i n t e r v i e w b y : p r a C h 0 4 / 1 7 / 1 0
I honestly and seriously think you need no introduction. You are such an inspiration to me and to the millions if not billions around the world. But for those who has been in hibernation for the last 3 decades, can you, in your own words give them a brief biography of yourself?
I am Mu Sochua, one of 21 female elected members of the Cambodian National Assembly.
I left Cambodia when I was 18 and when the war in Vietnam was coming to the city of Phnom Penh, My parents put me on the plane to Paris in 1972, three years to the fall of Cambodia and the begininng of Year Zero and the exodus of Phnom Penh, that became the city of ghosts.
From Paris I moved on the San Francisco in 1974 where I studied and became involved in the refugee settlements till I left for Thailand in 1981, the same week I became citizen of the USA and graduated from the School of Social Work at UC Berkeley.
As an activist when I finally reached Cambodia in 1989, I joined politics in 1995 when women the world over gathered in Beijing for the 4th World Conference on Women. The Beijing Conference was the event that changed many lives, the beginning of a very powerful change in the women;s movement, at least it was the beginning to politics for me.
I have run for election three times since then and lost once. A lost that made me switch to join the Sam Rainsy Party, the main opposition party in Cambodia, leaving behind a very challenging post as women minister-the first in the history of Cambodia. Corruption and disbelieve in the government of Cambodia made me join the opposition.
At this moment I am involved in making a difference for women at the grassroots to run for office at the next commune election in 2012. My goal is to raise US$1,000 for 150 women from my party to win and hold the position of chief of commune as changing lives for women , means change to happen at the grasrrots level.
I have 3 daughters whom I am very proud of and a husband who is very supportive of my involvment in politics and democracy building.
You grew up in Phnom Penh but were forced to flee when the Vietnam War spilled over and into Cambodia. What was the recollection of the time like for you?
The image of my mother and father at the airport and my very troubled feelings of fear, excitment and pain at the same time. Not saying goodbye at that time, at the airport because the French plane had to take off fearing shelling , it was how I left Cambodia 38 years ago.
I was just 18 years-old, from a family that was supportive, tightly controlled by my mother but with loads of love, care and attention. I am just one person among millions who can tell the same story of loss, guilt and wish for time to be played back in fast motion so the pain of loss can be more bearable.
In 1975 the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia and in the time span of 4 years 2 million people equaling to a quarter of the population was murdered, killed or vanished. Both of your parents vanished . My question is; have you tried searching for them? And what if your search leads to the killer what is justice for you?
I very much remember the years in San Francisco working with refugees. In Each plane load of refugees that came into the SF airport, I was geared up with hope of seeing, imagining my parents , at least my mother among the people who came out of the plane. Hope not granted, of course. I searched for my parents on the lists of the prisoners of Toul Sleng, on any lists of refugees. Hope never granted, of course.
I remember the day I saw the picture of Dith Pran on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle. I was so elated, i cried with tears of joy , of relief and of new hope that my parents could be alive. Hope never granted.
I believe in reconciliation but not entirely. I think it is too easy to pretend we could reconcile. I thnik many other well known top KR murderers are alive and people know exactly who they are.
Reconciliation could happen only if there is rule of law so that people are sure the same unjustified killings do not happen again. I think Cambodia lost over 30 years of opportunity for reconciliation and unless there is a change of government , there wil be no political and social framework for reconiliation.
I can accept the killer of my parents if I know that he/she is in no position to kill again or to keep up the current status quo. The most unjust reality in Cambodia is that some of these mass murderers are still in power at all levels. People continue to live in fear of being watched, being heard by the village chiefs and how can we begin talking about reconciliation? I think we should start by reforming the current system of adminsitration. Why do we have to have village chiefs?
Let there be real free and fair elections so people can choose their real representatives and let there be accountability that start with a real court.
Cambodia could better gain from reconciliation if the government today were to take this very unique opportunity of the KR court to reform the judiciary system so that people can have faith in justice in both courts.
During your 18 years in exile, you spent time in Paris, California and Italy as well as working in the refugee camps along the Thai-Cambodian border. Can you share with us some of your most memorable moments?
I always held up hope, even if it was never granted.
I was educated in a western education from first grade but like many other Cambodians before the war, we had a very solid education at home. In many sense I was raised in many cultures at the same time but I never forgot my Cambodian roots. It made exile, transitions and loneliness easier to accept.
San Francisco and the Bay Area represent freedom and independence. I return twice a year not to enjoy life and comfort there but to recharge my intellectual energy. California is beautiful. The Coast is of such beauty and I return there for peace.
My husband and I fell in love in RithySen camp, one of the toughest refugee camps along the border. It was among the ruins of an old Khmer temple that we would meet at the end of each day when the camps closed. The monks blessed us, we got married there. Part of our life remains there. How can one replace such memories?
You got a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from San Francisco State University and a Masters in Social Work from UC Berkeley and not just that but you went back to South-East Asia to help rebuild and help those shattered by war. What motivated you to do that?
Pay back my dues.
It is a mission of a life time.
I have hope and I like to defy destiny. I go anywhere against odds. I like to bet for the underdogs when I watch sports. It would be too boring if life were predictable.
What can we do to help fight against human trafficking, domestic violence and worker exploitation?
Break the silence of the victims of injustice and rock the current status quo.
In the late 90s you founded the organization for women, called Khemara. and joined the Funcinpec political party. Then you took over the Ministry of Women's and Veterans' Affairs, making you and another the only two women in the cabinet. Now I was born in Battambang and you represented that providence. Why Battambang? And how was that like for you as a woman over shadowed by men to be in such a position of power?
My first seat in parliament was won in the 3 districts of the KR strong hold in Battambang. I did not go there by choice (one does not make a choice when one wants to build democracy). I am going back there to lead the SRP team for the next elections.
Battambang is tough terrain for SRP but any terrain is tough for the opposition and we never stop to say: should we? should we not?
As a leader, one does not stop to think about comfort. You fight first, you win then you move on to the next battle field.
I think it an adavantage to be a woman leader. I never think that I am overshadowed by a man. If I were to think about it, I would be in a disdavantaged position., Watch real players play a game. They psyche themselves up to be the better than their opponents, they don't stop and think about the opposite force, they think before and they train for it.
My training for equality started at home when I was a child. My mother who only had a 3rd grade education made me believe that I was the best.
So did my father.
But they never taught me to be vain.
In 2005, you were honored with the Vital Voices Human Rights Global Leadership Award for your efforts to stem the tide of human trafficking. Hillary Rodham Clinton presented the award. Congratulation! Now are you and Mrs. Clinton still in contact if so when was the last time you talk to her and what was the conversation about?
Now some people might not know this but in 2005, you were one of 1,000 women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for your work against sex trafficking of women in Cambodia and Thailand. Congratulation, in my mind you won the prize. I know is not about the prize, or being recognize but getting people involve in helping. But if you were to win what would you have done with the money?
The money would have been for women's empowerment that begins with girls'education.
I first met you in Cambodia in 2005. At the one year anniversary morning of the assassination of the late union leader CHEA VICHEA. Leaders in Cambodia are being assassinated left and right. You being a leader, do you fear this threat? Have you gotten death threats, and who do you think really killed Chea Vichea?
I joined the SRP the day they murdered Chea Vichea. I saw blood coming out of his ears. I heard his daughter called to him to wake up. I went home and took a long shower and then called Mr. Rainsy. I asked to defect from FUNCINPEC but he said for me to think again and not rush into it. I held a press conference a few later to announce my affiliation with SRP. It took me a long time to think about the statement because I knew that it would be a very long-term commitment. It was not for Mr. Rainsy, it was for a common cause.
I totally made the right choice and have never had to regret it.
Fear is a totally creation of your own mind. Fear is when you are stuck with solutions.
Those who are afraid to reveal the truth about the killing of Chea Vichea have the answer to it. It is very simple and the people know who the real killers are. It is not one man, it is a group of people whose interests were being challenged by Chea Vichea's bold fight for justice.
Think how many times Mr. Rainsy could have died. Does he fear?
What are your thoughts on the Khmer Rouge Trial ?
The KR Trial is of extreme importance for 3 reasons, for Cambodians, for Cambodia and for the rest of the world:
1/ justice must be served as no crime should be left unpunished;
2/for national healing;
3/ for judiciary reforms
How has the KRT answered my 3 views?
1/ the limits to how many top KR leaders should be put on trial is problematic and is now being played as a political maneuvering. There are very clear evidence that more than 5 top KR leaders should be put on trial. Can the Court denied the evidence? It is not just written in history books, they are facts and justice well only be half-baked when these evidence are ignored for political reasons.
The trial is lengthy and time is not serving justice for the victims.
2/ for national healing
I respect the testimonies made by families of the victims as they have had to relive the tragedy. They have yet been able to take the stand and to speak for all of us. We owe them a full load of respect.
I fully respect all parties that are making the trial as transparent as possible. Speaking about the painful facts is extremely necessary and important for the healing process.
3/ for judiciary reforms
This is missing because of total lack of political will of the current government.
The people of Cambodia continue to pay a very heavy price for this and that is why the need to chose a new leadership and it is of vital importance.
A nation can not prosper without rule of law. Cambodia and our people will continue to suffer till steps are made to install a leadership that comes from the true will of the people.
For a nation that is so torn apart because of lack of justice, is a nation that gives birth to children with no rights to live as human beings. The current culture of impunity must be stopped and that is done by breaking the silence and that silence is broken when we all are wiling to stand up for common interests and for individual freedoms and rights.
I have been targeted and threaten for my music and work. Regardless of this reality I will not budge or stand down. Any word of advises?
I think you know the answer to this.
Never be silenced.
Your allegiance is now with the Sam Rainsy Party. With all respect to Mr. Sam Rainsy but if given the opportunity for you to run for Prime Minister, would you?
Mr. Rainsy is the best leader for Cambodia. We need to stay focused for the next elections or we would be playing the hands of the CPP.
I am not in the fight for premiership, but to have a change of premiership.
What are your thought on Hun Sen and his CPP who is currently in control of Cambodia?
They know they are being challenged and that the challenge does not come from one group, one person but from the system they are unable to control.
How did the Hun Sen, the current Prime Minister of Cambodia dishonor your dignity as a Khmer woman?
I really felt "naked" when I listened to the recorded speech that was played over the radio.
You file a defamation complaint against Hun Sen with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court asking for 500-riel (0.12 dollar) compensation as a token, and a public apology. That is a bold statement. I have no question on that. I just wanted to bring that up and applause you for your action. So personally and on the behalf of the millions out there, THANK YOU.
Hun Sen's government since then files a counter-suit for gravely defaming the PM. The Ministry of Justice requested the President of the parliament to vote and remove your parliamentary immunity. You then wrote a letter calling for support from the international community call "As I walk to prison". So on this day, the 17th of April, where those all of this stands and how can a supporter such as myself help you?
Sing your songs of justice.
Help stop the level of fear among our people.
We need to all stand up at the same time.
Will you ( praCh ) come and play at a youth concert in Battmabang? When we have our campaign?
Join me in Battambang to walk the campaign trail with the youth. I totally mean it.
Help the youth movement there. They are walking the campaign trail so there be hope for youth in Battambang. Give them support by mentioning them and acknowledging their commitment to fight for justice. Help motivate other youth to engage in the next election but for change and not to accept the status quo.
If you were to walk into prison, what would you say to the world?
Justice is a fundamental human right.
How does your family feel about all of this?
They are prepared and they are strong.
You spoke to my daughter in San Francisco, Devi. She is my soul mate. She is a strong feminist.
I will go to my trial when I am called to. Which ever way the court decides, I will win. You know that, the entire country knows that.
But the point is for all to be equal before the law and to have access to justice.
That is the message.
What do you think is the 3 biggest issues facing Cambodia right now? And what do you want change in the 10 years?
1/ alliavation of the lives of our farmers;
2/ heatlth care;
How can we stop or at lease cut down corruption in Cambodia and how should those who practice it be punished?
Re-adopt a new anti-corruption law with international standards and a political will for implementation of the law.
Name them, shame them first. Give them no room to hide.
Sing about it praCh.
People are being force out of their property that they have been living in for over 3 decade. All for the cause of new development. They then are sent to live in the middle of know where. People who all their life have been in the city now force to live in farmlands as if they was animals being resettled. Thousand are affected, what are your thoughts on this issue?
Take the right step to development with justice- vote for a political leader who has demonstrated that commitment.
The Green Mountain, a trash / dump site has countless of families living there. Shouldn't the government restrict the people from living there? The fume and air there is as deadly as any poison. The life span is cut by more then half.
Sing about it praCh, let the world know about it.
You recently got involve with the K11 project and appear on the feature length documentary film called The Virgin Harvest about child trafficking in Cambodia. Oliver Stone is one of the most respected moviemaker in Hollywood. I had a chance to meet him awhile back, and his comment for your film is "Beautiful and well done! The stories of The Virgin Harvest must not be ignored!" So how and where can we find the film?
It is now retitled ' REDLIGHT ' ( http://redlightthemovie.com/ ) and it will be premiered on 21June in NYC. Can you ( praCh ) come? It will be a red carpet event.
I will put you in touch with the producer.
I will be able to use it for campaign and for raising funds can you help me?
I am the main voice in the movie. I am actually one of the 3 person who took the crew to find all the victims and spoke to them. Somaly Mam is the other person and the workers in different woman's organizations are the rest.
In the current entertainment world Cambodian are not respected with most
of our famous and biggest star being label as karaoke stars. Criticize for mimicking or even stealing other people materials. What are our thoughts on this issue?
Our artists need to prove themselves that they are not in it for money but for the art and for their love of the art.
Like politicians, you need to act as modles and I think you do.
Spread the words to other artists.
They need to form a common voice, a common stance that art is not for sale first. It is a means of communcation and creation and expression of thoughts and feelings and message and hope and many other unspeakable words.
What genre of music do you listen to?
I rarely watch TV, do you watch TV? If so, what on?
I have no TV in most of the places I am. Even in the USA I do not watch TV.
What was the last movie you watch in theater?
The dumbest but that was the only movie that was playing and I am even ashamed to say what it is. But is was a light comedy.
I know your work will never be done and the world will forever need you, but if given a time to escape and relax, say a mini vacation for just a moment where would you go and why?
There are so many places in the world that I would go to. But even a mini vacation is not on my agenda right now.
But my mind do escape to the California coast, a rock I found on the beach. Can't tell you where as it will be discovered,.
Happy Birthday and Sursdey Chnam Thmey! What did you do to celebrate your birthday, and what are you plans for the Khmer New Year?
I was with Devi on my birthday, arriving from St.Paul. We dined and we rested peacefully.
I was coming home to Phnom Penh during the New Year and drove straight to my refuge in Kampot, to be near Stung Keo and the Bokor mountain.
7 words to best describe yourself.
love peace, beauty of relationship, cooking, music, . will fight for justice till the very end.
Any last words?
Have you read The Disappeared by Kim Echlin? Read it and tell me what you think.
( www.mujestic.com/mu_sochua ) copyrighted 04/17/10