Kambodscha: Pung Chhiv Kek Galabru

Courage means to brave intimidation in order to do something for the people.

— Pung Chhiv Kek Galabru

Kek Galabru (born 1942) is one of Cambodia’s foremost defenders of human rights. After studying medicine in France and practicing it while following her diplomat husband to various posts abroad, she became instrumental in achieving political peace in her country. In 1992, she founded the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (Licadho), which she heads at great personal risk. Licadho educates the people on their democratic rights and provides defense in court for victims of torture, domestic violence and police attacks.

Kek Galabru looks like a queen, slim and erect in her long blue silk dress. In fact, her parents, both teachers and later government ministers, were friends of the royal family. This enabled her to play a key role in opening negotiations between Cambodia’s Prime Minster, Hun Sen, and opposition leader, Prince Sihanouk, which led to the Paris Peace Accords of 1991. But Dr Kek Galabru is mainly dedicated to grassroots work. The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (Licadho), which she founded in 1992 and continues to direct, has offices in half of Cambodia’s provinces, with 1000 collaborators, mostly volunteers. Its first self-given task is to educate people to vote freely, disregarding the threats of the ruling party. One of its main activities is to represent victims of domestic or police violence – mainly women, children, opposition leaders, teachers, social workers and members of NGOs – in court, where it has won about a third of its cases. It also fights the massive illegal logging condoned by the corrupt government and the army. Above all, it teaches people their rights through classes, comic books, TV and radio programs and theater productions. As Kek says, "The mere fact of our presence makes a difference." And she keeps fighting in spite of serious threats against her person and a brutal attack on one of her two daughters engaged in the same causes. Her definition of courage is, "To do something for the people in spite of the intimidation." No wonder the taxi-driver had no problem finding her modest office in Phnom Penh: Everybody in Cambodia knows Licadho.

Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (Licadho)