16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence: Phav Nherng

Published on November 29, 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 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 are publishing profiles of women who – despite many hardships – continue to speak out in solidarity with others to demand justice.

Phav Nherng (39) has been at the forefront of a decade-long struggle to secure land for hundreds of farmers in Koh Kong province, braving harassment, threats, and detention because of her activism on behalf of her community.

Nherng has lived in Prek Chik village, Sre Ambel distict in Koh Kong province, since 1979. Back then, she had to hide from Khmer Rouge soldiers while working her fields, travelling back to Prek Chik each night to remain safe.

The threat of Khmer Rouge soldiers was later replaced by legal challenges from powerful businessmen who fought for the land around Nherng’s village. In 2007 a tycoon Sok Kong laid claim to the land, and in 2009 another tycoon Heng Huy claimed to have won the right to it from Sok Kong in a Supreme Court decision.

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Phav Nherng speaks about her determination to stand alongside others who face the same repression.

Huy’s agricultural company wanted the land to plant sugarcane and supply Koh Kong Sugar Industry Co., owned by ruling party senator Ly Yong Phat. Sixty hectares of land around Nherng’s home were later cleared and planted with sugar cane, destroying the village’s wells in the process.

I want to send a message to other female rights activists and community members. Please don’t stay quiet.

The company also brought legal cases against Nherng, accusing her of intentionally damaging property. Nherng was placed under court supervision while awaiting trial on those charges, but despite legal intimidation and a visible police presence outside of her home, she has refused to back down and continues to advocate for her rights and the rights of her community.

“What encouraged me [to become an activist] is the suffering,” she said. “I want to do this work on behalf of others, to prevent them from facing the same problems I have faced. I want other people to understand and know how to protect themselves from being mistreated by companies.”

In 2016, Phav Nherng organised 538 families to travel to Phnom Penh and advocate for their rights, asking authorities to resolve the land dispute. As of March this year, 175 families have received compensation of three hectares and $2,500 each.

“I want to send a message to other female rights activists and community members. Please don’t stay quiet,” she said. “Society can offer justice only when people are able to unite and help each other.”

MP3 format: Listen to audio version in Khmer