic oversight and input of impacted communities in the US and Cambodia.
  3. We call for amendments to the Repatriation Agreement that tailor its impacts to consider the individual and community experience of US human rights violations, and will protect those with these experiences from deportation.
  4. We call for amendments to the Repatriation Agreement that ensure humane, just, and fair structures of support for impacted families and individuals in the US and Cambodia, including economic stability, human and social services, employment infrastructure, visitation rights, and the right to return.

QUESTIONS TO THE US GOVERNMENT

  1. Will the United States commit to suspending US deportations to Cambodia until human rights issues can be rectified through amendments to the US-Cambodia Repatriation Agreement?
  2. Will the United States commit to undergoing an open review process of the current Repatriation Agreement with Cambodia which includes and prioritizes democratic oversight and input of impacted communities in the US and Cambodia?

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The Southeast Asian Freedom Network (SEAFN) is a national collective of Southeast Asian grassroots organizing groups that works towards radical & transformational change led by those most impacted by systemic injustice.

SEAFN Member Groups: 1Love Movement, Freedom Inc., ManForward, Mekong NYC, Providence Youth Student Movement, SOY-Shades of Yellow, and VAYLA New Orleans.

One thought on “40 YEARS LATER: US HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS & THE DEPORTATION OF CAMBODIAN-AMERICAN REFUGEES

  1. Pingback: Press Release: #SEAFN2Geneva fights deportation at the United Nations! | 1LoveMovement

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