Kambodscha: Chea Vannath

Not anymore will I allow only one party to lead my country.

— Chea Vannath

Chea Vannath (born 1948) is President of the Center for Social Development (CSD), which promotes school curricula on transparency, monitors the courts and parliament and organizes public debates on the Khmer Rouge tribunal, corruption and other issues. After the Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975, Chea was forced to work in labor camps before escaping to Thailand and on to the US. After living as a refugee in America for more than ten years, she returned to Cambodia in 1992 to participate in rebuilding her country.

Chea Vannath trudged muddy, mine-infested roads to flee to safety in 1980. The Vietnamese troops had just regained power from the Khmer Rouge and the life of her husband, a former major in the Cambodian army, was in jeopardy. So, they escaped to Thailand, from where they went to America. She worked in the US government’s refugee programs and obtained her Master’s degree in public administration at Portland State University. The UN-sponsored general election in 1992 brought her back to her homeland as a translator for the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (Untac). Post-election Cambodia saw international aid pouring into the country, raising concerns about corruption in a country where 36 per cent of the population live below the poverty line and the monthly income of government officials ranges from US$20 to 40. Chea decided to be involved in the monitoring of international aid through the Center for Social Development (CSD), which she now heads. Established in 1995, CSD coordinates the Coalition for Transparency Cambodia (CTC) that aims to eradicate corruption in the country. It was the driving force in the drafting of an anti-corruption law pending in parliament. Its monthly public fora, which tackle sensitive issues, provide a venue for public debate. Its monthly bulletin monitors and exposes the performance of key players in socio-economic and political spheres. Its "Parliamentary Watch" and "Court Watch" projects ensure the transparency and accountability of the legislature and the judiciary. The CSD’s human rights and anti-corruption activities have put it in the line of fire and its leader at grave risk. Yet, Chea is not discouraged. She says she can stand up to anybody. "What I am trying to do is beyond me. I do not do it for myself," she declares, adding that it is important that people are able to express their opinions.

Center for Social Development (CSD)