Young Cambodian activists honoured for environmental work
Mother Nature Cambodia has become the first-ever Cambodian organisation to be named a Right Livelihood laureate “for their fearless and engaging activism to preserve Cambodia’s natural environment in the context of a highly restricted democratic space.”
The award is widely known as an “Alternative Nobel,” created in 1980 due to the failure of the Nobel Foundation to distribute awards acknowledging excellence in the fields of environmental and social activism.
“Mother Nature Cambodia is a group of fearless young activists fighting for environmental rights and democracy in the face of repression by the Cambodian regime,” said Ole von Uexkull, Right Livelihood’s Executive Director, in a statement on the group. “Through innovative and often humorous protests, their activism defends nature and livelihoods, while upholding communities’ voices against corrupt and damaging projects. Despite arrests, legal harassment and surveillance, they continue to fight relentlessly for Cambodians’ environmental and civic rights.”
The group has stood out for its innovative use of viral videos, youth training and mobilisation in order to protect Cambodia’s environment and natural resources.
“Creativity and humorous campaigning keeps Mother Nature alive,” said Ly Chandaravuth, a Mother Nature activist. “Because of creativity, we manage to find a lot of youth who want to try new things, who want to do activism in a very active way.”
Its proudest moments include “preventing the Areng valley from being flooded by a Chinese hydropower dam and stopping anarchic sand mining in Koh Kong province,” said Thun Ratha, a Mother Nature activist, in a statement during the video announcing the organisation’s laureateship.
The organisation’s success has come at a high personal cost for its members. On Monday, a court barred three Mother Nature activists currently serving suspended prison sentences from travelling to Sweden to receive the reward from Right Livelihood. Eleven of the organisation’s activists have been jailed since 2015, and its founder, Alejandro Gonzalez-Davidson, was deported following the group’s successful campaign against the aforementioned dam. Mother Nature lost its status as an NGO in 2017 but persists as a network of dedicated activists.
“Many Cambodians will hear about Mother Nature Cambodia receiving this major international award and will realise that what we have been doing has not only been completely legal, but effective, too,” said Gonzalez-Davidson of the award in an interview with Mongabay. “Receiving this award will also act as a call for more young Cambodians to join the team, that’s for sure, as it will also add an element of ‘pride’ to being a part of the team.”