The Venerable Luon Sovath in Geneva, next to a poster for the Martin Ennals Award, Oct. 2012.  Photo: Ryan Schlief

I am incredibly honored to announce that the Venerable Luon Sovath from Cambodia has just been presented the Martin Ennals Award  – an award given by 10 major human rights organizations to recognize those working at great risk for human rights.

Right now, the Venerable and I are in Geneva for the award ceremony. The Martin Ennals Award is regularly called the “Nobel Prize for Human Rights Defenders.”

The Venerable was one of three finalists. He was nominated by WITNESS and two international partner NGOs – Civil Rights Defenders and Freedom House –  primarily for his continuing support of communities affected by forced evictions and specifically for his use of video.

“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 the Venerable Sovath.

True to form, (the Venerable is sometimes referred to as “the multimedia monk”) he filmed portions of the ceremony this evening on his iPad.

Opening The Eyes of the World to Forced Evictions in Cambodia

A video of the Venerable being apprehended by security forces in May has reached more than 100,000 views.  The video was captured by our partners at LICADHO. It is one of three LICADHO videos this past year to reach more than 50,000 views and is now one of most watched created by a WITNESS partner.

But as we know views are not everything. The video was used to introduce viewers to more produced advocacy videos about the Venerable and forced evictions in Cambodia – several of which received spikes in views because of the apprehension video – as well as campaigns related to forced evictions, land grabbing and protecting the work of human rights defenders (HRDs) in the country.  Coordinated press releases, public statements and actions – online and offline in Cambodia and in other countries – went alongside these videos.

The safety of HRDs like the Venerable and community members (e.g. the Boeung Kak Lake 15/  BKL15) working on forced evictions in Cambodia have recently faced even more threats and attacks – physical, economic and legal.  The Venerable himself has come under increasingly intense threats and attacks – the apprehension video only tells part of the story.

The Venerable was featured in the new WITNESS video People Before Profit, released just this week, which documents the world-wide human rights abuses committed by forced evictions and land grabbing. Please watch it and share it.

More Work Lies Ahead

We are also using the opportunity of being in Geneva to bring greater attention to human rights, forced evictions and land grabbing, and the status of HRDs in Cambodia. It is also an opportunity to highlight forced evictions internationally. While here in Geneva, we will be participating in the Habitat Forum, organized by Amnesty International and others, where the Venerable will present the case of forced evictions at Boeung Kak Lake with video about the impact of development on Cambodian women at a civil society-led Forced Evictions Tribunal.

Without the dedication of the Venerable Sovath, our partner LICADHO and communities using video in Cambodia – audiences and officials in Geneva and elsewhere might never see the reality of human rights abuses in the Cambodia.  Even as LICADHO approaches a half million views, most of which have occurred in the last 12 months, it is both the the advocacy and the video together that is making the difference.

Thank you for your support and congratulations to the Venerable on the recognition of his important work!

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