Venerable Luon Sovath, a Cambodian Buddhist monk and human rights activist, has been arrested, banned from his monastery and threatened with expulsion from his order for his activism in documenting and supporting cases of evictions and land-grabbing in Cambodia.
“Lands grabbed by companies and authorities affect my family and the entire community. The victims suffer dramatic injustice” he said. “When I see all these problems I really want this society to change”, he added.
Luon Sovath uses hidden recorders and camera phones to document the suffering of people who are forced to leave their homes. “We want to create independent news, accurate information and evidence,” he said.
In recognition of his work, on 2 October 2012, he was awarded the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.
Named after the late British lawyer who became the first head of the human rights organisation Amnesty International, the Geneva-based Martin Ennals rights award is granted annually to a person who has an exceptional record of fighting against human rights violations.
“In speaking out on behalf of the poor, particularly those in rural areas who are currently facing evictions and land-grabbing, the Venerable has taken great risks,” said UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kyung-wha Kang at the award ceremony. “Our Office has provided him with protection on a number of occasions: intervening with the authorities, both religious and civil, when his rights to freedom of movement or of expression have been curtailed,” she added.
“Today,” she added “we also celebrate the Venerable’s wisdom and unwavering determination, which has been a source of courage for many in Cambodia, and we hope that he will continue to inspire others through his advocacy and activism.”
Award nominees also included Nasrin Sotoudeh, an Iranian woman, a lawyer and a prominent human rights activist who is in prison for her human rights work. UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay has pressed for Nasrin’s release many times with the Iranian authorities, both publicly and privately.
Nabeel Rajab, another nominee and Director of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights is also in prison, as a consequence of the criminalization of his human rights activities. Pillay has called for the release of Nabil Rajab while criticizing the harsh sentences against human rights defenders in Bahrain.
The Martin Ennals award “recognizes the exceptional work of women and men who strive day-to-day for the defence of human rights and fundamental freedoms often at their own risk,” said Kyung-wha Kang.
12 October 2012