In 1997, Sr. Denise and Tun Channareth (Reth) were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of their efforts in the campaign for the abolition of landmines, while recently in Rome, the Vatican Foundation Fratelli Tutti honoured them with other Nobel Peace Laureates. On this occasion we interviewed them.
For over 30 years Sr. Denise Coghlan, RSM, has been accompanying forcibly displaced victims of violence and conflict in Cambodia, and those affected by the remnants of the long war there. For most of her life Sr. Denise has been a promoter of the right to a dignified life and livelihood for war survivors. She has played a key role as a member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines which led to the adoption of the Mine Ban Treaty in 1997. Sr. Denise recalls how the first awareness-raising campaigns for the elimination of landmines and cluster munitions were true testimonies to the act of reconciliation between conflicting groups.
“If we want to strive to be Peace Artisans, we are called upon to answer the question of how to dialogue with those with opposing views and what strategy to adopt to engage in peace. The art of compromise without giving up one’s integrity is incredibly difficult,” Sr. Denise states.
Alongside Sr. Denise, there is Reth, a former JRS staff, current head of the outreach programme at Jesuit Mission Cambodia, and fellow member of the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines. Reth is a landmine survivor who has worked with Sr. Denise to defend the rights of landmine-affected displaced people in Cambodia. At first, they worked in refugee camps, providing education, health care, and livelihood services. Then they went further, in a process of facilitating peace and reconciliation between the conflicting factions. “We tried to broaden the sense of accompaniment in working with the local population affected by all sides of the conflict, building wheelchairs together. Now, in 2023, we have people like Reth accompanying other people in mine-affected communities so that they can have a dignified life and economic opportunities through income generation, but most importantly friendship with people who treat them with dignity and as equals. I believe this is a true act of reconciliation and peacemaking,” continues Sr. Denise.
Reth is a problem solver who has designed wheelchairs for refugee amputees while also helping others advocate for themselves within their own communities. He is a Peace Artisan. His wheelchairs for landmine survivors become vehicles promoting life and livelihoods and, in turn, fostering peace and reconciliation. “We continue to work in raising awareness by asking everyone to ‘ban landmines in their hearts’. Working with members of the local community means giving a little light, like a small candle, to promote people’s lives, building with them and encouraging them along the way,” concludes Reth.