Venerable Loun Sovath Awarded the 2012 Martin Ennals Award

Press release
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Venerable Loun Sovath, a Cambodian Buddhist monk, was awarded the 2012 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in a ceremony held in Geneva, Switzerland, on 2nd October 2012. Venerable Sovath is the 21st laureate and first Southeast Asian to be presented with the award. He was selected for documenting the struggle of land rights activists and ordinary citizens evicted from their homes in Cambodia. Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights activist from Iran arrested in September 2012 for being a member of the Defenders of Human Rights Center and the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, whose co-founder and FIDH deputy secretary general Nabeel Rajaab is currently detained, were the other two nominees for 2012. FIDH congratulates the Venerable and the other candidates and pays tribute to their on-going struggle for human rights, often at great personal risks and sacrifice.

The award to the Venerable comes at a time when serious and systematic violations of land and housing rights continue unabated, and those who defend these and other rights are increasingly being intimidated, arrested, and criminalized by the Cambodian authorities.

More than two million hectares of land have been given in Cambodia to private companies in the form of land concessions since 1993. Many of these land concessions have led to countless cases of forced evictions which has affected hundreds of thousands of Cambodians. Venerable Loun Sovath has been using multiple media (including video) to document forced evictions and peaceful demonstrations of land rights activists. He has been detained several times, threatened by the authorities to be defrocked, and expelled from his monastery. He has received threatening phone calls, including death threats. On May 24th this year, he was arrested in front of Phnom Penh courthouse for demonstrating in support of the 13 women activists tried in the Boeung Kak Lake case. Authorities tried to force him to sign a document stating that he would no longer continue his advocacy efforts. He refused and was later released.

A short documentary with LICADHO footage was produced about his work.

Film Portrait of Luon Sovath - Martin Ennals Award Laureate 2012 from Martin Ennals Award on Vimeo.

The Award comes at the heel of the harsh sentencing of Cambodian journalist Mam Sonando, owner of the independent Beehive Radio Station and a prominent government critic. On October 1st, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Mam Sonando guilty on charges of insurrection and inciting people to take up arms against the state under six articles under the Penal Code and sentenced him to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 10 million riels. These groundless charges stem from blanket accusations by the Government that he was responsible for instigating villagers inhabiting an area of farmland in Kratie province that has been embroiled in a land dispute with a foreign company which has been granted a 15,000 hectare economic land concession.

“The Martin Ennals Award puts the spotlight on the continuing and escalating intimidation of human rights activists as well as epidemic land-grabbing in Cambodia. This award not only recognizes Venerable Loun Sovath’s work but also the courage of countless Cambodians who have decided to stand up and protect their right to land and housing. We strongly urge the Cambodian government to cease the harassment of land rights activists and other human rights defenders. The Cambodian government should also take all necessary steps to protect the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in Cambodia, guaranteed by both the Constitution of Cambodia and international human rights law binding on Cambodia”, said Mrs Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH president.

“Cambodia’s human rights record should be seriously scrutinized in the context of the country’s candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council this month”, Mrs Belhassen added.

The Martin Ennals Award, created in 1993 to honor and protect individuals who demonstrate exceptional courage in defending and promoting human rights, is a unique collaboration between ten of the world’s leading human rights organizations. The Jury is composed of Amnesty International, Diakonia, Frontline Defenders, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, HURIDOCS, International Commission of Jurists, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), International Service for Human Rights and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT).

For previous laureates and Patrons of the Martin Ennals Award, see:

FIDH briefing note on Cambodia, July 2012: “Cambodia: A Mounting Human Rights Crisis”

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