• Watch a video of Mu Sochua's US Human Rights Commission Testimony .
• Support DEVI through their US partner organization The Wave Project.
VIDEO: Mu Sochua—Sending the Right Signal to Cambodia's Women
“For women who are battered, who are sold, who are facing such a challenge to access the court—I have to go all the way."
World Pulse sat down with MP and women's rights activist Mu Sochua in Berkeley, CA, just before she returned to Cambodia, where she fears new charges of treason and prison for her fight against corruption.
Just before returning to Cambodia, where she faces legal pressure and a possible prison sentence, women’s rights advocate and Member of Parliament Mu Sochua sat down with World Pulse in Berkeley, CA. She was winding down a six-week visit to the US, where she spoke out against government corruption and eroding human rights in her home country, and launched a fundraising campaign for her latest women’s initiative, called DEVI.
It was a long trip for Sochua—the longest she had been away from Cambodia since she returned there in 1989, after spending 18 years in exile from the violence of the Khmer Rouge. Since then, she has been a champion of the women’s movement, battling sex trafficking and domestic violence, and serving as the first female Minister of Women’s Affairs in 1998. As a member of the opposition party, she organized 25,000 women to run for office in 2002, with 900 elected.
Over the last year, however, Sochua’s fight against corruption has brought her head to head with Prime Minister Sen in a court battle she sees as an attempt to silence her. With legal pressure from the Cambodian government growing, Sochua returned to the US, where she received her master’s degree in Social Welfare from the University of California, Berkeley in 1981.
As we walked through the sunlit trees of her alma mater, Sochua seemed at ease. Between lectures and luncheons, meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and testifying before the Human Rights Commission, she found time to rest. She had reconnected with friends and family, seen her daughter off to Columbia University, and was now hoping for a swim before that night’s fundraising dinner for DEVI.
The US became her protective sanctuary this summer, Sochua said. “You can’t continue speaking out without fear of prosecution.”
Before a standing-room-only crowd at a September 15 event sponsored by the School of Social Welfare, Sochua’s customary calm slipped, her voice shaking slightly as she shared that morning’s news from Cambodia. A government spokesperson had called her a traitor in the press, in a country where treason may lead to a prison sentence of 20 years to life.
Sochua’s struggle in the courts began last year, when she filed a defamation suit after Prime Minister Sen made a negative comment about her on television. In retaliation, her case was thrown out and Sen brought one of his own, accusing her of defamation instead. Found guilty and charged with a $4,200 fine, Sochua plans to appeal. However, stripped of her parliamentary immunity, she is now open to attack and imprisonment for refusing to accept the verdict.
“The appeal should come up anytime this month,” Sochua said. “I am sure I will be found guilty again, because we're talking about a court system that is totally controlled by the Prime Minister himself.”
Sochua is not alone. According to a recent Asian Human Rights Commission report, the Cambodian government is increasingly turning to the courts to silence opposition from journalists and human rights defenders.
Even still, she refuses to back down from her case, viewing it not only as a fight against injustice and corruption, but also as a signal to the women of Cambodia.
“For women who are battered, who are sold, who are facing such a challenge to access the court—I have to go all the way. It’s a signal that they do not have to fear. They are not alone.”
Women like these are the primary focus of DEVI, a new organization Sochua founded in Cambodia last year, just as the financial crisis began rippling from US markets across the globe. As an umbrella NGO for grassroots women’s groups working for social and economic justice, DEVI’s goal is to “serve as a safe place for women to weave together a vision for change” while allowing them to share resources. Among those groups are Strey Khmer, which helps communities provide basic health care for women who cannot afford it; Mea Kea Strey, which provides business skills and credit to women weavers and vendors; and Grassroots Women for Change, which encourages women’s entry into local and national politics. . . .