An influential new non-political organization plans to use cartoons and monks to
inform grass-roots Cambodians about human rights.
The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights-one of three
human rights groups set up since the signing of the peace pact-is also helping different
social sectors set up free associations. It is helping five groups-workers, women,
students, farmers and intellectuals/professionals-draft statutes for their independent
and non-political representative bodies.
"We think that after UNTAC leaves in a year we could have trouble," said
League President Kek Galabru, adding that the new associations could act as a kind
of safety valve by spreading human rights messages.
Other innovative and important projects include setting up a team of 500 Cambodian
observers to monitor next year's elections and formation of a high-powered think
tank to promote human rights after the polls.
The league also wants to start issuing a regular journal in November covering human
rights, the peace process, and overseas news.
But the most important work of the League-which claims an impressive nationwide membership
of 3,000 with applications coming in daily-will be informing ordinary Cambodians
about the alien concept of human rights.
Galabru says that monks and the teachers trained in Phnom Penh will play a key role
by distributing 500,000 copies of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights translated
into Khmer and presented in cartoon form.
"The importance of the monkhood and Buddhism, all but extinguished under Khmer
Rouge rule, cannot be overstressed and many people see the two as the only rocks
and trustworthy things in a precarious existence," Galabru said. 'The monks
will tell them that human rights and Buddhism are really the same principle."
Senior monks will also play a leading role in the "think tanks" planned
for after the elections.
The body will also include eminent Cambodian and overseas human rights activists
and specialists, with its primary function being to advise a post-election government's
new legislation and constitutional amendments.
Cambodia's three Phnom Penh-based human rights organizations, with a combined membership
of close to 10,000, stress the non-political nature of their work but it is likely
that many people see them as a more attractive alternative to membership of a political
The League was set up last January in Paris by a group of French and Cambodians,
including relatives of Prince Norodom Sihanouk. The group started working here after
receiving permission from the Phnom Penh regime last May.
It has strong links with the European Economic Community (EEC) and lists an impressive
list of honorary members from France, including former foreign minister and EEC Chief
Claude Cheysson, three other former ministers, two Nobel Prize winners, and an advisor
to President Francois Mitterand.
The League presented a report to the EEC in June seeking funds and got the thumbs
up about a month ago, with the EEC agreeing to put up 200,000 ECUs which will arrive