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Chan Soveth, Human Rights Defender, Dies at 51

Mr. Chan Soveth, left, Department Chief of Investigation Unit of Adhoc and Mrs. Un Sophy, a representative of Lor Peang Community in Kampong Chhnang province.

Chan Soveth, a longtime human rights defender, died of a heart attack on Wednesday.

Colleagues say he was returning from celebrations to mark International Human Rights Day. He was 51.

Ny Chakrya, lead investigator for the rights group Adhoc, where Chan Soveth worked, recalled that even on his wedding day, he took time out to investigate a rights abuse case.

“That’s a real human rights defender,” Ny Chakrya said. “That’s why we are tremendously regretful of the loss.”

Chan Soveth was a fearless voice for those who faced rights abuses in Cambodia. He was an important figure in the field, who worked on key issues for years and was a mentor to a younger generation of rights workers. Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, called him a “pioneer.”

He worked despite threats by the courts and other authorities, said Am Sam Ath, monitoring supervisor for the rights group Licadho. “He was not afraid to do his work, and he still helped people victimized by violations of human rights and land abuses. He was an important human resource to help the country, to help defend the freedom of the people.”