In the 1970s the Khmer Rouge left around 1.7 million people dead in Cambodia (about a quarter of the population). The country’s tragic history continues to haunt its people. They have inherited a legacy of widespread trauma as a result of decades of both injustice and impunity for perpetrators of violence, land grabbing, and illicit resource extraction.

Since the late 1990’s when multi-national companies were first granted logging rights and land concessions by the government, deforestation, loss of habitat and soil degradation have all had a devastating impact on Cambodia’s rural communities. The lack of practical options open to communities and local human rights organisations to hold the government and private sector companies to account has led to serious land disputes and conflicts between companies and local communities.

Local organisations concerned with the defence of the fundamental rights and freedoms of some of the country’s poorest and most marginalised citizens face an uphill struggle. They often lack the professional skills to manage their work and to engage with authorities, and they face significant threats to their own well-being and personal security when publicly demonstrating against actions by the government that they consider undermine the rights of Cambodian citizens.

In 2015 Cord launched the Strengthening the Defence of Human Rights project (SDHR), in response to this challenging context. This project involves providing training to local human rights organisations so that they can more effectively plan and manage their work, articulate and represent the needs of the country’s poorest and most marginalised citizens, and communicate with and win the trust of government contacts that have a responsibility to meet these needs. This work is helping these organisations to become more confident in their ability to raise the concerns of communities affected by issues such as violence, land grabbing, and illicit resource extraction with the government, in ways that are peaceful and non-confrontational.

It has also involved providing local organisations with opportunities to network and share experiences with their peers in Myanmar. Cord has then gone on to provide some of these local organisations with small grants to help them put their new skills into practice with a degree of autonomy, allowing them to become increasingly confident and self-sufficient.