The Leaderboard: Tep Vanny and the Boeung Kak 13

Who are they?

The Boeung Kak 13 is a group of 13 women, ranging in age from 25 to 72, who live around what used to be Boeung Kak Lake near Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Tep Vanny, 32, is their de facto leader. Under the leadership of Vanny, the group of 13 local women has led protests against the forcible seizure of Boeung Kak Lake, residents’ homes, and their livelihoods without just compensation. Currently, 794 families are refusing to leave their property around the former lake.

The Phnom Penh municipal government in 2007 granted a Chinese company, Shukaku, a 99-year lease to develop Boeung Kak Lake into a high-end commercial and housing project. Some 5,000 families lost their property or were forcibly evicted when Shukaku filled the lake and began construction.

Construction of Cambodia's Boeung Kak Lake property as seen October 2011. Source: Wikimedia Commons user Travelpleb, used under a creative commons license.

Police  arrested the Boeng Kak 13 on May 24, 2012 who spent just over one month in prison; this has not deterred the group from continuing to rally against the land seizures in the Boeung Kak area.

Why are they in the news?

Vanny organized a demonstration by the Boeung Kak community during the ASEAN and East Asia Summits held November 18-20 in Phnom Penh. She and the other members of the Boeung Kak 13 hoped to gain the attention and advocacy of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The group led about 100 Boeung Kak residents in a protest, holding large signs printed with photos of Obama and Clinton with the letters “S.O.S.” Cambodian authorities sought to suppress the rally and others like it with a large police presence during the summits.

The international community has noticed the struggle of the Boeung Kak 13 and its leader, Vanny.  Hillary Clinton November 5 announced Vanny will be honored as a recipient of the 2013 Vital Voices Global Leadership Award. She will travel to Washington in April 2013 to accept the award.

What can we expect from them?

Tep Vanny and the Boeung Kak 13 will continue to advocate for those forcibly evicted from their homes. Land rights are an increasingly contentious issue in Cambodia, and the women have become a symbol of the wider national struggle for land rights.

The implementation of land laws is complicated by corruption and the long-term consequences of the Khmer Rouge’s elimination of property rights during their 1975-1979 rule. Until these issues are addressed, the Boeng Kak 13’s efforts will continue to offer a powerful rallying cry to their countrymen.

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