On Saturday December 1, the City of Lowell and the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association will welcome the Venerable Luon Sovath, one of the world’s premier humanitarians and human rights activists to the Stoklosa Middle School.
On October 2, the Venerable Luon Sovath, a monk from Siem Reap Province was awarded the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in Geneva, Switzerland, for his crusade to defend the Cambodian people against forced evacuations conducted by the government in the name of economic development.
According to Cambodian human rights groups, more than 400,000 Cambodians have been forcibly evicted from their homes since 1993, as the government has turned more than two million hectares of land over to private development companies.
Private citizens have not been allowed to own land in Cambodia since the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s eliminated the nation’s land deeding system. Those who are forcibly evicted are often provided with minimal compensation, but not nearly enough to help them rebuild their lives.
On March 22, 2009 violence erupted between villagers and armed government troops in the Chikreng district of the Siem Reap Province; 100 rice farmers tending their crops were shot with rifles and 12 villagers were jailed.
The Venerable Luon Sovath’s brother and nephew were among those injured, spurring his passion to fight against these human rights abuses.
“In Cambodia, the protection of human rights activities is difficult work,” he said in a 2010 interview. “In our role as human rights defenders, we stood up – protesting, speaking, seeking answers. This exposes us; we face dangers such as jail, death, threats and intimidation.”
Since 2009, he has used video to document forcibly evacuations and peaceful demonstrations. He has been detained several times, received death threats and has been threatened by authorities to be expelled from his monastery and defrocked. Last May, he was arrested for protesting in front of a Phnom Penh courthouse where a dozen villagers were on trial for standing up for their rights.
“After I became a human rights defender in the community, I’ve sacrificed my time, money and personal interest. I’ve lost those things but in exchange I receive happiness, peace, confidence and hope; this is my satisfaction,” he said.
All are invited to meet the Venerable Luon Sovath for a discussion of recent human rights issues in Cambodia from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday December 1 at the Stoklosa Middle School, 560 Broadway St, Lowell. Refreshments and a light lunch will be served.
For more information contact Rithy Uong at 978-996-6969 or CMAA Executive Director Rasy An at 978-866-7333.