CAMBODIAN MONK BRINGS HIS ACTIVISM TO MONTREAL’S KHMER COMMUNITY

Posted by: | Posted on: February 25, 2012

Op-Ed: luonsovath.blogspot.com

“The more they stop me, the more I am strong and stand up. Again and again, more and more,” he said.

On Saturday, Sovath called on Canadians to support land activists and victims, not just with donations, but also through advocacy and petitions to the Canadian government. Sovath’s message of peaceful action resounded through the audience.

“Before, when I was small, I wanted to do something, but I was too scared and I felt alone, so I was discouraged and I lost hope,” said Sarom Om, a Khmer Canadian living in Montreal for 29 years. “If we see someone who stands up, who has confidence, that will help people who want to stand up and help and it will continue like that.”


REPORTED BY

Cambodian monk and human rights activist Venerable Loun Sovath speaks to the Khmer Canadian community at Wat Buddha Sodhara in Montreal. Photo by Heather Stilwell.

REPORTED ON February 25, 2012

Long ago in the foothills of the Himalayas, a young Prince Siddhartha left the safety of his palace and set off on a journey to overcome suffering. Upon realizing that the root of all suffering was greed, the newly enlightened Buddha dedicated his life to teaching compassion and sympathy to others.

More than 2,500 years later, a Cambodian monk is adding a modern twist to a journey of his own.

Venerable Loun Sovath maintains that Buddhism, human rights, and democracy are intertwined philosophies. He is an outspoken activist, documentary filmmaker, and poet – and earlier this month he boarded a plane to deliver his message of peace to Canada.

“It is very difficult working for human rights and democracy in Cambodia,” said Sovath in Montreal. “I came here because I want Khmer people in solidarity to help each other.”

Sovath is well known among Khmer Canadians, many of whom left Cambodia as early as 1975 to escape the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. Last Saturday at Wat Buddha Sodhara in Saint Laurent, Sovath spoke to Montrealers about Buddhism, human rights issues in Cambodia, and a monk’s role in fighting injustice.

“I’ve never ever seen such an inspirational speech like this,” said event organizer Samnang Chuop. “People can listen to him talk for hours and hours.”

Sovath spoke in particular about corporate land acquisitions and violent forced evictions in Cambodia – an escalating problem as the country rapidly develops.

Few Cambodians have official titles for their land, a legacy of the Khmer Rouge who outlawed land ownership in 1975. As a result, land disputes are common and often result in evictions to make way for urban development or agro-business.

While some of the evicted are compensated, rights groups like Amnesty International continue to document violent evictions and the detainment of protestors, often women and children. On Jan. 26, Cambodian human rights organization LICADHO reported at least five incidents in which armed forces opened fire during protests in the two months prior.

Sovath became personally invested in the land issue after police shot and injured both his brother and nephew during a land dispute in Chi Kreng community, Siem Reap Province in 2009. Four days later he had already produced a documentary on the issue and was using it “to educate the people to know the power of themselves.”

Though his activism is peaceful, Sovath continues to be threatened by government and police officials. Even high-ranking religious officials claim he is violating the monastic code. He is banned from all pagodas and is in danger of being defrocked. Still, Sovath continues his work tirelessly.

“The more they stop me, the more I am strong and stand up. Again and again, more and more,” he said.

On Saturday, Sovath called on Canadians to support land activists and victims, not just with donations, but also through advocacy and petitions to the Canadian government. Sovath’s message of peaceful action resounded through the audience.

“Before, when I was small, I wanted to do something, but I was too scared and I felt alone, so I was discouraged and I lost hope,” said Sarom Om, a Khmer Canadian living in Montreal for 29 years. “If we see someone who stands up, who has confidence, that will help people who want to stand up and help and it will continue like that.”

“I’ve lived in Canada 20 years. I love this country,” said Sok Siven. “I want my Cambodia, my Khmer people, to have a life like me in Canada also.”

Sovath’s Canadian trip will include stays in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Ottawa.

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