PHNOM PENH —
President Barack Obama in a speech Tuesday honored two Cambodian rights workers.
One was Chut Wutty, an activist who was shot to death by security guards in 2012 while leading journalists through the forest of Koh Kong province, where illegal logging is rife. The other was Chok Sopheap, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, a prominent activist.
“We could not be prouder of you, and we stand with you,” Obama said, at a speech in New York to honor global human rights workers, at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting.
Obama warned of a “growing crackdown on civil society,” worldwide. “And around the world, brave men and women who dare raise their voices are harassed and attacked and even killed,” Obama said. “So today, we honor those who have given their lives. Among them, in Cameroon, Eric Lembembe; in Libya, Salwa Bugaighis; in Cambodia, Chut Wutty; in Russia, Natalia Estemirova.”
Chut Wutty was a 48-year-old active forest advocate who died after an altercation with police and security guards on a road in Koh Kong, where illegal logging is widespread.
Obama also honored Chak Sopheap, who was present at the event. “Sopheap saw a fellow human rights advocate hauled off by the police, and she could have fled, too, but she says she’s never thought of leaving Cambodia even for a minute,” Obama said. “So she keeps organizing and marching and mobilizing youth to demand justice. And she says: ‘I dream that Cambodian citizens can enjoy the freedoms that they are entitled to.’ We could not be prouder of you, and we stand with you.”
In Cambodia, Chhouey Udom Reaksmey, the 21-year-old son of Chut Wutty, said he felt proud his father was honored by the US president. He suggested the president keep an eye on human rights abuses and deforestation that are still ongoing in Cambodia.