Global Human Rights Initiative Speak Truth to Power launched in Cambodia

By Chak Sopheap
Published on Future Challenges on March 02 2011

Global Human Rights Initiative Speak Truth to Power Launched in Cambodia with the main goal is to inspire the young to act as human rights defenders.

A multi-faceted program of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, ?Speak Truth to Power? was first launched on this February 23, 2011 at the Pannasastra University of Cambodia. Aiming at sharing experience of courageous human rights defenders from around the world to Cambodian community, the program, in cooperation with local Cambodian Civic Education organization CIVICUS, has received great attendance of key players. This ranges from the government?s human rights commissioner, prominent civil society human rights defenders, foreign diplomats, academia, media, and even the United Nations special rapporteur for human rights who were on his 10 day mission also present to gave a short but inspiring message along with others to large audience that are mainly students.

This remarkable launch aiming at promoting for more human rights respect and activism may alert message to both government and civil society actors on the current decline in the 2011 world freedom index surveyed by the Freedom House of which Cambodia, along with Afghanistan, Fiji, Indian Kashmir, Sri Lanka and Thailand, the countries in the Asia Pacific Region were observed being declined in term of political rights and civil liberties; while Philippines and Tonga improved.

With the main goal is to inspire the young to act as human rights defenders to fight for equality and democracy, Kerry Kennedy, a daughter of Robert F. Kennedy and president of the RFK center recalled her rational to the cause of human rights work and then inspired by her interview with many human rights defenders around the world such as Tibet?s Dalai Lama and South African activist Desmond Tutu.

With amusing start, Kerry provoked her own experience to be born along with many other her female siblings and less boy in the family, make herself feel of gender sensitivity already. Then she shared her disturbing feeling when knowing her good friend whose father was beating up the mother; her gay friend died alone of AIDS as he had not wanted to reveal his gender identity; her two friends were rapped. Her uncle, former US President John F. Kennedy and her father Robert F Kennedy was both assassinated. She then recalled this as a chaotic event for her life and she just did not know what to do with them and sadly said ?I was so confused.?

Ms Kennedy realized all these cases had been human rights abuses when she started internship with Amnesty International where she also learned the abuses of Salvadoran refugees in the US. ?But I also learned that all of the horrible things that had happened in my life were violations of international law. And that there were people in my country and around the world ? human rights defenders ? who were organized and were putting an end to these violations and that I could join them,? said Kennedy, reported by the Phnom Penh Post.

What remarkable speech that the government officials would feel uneasy during the launch was that she credited all efforts to bring the change of human rights respect from the end of slavery to basic human rights principles including freedom of speech to civil society organizations and mainly individual human rights defenders who can be simply be any anyone who stand up to speak for their own and community rights, not the government who implicitly hinder the works of those human rights activists.

This may reflect with the figure released by the Amnesty International for its 2010 Anual Report that at least 149 Cambodian activists has been arrested for their peaceful defense of the right to housing indicating how the criminal justice system has been used to silence people from advocating for their livelihood cause or community benefits. Also, Sithi.org, the first Cambodian human rights portal that crowd source human rights violation and resources, documented in the late 2010 of 10 journalists killed so far.

However, when reflecting to Cambodian context, Kennedy also alerted, as quoted by a local newspaper the Cambodia Daily, saying that ?as a journalist, or an activist, our job is to push, push, push and say this can be better, that should be better, what is wrong. It is important to look at what?s rights as well.?

Remarkably, the message from Surya Subedi, the UN special rapporteur for human rights, even weight the necessity and inspiring momentum for both existing and future to be human rights activists who may despair enough with ongoing human rights abuses such as unresolved land grabbing, freedom of expression and association restriction by using legal provisions and courts as mechanisms to silencing the voice of key pillars of democracy including parliamentarians, lawyers, human rights defenders, media and ordinary people. He says, as quoted from the Phnom Penh Post, ?the value of human rights education cannot be measured. Some of the work we do today may bring results tomorrow. Some of the work we do today may bring results in five years time. So we have to be persistent.?

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