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“As I walk to Prison” -- Quality of Justice in Post War Cambodia

Mu Sochua is a Cambodian politician, activist and Nobel Prize nominee. She founded the first women’s organization in Cambodia, Khemar, and in 1998 became the first woman ever to be elected into Parliament and hold a seat in the Women's Affairs Ministry. Mu Sochua has worked extensively to end sex slavery, including negotiating an agreement with Thailand allowing Cambodian women trafficked as sex workers to return to their home country instead of being jailed. She was nominated for a Nobel Prize for her work against sex trafficking of women in 2005.

In the past year, after witnessing first hand the ongoing injustice against the people of her country, specifically the women, Mu Sochua filed a lawsuit against Hun Sen, the Prime Minister of Cambodia who has ruled the country for over 30 years. As a result she faces persecution and prison.

Between 1975-79 over one million Cambodian women, men and children, were killed by the Khmer Rouge - among them my parents. The world community knew about it but watched from afar. Now, in the year 2009, Cambodia has come out of genocide and five of the Khmer Rouge top leaders are being tried by a hybrid court, partially funded by the world community. In many people’s eyes Cambodia is on the road to reconstruction. Unfortunately, this stage of reconstruction has faltered and in many ways Cambodia is fast regressing to soft dictatorship.

Thirty years after the Khmer Rouge genocide, Cambodia has indeed progressed. However, the gains thus far have been too small. Over two-thousand innocent Cambodian women die every year of childbirth, at least one million Cambodian children go to bed hungry every night while hundreds of thousands of Cambodian girls are ruined in brothels.

As if this were not enough, over 200,000 families have been brutally forced off their land in the past year and over 75% of Cambodia's forests have now been destroyed.

And yet, despite these great losses and indignities inflicted upon the common Cambodian, it is important to note that my people could be saved if justice were served - if top leaders of my broken nation were less greedy and if development were viewed as a tool for all rather than a gift to the well-positioned.

Justice in to day’s Cambodia is for the rich and the courts are controlled by the power of one man. Hundreds and thousands of cases remain unresolved in court including the killings of union leaders, human rights activists, pro-democracy journalists and real killers are allowed to escape justice because of protection from those in power.

I left Cambodia as a young adolescent as the Vietnam war encroached upon Cambodia and hundreds and thousands of sick, wounded and hungry families were feeling that Cambodia was already lost as a sovereign nation.

I returned home 18 years later with two young children to witness a nation in ruins. And though UNTAC gave Cambodians a new beginning, and the hope that we could recover from the tragedy of the Khmer Rouge regime the UN’s efforts to democratize Cambodia cost the world community 2 billion dollars.

Invigorated by the hope that Cambodia could return to the world stage as a sovereign nation, independent of Communist leanings, I soon became a leader in the women's movement, moving communities and walking the peace walk in city streets and dirt roads to pray for non-violence. I joined politics and became the first woman to lead a women's ministry that previously had been led by a man and campaigned nationwide to put an end to human trafficking. I also authored the first draft law on domestic violence, signed treaties with neighboring countries to protect our women and children from being prosecuted as illegal migrants and to lobby for them to receive proper treatment as victims of sex slavery.

During my years as a human right activist, I have witnessed violence countless times as I have listened to hundreds, perhaps thousands of women and children speak of the shame and violation they have suffered when violence is afflicted on their bodies and on their minds as Khmer women deprived of equal rights under Cambodia law. As a politician I have consistently tried to take action both on the village and Ministerial level - to both walk to the villages to talk with women whose lives have been deeply affected by existing Cambodian law and also to challenge the top leadership of the government to reassess the needs of addressing women’s rights within both a national and international context.

Today, I am faced with the fact that I may go to jail because I have dared to lodge a lawsuit against the prime minister of Cambodia. Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia for 30 years. And I don’t use the term “ruled” lightly. Despite the fact that I have been assaulted – with clothes torn from my body in the attempt to prevent the improper use of government vehicles for campaigning in Cambodia – by a general nonetheless – I now find myself assaulted yet again - this time by the prime minister himself who recently compared me to a hustler or prostitute, his words of shame blasted through a media that is totally controlled by his own party and family.

Within days my parliamentary immunity may be lifted so the court can "investigate" my case. This is not-so-uncommon procedure for politicians from the opposition party who are targeted by the “strong man” or human rights activists or the poor who can not bribe court officials. The courts will order me to pay a fine for my “offense” which I will refuse to pay-for I have committed no “offense”. If this occurs, I will be detained in the notorious prison of "Prey Sar" for as long as the court wishes to prescribe.

Many of my colleagues in the opposition, including my party leader have faced this fate for speaking out.

Beyond the personal, why is this important?

Cambodia is set to receive close to a billion dollars in 2009 from the international community with the USA contributing close to 60 million. Is the world still watching in silence while Cambodia is now ruled by a single man, who has little regard for human rights or womens’ rights whatsoever? At what point does the international community say “enough” and begin to sanction bad behavior through firm consequences for the complete and utter disregard for human rights concerns and the rule of law?

We must walk tall but not be a people bent because trauma of the Khmer Rouge is still a part of us. Let us not let our leaders and the world community use this trauma to give us justice by the tea spoon.

Let there be real justice.

Mu Sochua
Elected Member of Parliament
Sam Rainsy Party

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