The former president of the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Kem Sokha, was awarded the Asian Human Rights Peace Prize last week by the National Council of Churches of Korea for his efforts to promote human rights and democracy in Cambodia.
The award ceremony took place in Gwangju, South Korea, on Friday with Mu Sochua, a former CNRP deputy president, and Nhoy Chamrouen, a former opposition lawmaker, receiving it on behalf of Sokha, who is in jail and facing trial for “treason”.
Gwangju is the city where a crackdown on people protesting a coup left hundreds dead over a nine-day period in 1980. The event has become known as the May 18 Democratic Uprising or the May 18 Massacre.
“Kem Sokha, the President of the Cambodian National Rescue Party, we praise you for your devotion for the persecuted Cambodian people to promote human rights and democracy,” the award certificate, written by Kim Kwang-un, the chairman of the National Council of Churches in Gwangju, reads.
But Katta On, a member of the government’s Cambodian Human Rights Committee, said he was surprised by the award and that it was insignificant as it is only awarded by a religious organisation.
Aung San Suu Kyi, president of the League for Democracy party in Myanmar, was awarded the prize in 2004.
Sokha has been in jail since September 2017 when he was arrested and charged with treason. He previously headed the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and was president of the Human Rights Party before it merged with the Sam Rainsy Party to form the CNRP in 2012, ahead of the 2013 national elections.
Sochua thanked the people of South Korea for Sokha’s award. “The [recognition from the] people of Korea, in particular of Gwangju, the birthplace of people uprising against a military regime, is extremely significant to the people of Cambodia living under a dictatorship,” Sochua said on Sunday.
However, Katta On said Cambodia is approaching the election season and that the government doesn’t care about such awards.
“We are focused on developing the country, respecting the law and human rights in whatever way to ensure the elections go smoothly, in order to serve the citizens’ will. I hope that the situation in Cambodia will continue to improve after the election,” he said.