One of the four Cambodian human rights organizations that has begun operations since
the signing of the Paris accords is making a special effort to assist the development
of other Khmer non-governmental associations in an effort to foster the pluralistic
development of Cambodian society.
The Cambodian League for Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (known as LICADHO),
which is headed by Kek Galabru, has branched out beyond its own organizational mandate
to support the establishment of a variety of diverse associations.
Since its inception, LICADHO has given advice and administrative guidance to individuals
who have set up a Cambodian Students Association, a Rural Khmer Development Association,
an Association for Workers in Hotels and Restaurants, a Students of Art Association,
a Women's Association, and one dedicated to intellectuals who want a vehicle for
the discussion of ideas.
All this was made possible by the presence of UNTAC who released a set of guidelines
on the Rights of Association allowing any group to establish an organization for
"We help them to be independent," said Kek. "It is very important
for democracy." She added, "If people have an association they can pool
their resources. I want my people to become more free and independent. It is a unique
opportunity for us," she said in reference to the UNTAC environment which has
allowed individuals to form organizations. "We've even had Buddhist monks come
to us-more than 100-who want to form an association dedicated to Buddhist issues.
The Chams want to form one too," Kek said.
Many Cambodians who have been denied the right to associate independently in the
past two decades are coming to LICADHO for assistance on how to set up non-governmental
organizations, how to raise funds and how to lobby for collective purposes."We
let them use our computers and we give them advice," said Kek.
LICADHO, in and of itself, has engendered a membership of over 70,000 in the last
12 months. Their office is a beehive of activity, with staff processing hundreds
of new member applications daily.
To date LICADHO has 17 branch offices throughout the country. Their primary purpose
is to serve as an institution that will defend individual rights and freedoms. In
the short run they plan to ensure that the upcoming elections are free and fair.
In this regard they are training members to serve as non-partisan poll watchers to
be posted throughout the country.
After elections one of their primary goals is to set up a non-profit think tank focused
on the institutionalization of equitable judicial procedures.
"I want our government to have an independent judiciary," said Kek. "Its
the best way to protect individual rights."