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Mu Sochua gave a lecture in Robertson Hall on Thursday, Oct. 11. Courtesy of Marissa Michaels.

Activist and politician Mu Sochua lived in exile from Cambodia for almost two decades after her parents disappeared under the Khmer Rouge regime. Ever since, she has fought for justice in her home country -- now working as a leader of the opposition party. She spoke about her political journey in front of an attentive audience on Thursday in her talk, “Democracy in Peril,” as part of the Woodrow Wilson School’s Joseph S. Nye Jr. ’58 International Affairs lecture series.

Sochua talked about her path through government and her goals for the Cambodian people, specifically regarding democracy, human rights, and women’s rights. She encouraged audience members, most of whom were students, to get involved in political movements.

Sochua is now the Deputy Leader of the opposition party in Cambodia, the Cambodia National Rescue Party. After winning election to Parliament of Cambodia in 1998, she became Minister of Women and Veterans’ Affairs under the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who still heads the government today. In 2004, she stepped down to protest corruption in the government.

Sochua was again exiled from Cambodia in 2017 after a crackdown on the opposition party.

Now based in the United States, she encourages the international community to put pressure on Prime Minister Hun Sen to address human rights violations.

“It’s not my agenda alone. It’s a global agenda,” she said.

She said she has faced arrest and exile with courage, and lost so much in her quest to secure freedom and democracy in Cambodia. 

“I have nothing left, but I have my soul,” Sochua said.

Sochua demands “a real government” with free and fair elections from a regime she says is “still Khmer Rouge-style.”

Sochua is motivated by Cambodia’s violent history under the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979 where nearly one in four Cambodians were killed. 

Sochua demanded there must be “no more killing fields.”

Throughout her long career, Sochua has focused on sex trafficking, poor work conditions, HIV/AIDS, and domestic violence.

Sochua noted that, as a woman, “you have to be tough, but you have to be gentle.”

Advocating for increased female involvement, Sochua mobilized over 1,000 women to support the opposition.

Sochua fielded audience questions about non-violent movements, economic sanctions, and global threats to democracy. She said that, though it shocks her that the current U.S. political system represents the free world, she is inspired by growing grassroots movements such as #MeToo and that of the Parkland Student Activists.

Sochua said that she is cognizant that Cambodia may not achieve freedom in her lifetime. In response, her plan is to hand responsibility to younger generations. Her advice to students: “Focus, focus, focus.”

In particular, Sochua said she wants people to focus on justice and balancing cultural norms with progress.

“Combine your studies with your actual life,” she said. “Join the movement. Don’t wait.”

And if you want to improve a system, Sochua said, go to the highest official with stories from the people.

This lecture was held in Robertson Hall at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018.

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