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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Cambodian political leader to receive honorary degree

Written by Dave Mabell

A political leader who’s also an educator and humanitarian will be an honoured guest today in Lethbridge.

Son Soubert, first elected to Cambodia’s parliament in 1993, will be awarded an honourary Doctor of Laws degree during fall convocation ceremonies at the University of Lethbridge.

He’ll join Juno Award-winning Calgary musician Paul Brandt — a Doctor of Fine Arts, as of today — and hundreds from a fall graduating class of nearly 350 during public events starting at 10 a.m.

Soubert, educated in archeology and classics in France, met students in the university’s Rotaract group Friday and described his nation’s colourful history and future opportunities.
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Now leader of the new Human Rights Party — one of several contenders in the Kingdom of Cambodia, which combines a constitutional monarchy with a multi-party parliament — Soubert traced his nation’s influences back to the time of the Roman Empire. It’s been profoundly influenced by trade with China to the north and the power of India to the west.

Canada’s influence is more recent, he said, dating back to the 1950s. During the 40 years that followed, however, Cambodia survived many political changes — including more than a decade of occupation by Vietnamese troops.

Since democratic government returned in 1993, he pointed out, many Canadian doctors, dentists and many other volunteers have responded to the nation’s many health issues. Malnutrition remains a major concern, and HIV poses another ongoing threat.

Canada’s federal government seems less interested, Soubert suggested.
“Canada closed its embassy in Phnom-Penh this year,” making things more difficult for Canadians who wish to visit or volunteer.

Soubert also works with his nation’s orphans — their parents are still alive, but too poor to feed them — and he described their improved living conditions and educational opportunities. Today, he said, some of those children have done well enough to attend university classes.

On the political front, Soubert and his father helped found the Khmer Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party. Later he was elected president of the Son Sann Party before moving on to help found the Human Rights Party.

Just what those rights are, he said, depends on many cultural, religious and political factors. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and — in some parts of the country — Roman Catholic teachings are involved.

Competing values and beliefs are at play in many of Cambodia’s neighbouring nations as well, he pointed out. Still, some political leaders hope to expand economic ties between the ASEAN countries.

Soubert admitted he’s doubtful about how that could occur.
“How are the ASEAN nations, with so many differences, going to build something like the European Union?”

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