Back to top
Leng Ouch - Credit: Goldman Prize

Leng Ouch

HRD, Founder
Cambodia Human Rights Task Forces (CHRTF)
Goldman Environmental Prize

"In one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental activists, Leng Ouch went undercover to document illegal logging in Cambodia and exposed the corruption robbing rural communities of their land, causing the government to cancel large land concessions".

Even though I know that my life and even my family is at risk, I could be criminally charged and arrested or get killed, I still try to save the forest.

Leng Ouch is a Cambodian human rights defender and the founder of the Cambodia Human Rights Task Forces (CHRTF), an organisation working on environmental and land rights. For the past 20 years, Ouch has been exposing the collusion between private corporations and the Cambodian authorities in illegal logging operations and land grabbing. 

According to a 2015 Forest Trends report, Cambodia is losing its forests at a rate of about 208,000 hectares per year, making it one of the countries with the highest deforestation rate in the world. The government is granting concessions intended for large scale agricultural crops, such as sugar and rubber plantations. As Leng Ouch documented, because of these concessions many poor rural communities have been forcedly displaced. The human rights defender has uncovered land grabbing by Chinese and western corporations, illegal logging operations conducted by Cambodia’s biggest timber magnates, smuggling of precious wood, and widespread corruption within the national and local authorities.

In order to gather evidence, Ouch had often to work undercover. Putting his life at great risk, after documenting illegal operations he then publishes the photos and videos. Because of his work, the human rights defender had to go into hiding several times and even his family has been intimidated by military police. Ouch's investigations and the work of other environmental human right defenders have put the Cambodian authorities under huge pressure. In 2014, as a result of protests among the rural communities and increased criticism at the international level, the government revoked 23 land concessions covering 220,000 acres of forest.

The Cambodian authorities use legislation and the judicial system, and threats of arrest or legal action, to restrict free speech, jail government critics, and disperse workers, trade union representatives and farmers engaging in peaceful assembly. The authorities routinely forcibly and often violently disperse public protests. In August 2015, King Norodom Sihamoni signed in effect the Law on Associations and Non-governmental Organisations (LANGO), under which severely hampers local rights groups ability to operate and permits the government to arbitrarily terminates partnerships with international organizations.