The leader of a group of villagers protesting a forced eviction in the heart of Cambodia’s capital is traveling to Europe and the U.S. as part of a tour to promote a documentary film about a popular movement that defended citizens in one of the country’s largest land disputes.
Tep Vanny, who represents the residents of the Boeung Kak Lake community, boarded a plane Wednesday at Phnom Penh International Airport bound for Poland, where she will join Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua before heading to the Movies That Matter festival in The Hague in Netherlands.
At the festival, she will attend three screenings of the film “Even A Bird Needs a Nest” from March 22-24—a 70-minute documentary directed by Christine Chansou and Vincent Trintignant-Corneau, and produced by France-based Divali Films, which highlights her group’s fight for compensation for land grabbed from the villagers for a commercial development.
Protests over Boeung Kak Lake evictions have been ongoing since 2008, when the Chinese-Cambodian Shukaku Inc. began draining the lake to make way for a luxury residential development, drawing international attention to the country’s land development policies.
Mu Sochua told RFA’s Khmer Service Wednesday that the film will draw attention to the plight of the Boeung Kak evictees and other victims of land grabs across Cambodia.
“The documentary shows the realities of the struggles by the Boeung Kak and Borei Keila communities, who suffer forced evictions due to land concessions,” she said.
Residents of Borei Keila, also located in the capital, saw their homes demolished in 2011 to make way for a commercial real estate project.
Mu Sochua said that the documentary represents an opportunity for victims of land grabs to tell the world “the truth” about their situations.
“I think that even though the government wants to prevent the victims from expressing their views, the government can no longer do so,” she said.
“We don’t want any secret [land] development—we want development that all people can participate in.”
After visiting The Hague, Tep Vanny will travel to France to participate in an additional documentary screening and then head to Washington, where she will receive the Vital Voices’ Leadership in Public Life Award on April 2.
“She will be awarded for her bravery and struggle in demanding the return of land to her community,” said Mu Sochua, who nominated Tep Vanny for the honor. The rights activist was announced the winner of the award in November last year.
Vital Voices, which trains women leaders and social entrepreneurs around the world, was formed in 1997 by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton. Tep Vanny’s award is part of the organization’s annual Global Leadership Awards, which honor women working to strengthen democracy, increase economic opportunity, and protect human rights.
Bo Chorvy, another representative of the Boeung Kak community, welcomed the recognition of Tep Vanny’s work.
“The Boeung Kak community struggle is only one amongst many other struggles in Cambodia,” she said.
“We are very happy that Tep Vanny is receiving the award.”
Reported by Samean Yun for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.