The United States-based Robert F Kennedy Centre for Justice and Human Rights and the Cambodian civic education organisation CIVICUS launched an education programme in Phnom Penh yesterday designed to inspire students to become rights defenders.
Kerry Kennedy, a daughter of Robert F Kennedy and president of the RFK Center, recounted her own awakening to the cause of human rights in remarks at Pannasastra University before several hundred students.
She said a number of traumatic events during her youth had a deep impact on her.
The assassinations of her uncle, US President John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr and her father, Robert F Kennedy, as well as friends’ experiences of domestic violence, discrimination and rape, seemed “chaotic” and left her feeling powerless.
She was then introduced to the field of international law through an internship with Amnesty International, where she learned about abuses of Salvadoran refugees in the US.
“But I also learned that all of the horrible things that had happened in my life were violations of international law. And that there were people in my country and around the world – human rights defenders – who were organised and were putting an end to these violations, and that I could join them,” Kennedy said.
The project includes a curriculum for students and a photo exhibition at Meta House based on Kennedy’s book, which profiles human rights activists with photographs by the Pulitzer prize-winning American photographer Eddie Adams.
A play also based on Kennedy’s book will be performed at the Pannasastra University auditorium tonight at 5pm.
Surya Subedi, the United Nations special rapporteur for human rights, told students that human rights work takes a long-term commitment.
“The value of human rights education cannot be measured. Some of the work we do today may bring results tomorrow. Some of the work we do today may bring results in five years time,” he said. “So we have to be persistent.”