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IFEX GM and Strategy Conference: Can we just say – It was fantastic!

Participants at the 17th IFEX General Meeting and Strategy Conference
Participants at the 17th IFEX General Meeting and Strategy Conference

Marianna Tzabiras

IFEX's 17th General Meeting and Strategy Conference took place in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the third week of June. We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the many people who contributed to its success – the planners, coordinators, facilitators, and of course the participants, who generously shared their knowledge, their expertise, and their passion.

Bringing together over 200 individuals representing 96 free expression organisations from 67 different countries for a week of meetings and interactive workshops is not something to be undertaken lightly. Planning started in earnest in the fall of 2012, when the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) graciously offered to host the 2013 GM. CCHR President Virak Ou and his staff were tremendously supportive partners in this planning process, and we are deeply grateful.

Based on the positive feedback from our last meeting, we were determined to make this a hands-on conference – a real conversation, offering plenty of variety in types of sessions and a wealth of opportunities for one-on-one meetings and networking. We were truly fortunate to have so many great resource people on deck and a high level of engagement from participants. Without losing sight of the serious nature of the work at hand, sessions buzzed with creativity and energy. If you weren't there, you can get a sense of the issues discussed and resources shared by visiting the site.

There is so much to be learned when we hold these meetings in the country of one of our members. In this case, our awareness of the challenges the people of Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries are facing, and our respect for the courage and tenacity with which they are meeting these challenges, has grown even stronger.

While in Phnom Penh, the IFEX network worked to draw attention to human rights issues in the region. The opening session featured stories from free expression activists and experts from Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. During the week, the IFEX network launched a take action on behalf of 29-year-old Cambodian land rights activist Yorm Bhopa, serving a two-year sentence for protesting forced evictions, and a delegation from the conference was able to visit her in prison. IFEX also released a statement calling for the appointment of a Southeast Asia regional Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression, as well as other reforms needed to strengthen freedom of expression in the ASEAN nations. IFEX members CCHR and ARTICLE 19 launched a comprehensive new report highlighting the deterioration of human rights in Cambodia leading up to the July 2013 elections, and a number of IFEX members were involved in the preparation of a joint submission on the Kingdom of Cambodia to the United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.

IFEX is fortunate to have the support of donors who recognise the importance of bringing people together. In some cases, their commitment to promoting an honest, constructive dialogue with organisations even extended to participating in a Donor Town Hall, where they responded to questions from free expression organisations about the evolving funding context.

We are a network. We are stronger, together. As a result of these meetings, our commitment to supporting each other in our work, and our capacity to do so, have both been enhanced. Everyone brought something unique to Phnom Penh, and everyone took something unique away with them. The new ideas, information, connections and resources we have gained will all be invested back into the work we are all committed to: the defense and promotion of the fundamental right to free expression.

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RT @seapabkk #AccessToInfoDay. VIDEO: On the challenges of drafting the #FOI law in #Cambodia - https://t.co/q8DrzM6Wej. @CCIM_KH