We are deeply saddened by the loss of our beloved friend, colleague and mentor, George William Cooper, who passed away at his home in Phnom Penh today.
George served as our Senior Attorney in the Southeast Asia region since 2016, working on land rights and forced eviction cases. Before that he was an informal advisor to Inclusive Development International since our inception in Cambodia in 2012 and a mentor and inspiration to our founders, who he had advised on land rights issues in Cambodia years before the organization was founded. His advice and support on the cases we’ve worked on in Cambodia helped stop forced evictions and secure the land tenure of hundreds of families.
But George had been doing this kind of work long before that, starting when he was a law student at the University of Hawaii in the early 1970s and became involved with Indigenous communities resisting forced eviction for resort developments in the Kalama Valley of Oahu. It was a turning point in George’s life, which put him on a course of supporting Indigenous land struggles throughout Oahu and Kauai and co-writing one of the most influential books in Hawaii history, “Land and Power in Hawaii: The Democratic Years.” Eventually he moved to Cambodia, where he spent most of the last 25 years working to secure the land and housing rights of Indigenous, rural and urban poor communities threatened with mass eviction.
George touched so many people throughout his life with his endless kindness and generosity. He was a man of immense integrity, which endeared him to everyone he worked with inside and outside of government and made him so effective at getting results for the people he helped.
We will miss George dearly, but his memory and his legacy will powerfully remain at Inclusive Development International as we carry on his life-work fighting for justice for people on the margins of the global economy.