Meet Pung Chhiv Kek, Cambodia's First Female Doctor and Founder of Human Rights Group

Meet Pung Chhiv Kek, Cambodia's First Female Doctor and Founder of Human Rights Group

Dr Pung Chhiv Kek, also known as Dr. Kek Galabru, was born on October 4, 1942. She received a medical degree in France in 1968. She practiced as a doctor and conducted research in Phnom Penh from 1968 to 1971 and also worked in Canada, Brazil and Angola.

"I spent four years [1960-64] here in a class of 32 – two Cambodian women and three Frenchwomen. The boys in class didn’t discriminate against us," she said to Phnom Penh Post.

"When I decided to go to France in 1964, I had the same diploma as other French students – [the French university] tested me for the first year to see if I had the academic level, and it was no problem. After four more years in France, I became a medical doctor with a French diploma."

After studying medicine in France and practicing it while following her diplomat husband to various posts abroad, she became instrumental in achieving political peace in her country.

The Faculty of Medicine, Phnom Penh. Image: Phnom Penh Post
The Faculty of Medicine, Phnom Penh. Image: Phnom Penh Post


In 1987-88, Pung Chhiv Kek, as a Cambodian living abroad, helped arrange negotiations between Prime Minister Hun Sen and then-deposed King Norodom Sihanouk. The negotiations eventually led to the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1991, which mandated a United Nations mission to Cambodia to supervise elections and resolve the long-standing conflict.

In 1992, she returned permanently to Cambodia and founded founded the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (Licadho), which she heads at great personal risk. Licadho was one of the first human rights organizations established in Cambodia. 

Licadho educates the people on their democratic rights and provides defense in court for victims of torture, domestic violence and police attacks.

Pung Chhiv Kek looks like a queen, slim and erect in her long blue silk dress. In fact, her parents, both teachers and later government ministers, were friends of the royal family. This enabled her to play a key role in opening negotiations between Cambodia’s Prime Minster, Hun Sen, and opposition leader, Prince Sihanouk, which led to the Paris Peace Accords of 1991.

Today she has offices in half of Cambodia’s provinces, with 1000 collaborators, mostly volunteers.

Its first self-given task is to educate people to vote freely, disregarding the threats of the ruling party. One of its main activities is to represent victims of domestic or police violence – mainly women, children, opposition leaders, teachers, social workers and members of NGOs – in court, where it has won about a third of its cases.Pung Chhiv Kek. Image: Victor Blanco / Southeast Asia Globe

Pung Chhiv Kek. Image: Victor Blanco / Southeast Asia Globe

It also fights the massive illegal logging condoned by the corrupt government and the army. Above all, it teaches people their rights through classes, comic books, TV and radio programs and theater productions.

Last year, Pung Chhiv Kek was awarded the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest decoration, for services to peace-building and human rights.

Her definition of courage is, “To do something for the people in spite of the intimidation.” No wonder the taxi-driver had no problem finding her modest office in Phnom Penh: Everybody in Cambodia knows Licadho.

Source : Phnom Penh Post | Southeast Asia Globe

Indah Gilang Pusparani

Indah is a researcher at Badan Perencanaan Pembangunan Penelitian dan Pengembangan Daerah Kota Cirebon (Regional Development Planning and Research Agency of Cirebon Municipality). She covers More international relations, tourism, and startups in Southeast Asia region and beyond. Indah graduated from MSc Development Administration and Planning from University College London, United Kingdom in 2015. She finished bachelor degree from International Relations from University of Indonesia in 2014, with two exchange programs in Political Science at National University of Singapore and New Media in Journalism at Ball State University, USA. She was awarded Diplomacy Award at Harvard World Model United Nations and named as Indonesian Gifted Researcher by Australian National University. She is Researcher at Regional Planning Board in Cirebon, West Java. She previously worked as Editor in Bening Communication, the Commonwealth Parliament Association UK, and diplomacy consulting firm Best Delegate LLC in USA. Less
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