Cambodia is currently experiencing what some analysts are calling the greatest threat to its democracy in a generation. In the last year, government critics have been rounded up and arrested under flimsy charges. In July 2016, Cambodian activist and analyst Kem Ley was gunned down in broad daylight, almost certainly in retribution for his outspoken criticism of the government. And just last month, Cambodia’s long-reigning exiled opposition party head Sam Rainsy stepped down from the party’s leadership role amidst threats by Prime Minister Hun Sen to dissolve the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) altogether. Throughout it all, Cambodia’s people continue to suffer, particularly rural and indigenous communities impacted by mega-development projects in the north of the country, including industrial land confiscations and massive hydropower dam projects. Sek Sophorn, a Phnom Penh-based human rights lawyer with more than a decade of experience working with some of Cambodia’s most marginalized populations, will share his unique perspective on Cambodia’s kleptocratic politics and where the country might be headed with new commune elections on the horizon in 2017 and national elections scheduled for 2018.
Sek Sophorn is the founder of Rights and Business Law Office, a Phnom Penh-based law firm specializing in the promotion of social justice, human rights, and rule of law. Under Sophorn’s lead, R&B has focused on the legal protection of the collective rights of indigenous people in Cambodia’s northeast. Sophorn is currently serving as mediator on a high profile land rights case in Cambodia’s Ratanakiri Province being negotiated by the World Bank. Until 2016, Sophorn also served as National Project Coordinator with the International Labor Organization in Cambodia, where he worked for 10 years on the ILO’s indigenous land rights program, and assisted more than 95 indigenous communities to become legally recognized by the Cambodian government.