Cambodian land rights activist Yorm Bopha was imprisoned for 444 days before her release in January this year. The former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience made her first trip to the U.S. last month to receive the James Lawson Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Practice of Nonviolent Action for her leadership in a resistance campaign against forced evictions by the Cambodian government in Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak Lake community. During her visit to Washington, Bopha also met with nongovernmental organizations, activists from other countries, and the U.S. State Department and told RFA’s Khmer Service that she planned to use the experiences to continue the fight for her community.
My [June 13-25] trip here has been a huge success. I met with many activists who are facing the same issues in other countries, including advocates and lawyers. I have learned from them and also shared our experiences.
[While meeting with NGOs and the State Department] we talked about the forced eviction at Boeung Kak and other communities across Cambodia, as well as human rights violations, the garment factory workers who were killed [when police fired on strikers calling for a higher minimum wage in January] and other social injustices. We talked about the U.S. State Department’s ability to pressure Cambodia’s government into respecting human rights and carefully considering any development plans to avoid forced evictions that will ruin people’s lives.
Land issues are spreading across the country. People have been arrested and imprisoned, while others have been assaulted or forced to endure other social injustices, making us the victims of these kinds of development.
I am happy to receive this award, but many others are happy, too. Previously, [Boeung Kak activist] Tep Vanny received an award, as well. These are big honors and send a message that the U.S. and other countries believe Cambodia has violated the human rights of its people and that the government is going in the wrong direction.
This is also a recognition that the Boeung Kak community has fought forced eviction through nonviolent means and complied with local and international laws. The Boeung Kak community has participated in our campaigns because we have observed that Cambodia has committed massive human rights violations and social injustices. In a show of unity, we are demanding our rights and a real democracy.
I will bring my experiences in the U.S. to share with the Cambodian people and other activists. I want to show them that we have received overwhelming support. [NGOs] are aware of the problems in Cambodia, but after my visit they will know even more about them. I hope that when I return to Cambodia we will be able to change the situation in Boeung Kak.
Reported by Samean Yun for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.