In April this year, Cambodia’s Tep Vanny will travel to Washington D.C. to receive the Global Leadership Award.
It’s awarded to outstanding women for their work in strengthening democracy and protecting human rights.
Vanny has been a prominent figure in the fight against land evictions in Cambodia.
On a protest held to mark Human Rights Day, Tep Vanny is on the front line.
Behind her, there are around 400 protesters voicing their anger about recent land grabs in Cambodia.
Riot police were brought in to stop the demonstration.
“We live without respect for human rights. We live in sorrow and suffer oppression from the authorities. Give us justice and decent homes! You don’t support us and you don’t give us decent camps, but instead you arrest us and put us in jail. You must release our friends!”
Tep Vanny was the leader of Boeung Kak 13 – a group of 13 evicted women living around the Boeung Kak Lake.
Many of the evictions were without compensation.
Currently nearly 800 families are refusing to leave their properties around the lake.
The government has granted a lease to develop the area into a high-end commercial centre and housing project.
On May last year, 13 women including Tep Vanny, were imprisoned for peacefully protesting in support of evicted families during the forced land grab.
Human rights groups urged the international community to put pressure on the government to resolve their case.
The Cambodian Appeal Court released them a month later.
“The Appeal Court gives justice to my community, but we must continue the fight. The primary court verdict against us was not fair, and we can’t accept that.”
Tep Vanny is also a resident of Boeung Kak.
She’s now busy preparing documents and DVDs on the Boeung Kak protests for the Global Leadership Award that she will receive in Washington D.C. in April.
One of the photos shows Tep Vanny and other protesters holding large S.O.S signs printed with photos of US President Barack Obama and the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the ASEAN Summits.
“I want to tell American officials about the injustice and land grabbing in my community. I will tell them about my Boeung Kak struggle and that there are many land activists detained now in Cambodia. I want to call for American leaders to closely monitor democracy and respect for human rights in my country.”
The award will be a source of pride for Cambodian women activists, says social analyst Chea Vannat.
“It makes Cambodian women struggling for freedom feel proud. It shows that the fight for land rights is on the right path, as stated in the Constitution. And it shows that the women’s non-violent advocacy movement regards her as a freedom fighter.”
Tep Vanny’s husband Ou Sok Chea is a military officer at the Cambodia Defence Ministry.
He hopes that his wife’s fight can improve the human rights situation in the country.
“The international award will be a source of pride for my wife and our community. It shows that my wife’s and our community’s struggle for freedom for our housing rights is appreciated.”
Tep Vanny promises to continue the fight after the award.
“I will expand our advocacy campaign and network for housing rights, for democracy across the country, until our Boeung Kak community receives a fair resolution. I will not give up my struggle.”