Seeking Justice in Cambodia
Human Rights Defenders Speak Out
It is now more difficult that ever to be a human rights defender in Cambodia.
Seeking Justice in Cambodia tells the powerful stories of the original founders of Cambodian human rights organisations and the younger generation of leaders, all of whom have fought tirelessly and with great conviction to achieve justice and human rights for all Cambodians.
Sue Coffey decided to compile this book following the recent period she spent working in Cambodia. She was shocked by much of what she saw at the time: lack of transparency in government dealings, rampant deforestation, people being evicted from their land, and freedom of speech and action under serious threat.
She felt the stories of these remarkable human rights defenders needed to be told. Then, over the past year, massive political changes occurred: Cambodia became a one-party state, following the abolition by the Government of the main opposition party. The work of human rights defenders is ever more important.
She felt that unless the stories of these remarkable people were recorded, they might be lost to posterity. But this issue is not just a Cambodian one. The lessons here can apply to many other countries struggling to achieve human rights.
Seeking Justice in Cambodia tells a powerful tale of the struggle to bring human rights to all Cambodians from the early 1990s to the present day.
About the contributors
Professor the Hon Gareth Evans AC, QC
Chancellor, Australian National University
Former Australian Foreign Minister
Gareth Evans has been a major force in Australian political life and in international affairs for several decades. During his 21 years in Australian politics he was a Cabinet Minister in the Hawke and Keating Governments, holding several portfolios, including Minister for Foreign Affairs. From 2000 to 2009 he was President and CEO of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. He played a vital role in developing the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991, which laid the framework for a new era for war-torn Cambodia, and has been a long time supporter of the development of peace and democracy for Cambodia.
Benny Widyono, a leading member of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) 1990-93, and UN Special Representative to Cambodia 1994-97.
He was one of the leaders of UNTAC, and later returned as Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the UN. He continued his distinguished career with the UN, which began in 1963, and has written a book, Dancing in Shadows, about the UNTAC period in Cambodia.
Thun Saray, Founder and President of ADHOC, the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Organisation. ADHOC, which Thun Saray founded in 1991, was the first human rights organization to be established in Cambodia. He has fought tirelessly for over twenty-five years to achieve human rights for Cambodians, and continues to do so today.
Pung Chhiv Kek (Dr Kek Galabru), founder and current President of LICADHO, the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights. She has continued to lead this organization, founded first in Paris in 1991 then Cambodia in 1992, in defence of human rights, and has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her work. In 2016, she was awarded the National Order of the Legion of Honour by the then President of the French Republic, Francois Hollande.
Koul Panha, Executive Director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL). He has held the role of Executive Director of COMFREL since 1998, and has worked tirelessly to try to ensure Cambodian elections are free and fair. He has been awarded the Magsaysay Award, which recognized his work in building citizen action in elections and democratic governance in Cambodia.
Chhith Sam Ath, Executive Director of Hagar International and Former Executive Director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia
Chhith Sam Ath was one of the original founders of ADHOC in 1991. He has had a long and distinguished career in human rights for Cambodians, including as the first Cambodian Executive Director for the NGO Forum on Cambodia, and Executive Director of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF).
Thida Khus, Founder and Executive Director of SILAKA
Thida Khus is the Founder and Executive Director of SILAKA, a leading capacity-building organization in Cambodia. She has received many awards for her work, and has been Secretary General for the Committee to Promote Women in Politics in Cambodia, and Cambodian President of the ASEAN People’s Forum. She is very committed to promoting women in political and community life.
HE Kem Sokha, President of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP)
His Excellency Kem Sokha is the leader of the main Cambodian opposition party, the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP). He played a major role in developing the human rights clauses in the new Cambodian Constitution in the early 1990s, and founded the Cambodian Center for Human Rights in 2006. He has led CNRP since March 2017, but was arrested and charged with treason in September 2017.
HE Keo Remy, Government Minister for Human Rights.
His Excellency Keo Remy is a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and was a member of Parliament for Phnom Penh for two terms. He has held political roles since 1998, has a long-standing interest in human rights, and is currently Chairman of the Government’s Human Rights Committee.
Ou Virak, Founder and Executive Director of Future Forum
Ou Virak is the Founder and Director of Future Forum, an independent think-tank generating new thinking for Cambodia’s future, established in 2015. He is the former President and Executive Director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), and has a long and distinguished career in the struggle for human rights in Cambodia.
Venerable Loun Sovath, Buddist Monk and Human Rights Activist.
Venerable Loun Sovath is a Buddhist monk and human rights activist in Cambodia. He has been a lone voice within Cambodian Buddhism, providing support to land evictees and advocating for the rights of those forcibly removed from their land. He has made a very substantial contribution to raising awareness of the plight of those dispossessed of their land in Cambodia.
Mam Sonando, Founder and Independent Radio Broadcaster for Beehive Radio.
Mam Sonando is one of Cambodia’s most prominent and respected independent radio broadcasters. He has a passionate interest in human rights, and has been jailed three times for his views by the Hun Sen Government, on the last occasion for 20 years in 2012, before being released due to international pressure. He established and runs Beehive Radio, which has one of the highest listening audiences in Cambodia.
Chak Sopheap, Executive Director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR)
Chak Sopheap is the Executive Director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, one of Cambodia’s leading human rights organisations. She has held this role since 2014 at age twenty-nine and is one of a new generation of human rights leaders. Her work has been recognized by former US President Barak Obama.
Am Sam Ath, Monitoring Manager for the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
Am Sam Ath is Monitoring Manager for LICADHO, conducting a wide range of human rights support activities in the community. He is involved in land protests, and works to protect the health and well-being of those who have been evicted from their land, both within Phnom Penh and the provinces. He is also involved in programs to support victims of torture and those suffering health and social issues.
Mark Chann Sitha, Coordinator of the Workers’ Information Center
Mark Chann Sitha is currently Coordinator of the Workers’ Information Center, which advocates for improved conditions for women garment workers, one of Cambodia’s major export industries. She has also held roles in peace-building and worked in Myanmar for the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies. She is committed to improving the position of women in Cambodia.
Tep Vanny, Land Evictee from Boeng Kak Lake
This chapter includes an interview I conducted with Tep Vanny while she was still a prisoner in Prey Sar Prison in Phnom Penh. Her case was internationally known. Her community, an inner Phnom Penh suburb was issued with eviction notices when their land was handed by the government to a private developer in 2007. No other woman in Cambodia has been arrested and jailed more often than Tep Vanny. In 2016 she was sentenced to 30 months jail, and has suffered cruelly at the hands of Cambodian authorities. Eventually she was released following the general election of July 2018.
Rhona Smith, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia.
For more than 20 years, Dr Rhona Smith has focused on researching, teaching and capacity building in human rights. She is currently Professor of International Human Rights at Newcastle University, UK. She worked in Cambodia before her current role, and has written widely on human rights. Rapporteurs are not paid by the UN or anyone else for their work and are completely independent.
About the author
Sue Coffey is a writer and communications specialist who has worked in a wide range of roles across government and not-for-profit sectors. She has strong interest and experience in human rights issues, having worked in communications in these areas both in Australia and overseas. In 2012-13 she worked in Cambodia for the Australian Government’s overseas aid program, as communications advisor to the NGO Forum on Cambodia, a peak body in Phnom Penh working for human rights for all Cambodians. She then moved to Myanmar, where she was communications advisor to the Myanmar Government’s education reform program until 2015. All of the roles in which she has worked have taught her the importance of working towards a just and equitable world, in which all people have access to human rights and fair distribution of resources.