Cambodian Buddhist Monk - Nominated by Witness, Freedom House and Civil Rights Defenders - Is a Finalist for Human Rights Defenders Award

Text Box: NEWS RELEASEMedia Contacts:J. Coco Chang, WITNESS, jcoco@witness.orgSue Gunawardena-Vaughn, Freedom House, Brittis Edman, Civil Rights Defenders,


Media Contacts:
J. Coco Chang, WITNESS, [email protected]
Sue Gunawardena-Vaughn, Freedom House, [email protected]
Brittis Edman, Civil Rights Defenders, [email protected]





NEW YORK–April 24, 2012– Buddhist monk Venerable Luon Sovath is one of three finalists for the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for human rights defenders announced today in Geneva. The announcement event is being ‘broadcast’ live at 11am Geneva time (5am ET) at

Venerable Sovath was nominated for the award by WITNESS along with Freedom House and Civil Rights Defenders. Sometimes called “the Multimedia Monk,” he has worked with WITNESS in support of communities facing forced evictions throughout Cambodia.

Forced evictions are among the most widespread human rights abuses in the country. They remove families from their homes and lands with little or no notice, and often without compensation or alternative housing plans. In 2009, Venerable Sovath’s own village lost farmland in a dispute, leading to a stand-off in which police shot at the unarmed villagers, injuring his brother and nephew.

According to local human rights groups, an estimated 400,000 Cambodians have been affected by forced evictions or land grabs since 2003 in the wake of ostensible development projects, land disputes and illegal land confiscation.

Venerable Sovath is recognized for his innovative tactics – including the use of video, songs and art – to provide persistent, non-violent leadership for communities facing forced eviction. Because of his dedicated work, he is threatened with violence, arrest and defrocking. His peaceful approach as a human rights defender is crucial in mobilizing grassroots communities to demand their rights.

“On behalf of Cambodia, I am happy to be nominated for this award,” said Venerable Luon Sovath. “I am also 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.”

Venerable Sovath has been previously recognized by the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and in 2011, he received a Hellman/Hammett Award from Human Rights Watch. In 2010 Venerable Sovath also received the WITNESS “See It. Film It. Change It.” Award with WITNESS partner LICADHO.

Watch interviews of the Venerable Sovath talking about using video to document forced evictions in Cambodia: and

Created in 1993, the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders is granted annually to someone who has demonstrated an exceptional record of combating human rights violations by courageous and innovative means. The winner of the award is judged through a unique collaboration among ten of the world's leading human rights organizations: Amnesty International; Diakonie Germany; Front Line Defenders; Human Rights First; Human Rights Watch; HURIDOCS; International Commission of Jurists; International Federation of Human Rights; International Service for Human Rights; World Organization Against Torture. For further details see

The final recipient of the award will be announced at a special ceremony on October 2, 2012 in Geneva.


WITNESS is the global pioneer in the use of video to expose human rights abuses. We empower people to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice, promoting public engagement and policy change. Founded in 1992, WITNESS has partnered with more than 300 human rights groups in over 80 countries, trained over 3,000 human rights defenders, developed widely-used training materials and tools, and supported the inclusion of video in more than 100 campaigns, increasing their visibility and impact. Videos made by WITNESS and our partners have told dozens of critical human rights stories, and have galvanized grassroots communities, judges, activists, media, and decision-makers at local, national and international levels to action.

About Freedom House

Freedom House supports democratic change, monitors freedom, and advocates for democracy and human rights around the world. We support nonviolent civic initiatives in societies where freedom is denied or under threat and we stand in opposition to ideas and forces that challenge the right of all people to be free. Freedom House amplifies the voices of those fighting for freedom in repressive societies. We work directly with democracy and human rights advocates in their own countries and regions. We press the United States, other governments, international institutions and regional bodies to adopt consistent policies that advance human rights and democracy around the world.

About Civil Rights Defenders

Civil Rights Defenders is a human rights organisation based in Sweden. We defend people’s civil and political rights and empower human rights defenders at risk. We do this by scrutinising state authorities and demanding accountability when people’s rights have been violated. We support human rights defenders with training, resources and expertise – to protect the space in which they act and to strengthen their performance. We conduct lobbying and advocacy work aimed at national and international decision makers. In countries with authoritarian regimes, we amplify independent voices through alternative media to promote discussion and debate.