October 2, 2012
Jenny Coco Chang
718.783.2000 ext. 316
Multimedia Cambodian Monk Wins International Human Rights Defenders Award
GENEVA–October 2, 2012–Buddhist monk Venerable Luon Sovath has been presented the prestigious Martin Ennals Award (MEA) for human rights by 10 internationally-recognized human rights organizations in Geneva today.
Venerable Sovath, who was one of three nominees for the award, was given the MEA for his work in support of Cambodian communities facing forced evictions. His win also brings attention to the importance of addressing global forced evictions often faced by marginalized communities all around the world.
[ award photos ]
“I am so happy to see that Cambodia does have the support of the international community, who can truly help us achieve more rights and freedom, especially for poor communities that are having their homes forcibly taken by the government,” said Venerable Luon Sovath.
The MEA, which is known as the Nobel Prize for Human Rights Defenders, is usually given to individuals who have worked at great risk for human rights. Venerable Sovath has been recognized for his innovative tactics – including the use of video, songs and art – to provide persistent, non-violent leadership for communities facing forced evictions. Because of his dedicated work, he is continually threatened with violence, arrest and defrocking. His peaceful approach as a human rights defender is crucial in mobilizing grassroots communities to demand their rights.
Never seen without his camera, mobile phone or laptop, Venerable Sovath has become known as the “Multimedia Monk” and was nominated for the award by WITNESS along with Freedom House and Civil Rights Defenders back in April.
“For winning the Martin Ennals Award, the Venerable and many communities across Cambodia received international recognition that they do not stand alone. A clear message has been sent to government leaders, businesses and lenders, in Cambodia or in fact anywhere, that they cannot commit human rights abuses in the name of progress and development,” said Ryan Schlief, Program Manager for the Forced Evictions Campaign at WITNESS.
Forced evictions are among the most widespread human rights abuses in the country. They remove families from their homes and lands with little or no notice, and often without compensation or alternative housing plans. In 2009, Venerable Sovath’s own village lost farmland in a dispute, leading to a standoff, in which security forces fired at the unarmed villagers, shooting his brother and nephew.
According to local human rights groups, an estimated 400,000 Cambodians have been affected by forced evictions or land grabs since 2003 in the wake of ostensible development projects, land disputes and illegal land confiscation.
While in Geneva, the Venerable plans to bring greater attention to human rights, forced evictions, land grabbing and the status of human rights defenders in Cambodia. He already participated in the Habitat Forum, organized by Amnesty International and others, where he presented the case of forced evictions at Boeung Kak Lake with avideo about the impact of development on Cambodian women at a civil society-led Forced Evictions Tribunal.
Venerable Sovath has been previously recognized by the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and in 2011, he received a Hellman/Hammett Award from Human Rights Watch. In 2010 Venerable Sovath also accepted the WITNESS “See It. Film It. Change It.” Award with WITNESS partner LICADHO.
Released this week, the Venerable was featured in the new WITNESS video, People Before Profit, which documents the world-wide human rights abuses committed by forced evictions and land grabbing.
About Martin Ennals Award
Created in 1993, the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders is granted annually to someone who has demonstrated an exceptional record of combating human rights violations by courageous and innovative means. The winner of the award is judged through a unique collaboration among ten of the world’s leading human rights organizations: Amnesty International; Diakonie Germany; Front Line Defenders; Human Rights First; Human Rights Watch; HURIDOCS; International Commission of Jurists; International Federation of Human Rights; International Service for Human Rights; World Organization Against Torture.www.martinennalsaward.org.