Hang Chenda: “I dream of seeing a Cambodia that is governed by the rule of law. I want justice and real democracy, and environmental sustainability.”
Hang Chenda has spent her life fighting for justice for those who have been unfairly evicted from their land and to end the environmental damage that accompanies it.
Chenda grew up in Ouorknha Heng commune, Prey Nub district, in Preah Sihanouk province. She lived with her father, an Officer at the Department of Public Works and Transportation, and her mother, a housewife, along with two brothers and four sisters. In 1980, she commenced her study in “Pum Kampenh”, a primary school in Preah Sihanouk province. However, given the family’s limited financial resources and her many siblings, Chenda ceased studying after fifth grade. Today, she has two children, and continues to reside in Preah Sihanouk province.
In 1990, Chenda began work in a land community where her land in village I, Sangkat III, in Preah Sihanouk province had fallen into dispute. Chenda’s life as an activist commenced when she began fighting for land rights in 1996. Unfortunately Chenda’s protesting activities resulted in Chenda and her family being accused of property destruction which meant that Chenda and eight of her family members were imprisoned for 28 days. Notwithstanding her imprisonment, Chenda continues to be a passionate activist for protecting the rights of communities affected by land disputes.
Chenda reflects on the cause and effects of land disputes. She observes that in Cambodia, authorities and powerful people think only of their own benefit. The government does not attempt to solve the dire problems that face Cambodian society such as poverty and exclusion of minority groups. Instead, the government continues to sell land that has been occupied by communities and families for decades to private companies. The government then arrests and imprisons those that speak out for justice.
Not only does Chenda fight for justice on behalf of those whose land rights have been violated, Chenda also fights for environmental sustainability. She forthrightly highlights that government authorities are destroying natural resources and selling them to private companies for their own profit. She asks that government authorities care for the environment, and allow people to gain access to justice. She has demanded that the government obey laws, find solutions for the injustices that have been caused, and to end the impunity that surrounds land grabbing. Against this background Chenda still sees hope in the fact that the courts are finally accepting their role in resolving land disputes.
Chenda admits that her life as an activist has been plagued with challenges such as the loss of land and being subjected to accusations such as inciting villagers and assembling them to protest against government authority. She is constantly required to confront and negotiate with government officials, private companies, and the courts. Despite this, she claims that she would never cease advocating for land rights. Fortunately Chenda says that she is encouraged and supported by those around her, including her family and community.
Surprisingly, Chenda asserts that being a woman activist has certain benefits. While her challenges are significant, she says that men face larger problems. Authorities respond to men faster than women in protests and elsewhere, and men are often accused and summoned to court without committing a crime.
Having lived the life that she has and experienced what she has Chenda offers advice to women aspiring to be activists. She calls on women to focus on the problems faced by people in rural areas, to acknowledge and learn from the experiences of former activists, and to care for Cambodia’s natural resources. Above all, she asserts that the well-being of people and the greater good for society is more profitable than personal benefits. Chenda provides a strong example for Cambodians across the country.