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Kem Sokha forms new Human Rights Party in Cambodia
Currently the Parliamentary style Cambodian government is made up of members from the Kanakpak Pracheachon Kâmpuchéa, (Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party) and the United National Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC). The two reached an agreement to allow Hun Sen to remain prime minister, even if his party is no longer in the majority.
Sokha had served as the National board Chair of the Human Rights Committee in the National Assembly, and a Vice Chairman in the Senate HRC. He saw this type of activity as unconstitutional and he left the government to form the Cambodian Center for Human Rights in 2002 with the support funding from the USAID, to focuse on human rights education and forums for open dialogues.
He organized public forums in each of the Cambodia’s 85 districts. He gained the support of volunteers in each of the 1,621 communes. They continue to educate people on rights and issues.
“I think we (The Human Rights Party) are different and my feelings are that people are poor because they lose power,” said Sokha. “The leaders are rich because they have power in their hands and can do everything that they want. My message is that we want to bring power to the people and our party is different because we need to participation of the people and after they understand and agree with us and not to push them to please to support us and not like the old parties that asked for support without educating them.”
Sokha applied for party status to the government received word on April 18 that the request was being processed. The second step will come in May when he will register the party for the July 2008 National Elections.
“Before we started this party there were more than 200,000 Cambodians signed petition to request me to form the party,” he said. “Why? Almost five years now spent in the countryside visiting every community to educate them on human rights and what are their rights and how they can exercise their rights and what democracy means.”
People are afraid to vote, or they are uninformed. He used his organization to send complaints through the appropriate channels on behalf of the citizens that continue to come to Sokha’s organization with their issues about the government. There was most often no response. He felt that now is the time to give people a democratic option for power if only to prove that the system will work when it is a system of laws and not men.
“They were asked many time to reform but they did not reform,” he added.
Other reforms that Sokha would change is to have regional and provincial governors directly elected by the local citizenry and no longer appointed by the majority party. As of now, voters elect only communal and national leaders and have weekly meetings with these leaders.
Sokha would also support two, five-year term-limits for the Prime Minister. He would support the change from a proportional system that allows parties to have more power than the members of congress, to that of a majority system to avoid the concentration of power.
“We want to strengthen the power of the people,” said Sokha. “Now, the Cambodian people have no power because they are poor.”
Sokha would also work with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in supporting policies of mutual respect for the integrity of border and cooperation on environmental and economic issues that impact all the countries. He would also work to elevate the status of human among ASEAN nations from that of internal affairs to a comprehensive body of rights that member nations can use as a foundation for progress.
“Our policy is nonviolence, political tolerance, and dialogue,” said Sokha. “It will be out policy not be to make other parties the enemy. If we win then we can all work together.”
“Our platform is looking toward the future and not past,” he added.
The Cambodian community of Minnesota is concerned about the fate of democracy in their former homeland. Especially since the 2003 elections and the failure of promised reforms to transpire, several human rights and democracy workers and former legislators of the Southeast Asian nation have visited Minnesota to gain support to efforts to undo the damage from what is essentially a dictatorship that is acting in its own interests.
Governor Tim Pawlenty declared April 1, 2006 to be Kem Sokha day to honor his work for democracy on behalf of all Minnesotans. Sokha was here to thank the local Cambodian community for contacting their leaders when he was imprisoned weeks earlier along with Deputy Assistant Pa Nguon Tieng, by the Cambodia government, for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s claims that his accusations of corruption amounted to defamation.
Sokha lost his father and brother to the Khmer Rouge regime. He was appointed District Deputy Chief in Phnom Penh after the Vietnamese occupation in 1979. He supported the Cambodian resistance and resigned under suspicion. He studied chemistry in Europe and continued working in human rights efforts.
After the 1991 Paris Peace agreement he joined the now defunct Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party under Son San and won a seat in the Parliament. He was promoted to General Secretary after a party split, and sought U.N. intervention when a 1997 military coup was initiated by Hun Sen’s Cambodian People Party, who became Prime Minister.
Corrupt elections followed. Sokha and other opposition leaders organized a mass demonstration with tens of thousands from all over Cambodia to contest the fraudulent results. Sokha escaped arrest to the U.S. Embassy.
In 1999, Son San Party merged into Funcinpec Party, and Kem Sokha was given the position of Deputy General Secretary in the new Funcinpec Party led by Prince Rannaridh. Sokha became a Senator and Chairman for the Commission on Human Rights and Reception of Complaints in the Senate.
©2007 Asian American Press