A photograph of a woman. Next to the photograph are some flowers.

Human Rights Defender in Cambodia Receives This Year's Per Anger Prize

24 April, 2024

The Swedish Government's International Human Rights Award, the Per Anger Prize, for 2024 is awarded to Sithar Chhim from Cambodia. She is the chairperson of the LRSU labor union, which is supported by Diakonia's partner organization Central. LRSU fights for the rights of workers, especially women's rights, at one of Cambodia's largest hotel and casino complexes.

Sithar Chhim cannot attend the award ceremony in Stockholm next week to receive the Per Anger Prize for her fight for workers' rights in Cambodia. Because for over 500 days, she has been imprisoned for her fight for the respect for rights already enshrined in the constitution.

"Space and rights taken from people are not given back. It doesn't work that way. We must demand our rights; we must TAKE them," Sithar Chhim says through a colleague at LRSU.

Supporting and highlighting Sithar Chhim's struggle with this year's Per Anger Prize is important and welcome. Both for her personal safety and for the continued work for human rights in Cambodia. In practice, Cambodia is a one-party state, but it wants to appear to outside world as a legitimate, democratic government according to it country constitution. At the same time, human rights violations have increased significantly. The world seeing the abuses committed and pushing for human rights to be respected matters.

The opportunities to support oneself under humane and dignified conditions are limited. For ten years, Sithar Chhim has mobilized colleagues to engage in trade union work to demand fair wages and working conditions together. Many have been subjected to reprisals, and some have been dismissed. Sithar Chhim herself has been continuously harassed and persecuted by both local authorities and her own employer, the NagaWorld casino complex. She has been sued for money and imprisoned several times. Yet she refuses to give up.

Sweden's targeted aid to Cambodia ends

At the same time as Sithar Chhim receives the Per Anger Prize, the Swedish government is phasing out targeted aid to Cambodia. Mattias Brunander, Secretary-General of Diakonia, is critical:

"The consequence will be that many organizations will completely have to shut down their operations, which will significantly weaken the work for human rights in Cambodia at a time when the situation is becoming increasingly worse. The Swedish government and parliament must act responsibly. Sweden's aid to Cambodia's civil society spans three decades. It would be a waste of our collective efforts and investments to abruptly end this support. We should not betray our principles, especially not when the cost is so high, as in Sithar Chhim's case. We have a moral obligation to stand up for, and not abandon, human rights defenders in Cambodia when they are at their toughest," he says.

Since Sithar Chhim is in prison, Sovathin Mam, a representative from LRSU, and Tharo Khun, a representative from Diakonia's partner organization CENTRAL, will instead come to Sweden to receive the award.

A closeup of a smiling Cambodian father next to his young daughter.

Diakonia's work in Cambodia

In Cambodia, Diakonia supports a variety of local and national non-governmental organizations working on human rights, democracy, gender equality, good governance, and social and economic justice.