Saturday, June 24, 2006

Kek Galabru - human rights activist

One of the leading lights in fighting the cause of human rights in Cambodia is Kek Galabru, the 64 year old head of LICADHO (Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights). Her elegant style, diplomacy skills, fluency in French, English and Khmer, and extremely active schedule make her a powerhouse for human rights and a constant critic of the government. But she's honest about the difficulties in raising awareness of people's rights. "If you look at all the problems in Cambodia at once, you cannot work. Like you build a house, you build it brick by brick. If one day you save only one victim, be happy for a day. The next day, save two. Don’t look for quantity, look for quality. It will take a long time to advance human rights, but we keep moving."

While Cambodia's civil war was raging in the 80s, Galabru, a Cambodian living abroad, arranged negotiations between the main parties that eventually led to the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1991. In the wake of the peace agreement, she recalls, "my parents, my husband, two of my daughters and I decided to set up a human rights organisation to monitor the situation of the Khmer Rouge." LICADHO was founded in 1992, one of the first human rights organizations.

LICADHO promotes human rights, with a special emphasis on women’s and children’s rights, monitors violations, and disseminates educational information about rights. During the 1993 elections, they taught voting procedures to sixteen thousand people, trained nearly 800 election observers, and produced and distributed one million voting leaflets. Since then, they have continued to monitor abuses, provide medical care, legal aid, and advocacy to victims, as well as to offer direct assistance to victims of human rights violations.

Galabru's family is well connected. Her parents were both members of the government in the Sihanouk regime, her mother was a member of parliament and the first woman minister, her father was until recently a member of the Constitutional Council. Galabru herself began studying medicine in France in 1960, returning in 1968 to work in the public hospital in Phnom Penh. At the time of the 1970 coup, she was married to a French diplomat so they returned to France and she continued her work in Canada, Brazil and Angola before her return in 1992.

To read about the work of LICADHO, go to: http://www.licadho.org/.

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