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Comics, Monks Spread Human Rights Message

Comics, Monks Spread Human Rights Message

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

party.

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

in October.

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