Cambodian Activist Monk Receives Swiss Human Rights Award

The country’s foremost campaigning monk, Loun Sovath, received the Martin Ennals Award in Geneva on Tuesday for his efforts to document the plight of people fighting against eviction in Cambodia.

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Loun Sovath attends a Boeng Kak Lake protest last November. On Tuesday, he received the Martin Ennals Award in Geneva. (Lauren Crothers/The Cambodia Daily)

The award, which honors one human rights defender each year, is valued at $21,300, a purse that Loun Sovath said he would put toward his work documenting evictions and protests. Winners of the award are chosen from a jury that includes members of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights.

“As a Buddhist monk, Venerable Sovath has managed to raise wider attention to the issue of forced evictions in Cambodia,” said former Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey, who chairs the Martin Ennals Foundation, according to a statement by Amnesty International.

The award is named for the first secretary-general of Amnesty International, Martin Ennals.

Loun Sovath said yesterday that he accepted the award on behalf of jailed radio station owner Mam Sonando, as well as other human rights activists in Cambodia.

“Human rights in Cambodia including citizenship rights, political rights, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the right to demonstrate and strike, the right to information, freedom of the press and the right to an impartial judiciary and so on are either lacking, narrowing, or getting worse, and it is becoming even more dangerous for human rights defenders in Cambodia,” Loun Sovath said in his acceptance speech after receiving the award from Kang Kyung-wha, the U.N. deputy high commissioner for human rights.

Loun Sovath said that forced evictions and land disputes are core issues affecting the human rights of Cambodians, many of whom are left homeless, landless and confronted by violent government forces.

“Additionally, the government must stop using the judicial system to oppress and wrongly accuse human rights defenders, and must stop using violence in Cambodia,” he said.

The monk, who is often seen attending and documenting protests and disputes armed with an iPad or video camera, was himself arrested by police in May on the same day that 13 anti-eviction activists were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail. Charges of incitement have been leveled against him in court, while the Buddhist hierarchy, many of whom are close to the ruling CPP, have warned him to stop his activism—an order he has refused.

Monastic officials evicted Loun Sovath from Wat Ounalom in Phnom Penh last year, and pagodas around the country have been ordered not to welcome him in to their sanctuaries because of his social activism.

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