16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence: Tep Vanny

Published on November 26, 2018

To mark the international campaign 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence (25 November – 10 December) LICADHO is highlighting women land campaigners and human rights defenders (HRDs) who face state violence in Cambodia.

At least a half a million Cambodians have lost their land and homes in forced evictions over the last two decades and women have been at the forefront of peaceful protests demanding justice and fair compensation. Their activism has often been met with violent attacks by security forces as well as judicial harassment and arbitrary detention.

Over the 16 days, we will publish profiles of women who – despite many hardships – continue to speak out in solidarity with others to demand justice.

We start with Tep Vanny (38), who has been at the forefront of Boeung Kak Lake community’s fight against forced evictions in Phnom Penh as well as being a fervent defender of human rights.

Vanny was jailed in August 2016 and later sentenced to 30 months in prison for a series of trumped-up charges related to peaceful protests. It was the fourth time she had been jailed and was by far the longest sentence. She was released in September 2018 during a swathe of pardons granted to political prisoners.

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Tep Vanny message on the situation of women HRDs

Vanny was propelled into activism in 2010 by the municipal council’s refusal to offer reasonable compensation or relocation options to more than 4,000 Boeung Kak Lake families – forcefully evicted to make way for an inner-city development linked to a ruling party senator.

“The numbers gradually grew as people started to understand that we were fighting for our children’s futures,” she wrote in a recent article.

Women have been at the forefront of the Boeung Kak Lake movement, leading marches and delivering petitions to government ministries despite regular arrests and violence from security forces.

In 2013, Vanny travelled to Washington D.C. to accept the Global Voices Award which raised her profile as an internationally recognised human rights defender.

We are willing to risk everything to defend our homes and land… We are innocent people who do not do illegal things.

Buoyed by these small victories, she began to protest on others’ behalf. When four human rights NGO officers and an election official were arbitrarily detained, Vanny joined with others in the so-called “Black Monday” protests to campaign for their release.

Despite the hardship she has endured and Cambodia’s worsening human rights situation she is determined to keep fighting for justice.

“I still worry about my safety and that of my family. I feel unsafe even though I am free. Government spies continue to follow me,” she recently wrote.

“We are willing to risk everything to defend our homes and land… We are innocent people who do not do illegal things. I think this means that success is waiting for us in the future - if we are prepared to struggle to reach our destination,” she added.

MP3 format: Listen to audio version in Khmer