16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence: Sor SornPublished on December 7, 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 are publishing profiles of women who – despite many hardships – continue to speak out in solidarity with others to demand justice.
Sor Sorn (58) has faced repeated harassment, arrests and detentions for protesting against the violent forced eviction of Borei Keila community in Phnom Penh. She has also been arrested on multiple occasions during peaceful protests supporting jailed human rights defenders, notably during the Black Monday campaign in 2016 and 2017 and while protesting for the release of fellow activist Tep Vanny.
Every time I protest, I expect to be arrested, beaten or threatened.
“Every time I protest, I expect to be arrested, beaten or threatened. But I do it for our house. We have to get a house for our children,” she said. “We don’t have any better option than this. We need to live near jobs, schools and hospitals.”
Sorn’s activism began in 2011 when a politically-connected construction company reneged on a deal to re-house hundreds of families who were being forcibly evicted to make way for a high rise housing development.
When the families refused to move, the company demolished their homes a year later, backed by a violent security force operation that injured at least a dozen people and saw eight protesters arrested. Sorn and others remained living and protesting in makeshift accommodation beside the ruins of their homes adjacent to a rubbish dump.
“We’ve had to live separated from our families as we had no homes to stay in. They bulldozed our homes. Our children had to stay [with relatives] in the provinces. They did not go to school regularly. We’ve had no income,” she said.
Over the years most of the families have been threatened, coerced and forcibly moved to sites outside the city lacking basic sanitation and far from schools and employment opportunities.
But Sorn remains firm in her commitment to continue demanding fair compensation for Borei Keila families, and supporting other forcibly evicted communities, despite what she describes as worsening surveillance and harassment since the political crackdown started in 2017.
Whenever communities hold social activities, authorities watch closely and ask questions, leaving no space for them to campaign.
“Whenever communities hold social activities, authorities watch closely and ask questions, leaving no space for them to campaign,” she said. “But I can't stop fighting for justice as I have seen injustice occurring everywhere in the country.”
“People have to help each other when they face difficulties. I’ve been inspired when other communities helped me when I faced arrest, threats and intimidation.”
MP3 format: Listen to audio version in Khmer